Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hanbok on the Nile

World-renowned Korean hanbok designer Han Euu Joung talked to Reham El-Adawi about her first fashion show in Egypt

Al-Ahram Weekly

A hanbok, or Korean traditional clothing, fashion show by internationally acclaimed designer Han Euu Joung took place at one of Cairo’s five-star hotels this week organised by the Embassy of Korea in Cairo to celebrate the second anniversary of the Korean Cultural Centre in Dokki.

The show, directed by Jeong Samuel, showcased a wide array of hanbok, from royal dress and official uniforms to modern versions, all captivating in their colours and details. “Today, I feel like a queen,” said one of the Egyptian models who made her way down the catwalk.

Of her designing Joung said “my passion for hanbok started with delivering my baby boy who is now a university student. Day by day I have seen him growing up, and my love for hanbok was growing too. Whenever I feel down or stressed I go to my studio and start designing so I can get rid of all the bad thoughts and negative energy.”

She explained that a hanbok consists of an upper garment called a jeogori worn with trousers (baji) or a wraparound skirt (chima). Conventionally, the open arms of the jeogori have been said to represent the warmth and embrace of the Korean people, while the voluminous skirts symbolise space and freedom. The traditional attire is not form-fitting but free-flowing, so that it is convenient to wear, no matter one’s body type.

Baji is usually worn by men and chima by women, but mural paintings dating back to the Korean Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BCE - 668 CE) show that there was originally no distinct difference in hanbok styling by sex. In these murals, both men and women wore wide-sleeved jeogori long enough to cover their hips over trousers or skirts. The cut of the design differed noticeably depending on the wearer’s social status or occupation. Someone in the lower class, who was likely to perform more manual labour, would typically wear relatively shorter jeogori with wider sleeves to maximise comfort while working.

“What’s great about hanbok is that it is distinctly Korean,” Joung said. “It doesn’t look like any other type of clothing from anywhere else in the world.”

“Made with layers of lavishly dyed and embroidered fabrics, the hanbok reflects the rich history and culture of Korea. The colours are bright and vivid. Traditionally, the colours and fabric used to make the hanbok reflected the social status of the person wearing it, as well as the purpose of the item. Members of royalty and the upper class often used brightly coloured silk and satin materials, while others opted for durable and inexpensive fabrics like hemp and cotton in earth-toned colours.”

“Modern hanbok ignore this distinction, and people of all social classes choose rich colours that appeal to them. The most popular colours reflect hues from nature, including jade green, indigo, white, red, blue, black and yellow, which represent ideas from Asian beliefs and philosophies,” she added.

I asked Joung if wearing a hanbok can be practical in everyday life. “I went to visit the Great Pyramids and was able to ride a camel in a hanbok,” she replied.  Asking her if she found any connection between the traditional Korean clothing and Arab dress, she answered that “I was introduced to Arab clothing at a festival in Korea, and the Arab world was represented by the abaya which I felt was very close to the hanbok at it is equally comfortable, commodious and conservative.”

“The hanbok is an element of Korean culture that can easily be shared and appreciated by non-Koreans,” Joung said.     

The beauty of the hanbok has been recognised outside of Korea, even among Hollywood film stars. During her 2003 visit to Korea, singer Britney Spears made a public appearance dressed in a pink hanbok complete with a jokduri headpiece.

US model Nicky Hilton during a trip to Korea in 2005 showed off her hanbok look with a white jeogori top and black chima with a white ribbon tied around her waist. In an interview, she said she had looked for an opportunity to try on a hanbok because she had seen her sister Paris Hilton wearing one. “I feel comfortable in the dress, and it is beautiful,” she remarked.

The hanbok has undergone various changes throughout its more than 1,600-year history, and the transformations continue to this day as specialty designers introduce modern reinterpretations of the traditional design on catwalks and stages around the world. In recent years, numerous foreign media outlets have expressed admiration for the elegance and beauty of the hanbok, including France’s Le Monde, which called the hanbok a “costume of the wind,” praising the way the clothes drape over the curves of the body in smooth, flowing lines while retaining an airy, voluminous look.

“As the hanbok continues to receive international attention, the charms and creative possibilities of Korea’s traditional costume will become things to be discovered and enjoyed by all. I didn’t expect this great success for my first show in Egypt, however, and this has really encouraged me to repeat the same experience in the near future,” Joung concluded.

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