Korean Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.
August 20 – December 22, 2022
South Korea‘s emergence as a pop culture powerhouse and one of the most fashion-forward nations in the world is revealed in Korean Fashion: From Royal Court to Runway, on view August 20 through December 22, 2022, at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. This exhibition is the first in the United States to offer visitors the full spectrum of fashion from Korea’s last royal dynasty to today’s Hallyu (Korean wave) in which artists and designers are simultaneously embracing traditional influences and cutting-edge concepts.
The extraordinary evolution of Korean fashion and textile arts over the last 125 years is presented through some 85 objects plus digital displays and K-pop videos that introduce textile arts – from “hanbok” (traditional Korean clothing) to home furnishings – and explore how their design and craftsmanship have changed alongside Korea’s profound socio-economic transformation. Visitors will see rare examples of ceremonial and everyday clothing, as well as fresh-off-the-runway ensembles that reveal how contemporary designers such as Lie Sang Bong (b. 1955) are blending the historical and avant-garde, local and cosmopolitan, and high and popular culture to create a distinctive and compelling Korean voice.
According to museum director John Wetenhall, “Korean Fashion offers our students and visitors a deep dive into South Korea’s venerable cultural heritage and the global impact of its artistic creativity and innovation in fashion and textile arts in the 21st century. We anticipate that this exhibition will spark lively discussions on a range of topics.”
“With the ‘Korean wave‘ heightening international interest and social media providing immediate access and virtual community, Korean fashions are widely observed, admired, discussed and emulated across the world, making this an ideal time to bring treasured textiles from our collection together with works from outside private and public collections for this exhibition,” observed Lee Talbot, the museum’s curator who organized the exhibition.
Korean Fashion includes rare examples of clothing worn at the Korean royal court during the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Some of these colorful embroidered silk jackets and robes, as well as furnishings, were on display in the Korean pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, which dazzled visitors then, as they will again in Washington, D.C.
In the decades following the Korean War (1950-1953), South Korea transformed from an agrarian nation into an industrialized economic powerhouse. Continuing into the modern era, Korean Fashion showcases the work of pioneering Korean designers such as Nora Noh (b. 1928) in the 1950s and 60s, and Lee Young Hee (1936-2018) and Icinoo (b. 1941) in the 90s, the first Korean designers to present their collections on Paris runways.
Digital displays in Korean Fashion invite visitors to explore current street styles, as well as K-pop videos featuring looks worn by some of South Korea’s biggest stars. In the wake of the tremendous success of K-pop, K-cinema and other popular culture products, South Korea has become Asia’s epicenter of new “street fashion.” Simplified versions of hanbok have become increasingly fashionable among young Koreans, and the work of designers such as Hwang Leesle (b. 1987) and Kim Young Jin (b. 1971), who have launched successful brands specializing in easy-to-wear interpretations of historical styles, are on display in the show.
Korean Fashion reveals how – in stark contrast to Korea’s earlier centuries of isolation – today’s young Koreans imaginatively intermingle global and local trends, brands and cultural references to create unique statements of identity that often challenge longstanding Korean conventions of dress and behavior. Major support for this exhibition and related programming is provided by the Korea Foundation, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Bea and Thomas Roberts. Additional support is provided by Norma and Ted Lonoff, Roger and Claire Pratt, and Barbara Tober in honor of Dr. Young Yang Chung.3