Bringing back Korean old-school elegance

There is more to Korean fashion than sexy high-cut skirts, hot pants and G-Dragon.

Hanbok designer Park Sang Hee is on a mission to prove that.

"I want to show the elegance and beauty of traditional Korean clothes," said the 47-year-old designer.

She was in Singapore to showcase her hanbok designs at a fashion show at the Korean National Day reception at Shangri-La Hotel on Sept 30. The event also marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Singapore. The reception was part of Korea Festival 2015, a series of events which launched last month and will conclude in early December with the SGKstar exhibition, which will include a concert, a fashion show and an exhibition of Korean products.

Ms Park has been designing hanboks since 1998. The hanbok is the traditional Korean dress characterised by its high waist line and wide full-length skirts.

The soft-spoken designer, who studied fashion at Kukje Fashion Design Institute and at the Korean Royal Costume Research Institute, said it was her mother who inspired her to become a hanbok designer: "My mother was a hanbok designer and I followed in her footsteps. I started my hanbok designing career in my 30s, which is considered a very young age in Korea."

She has two successful hanbok boutiques in South Korea. Her dresses cost between 800,000KRW (S$976) and 1,000,000 KRW.

Her hanboks are subtle and elegant in design. Though she also has brightly coloured designs, she prefers more mellow tones and gentle shades. "I like to develop colours and work on how to express them delicately."

She admits that South Korea's rapid modernisation led to a greater interest in Western culture and fashion in the past. But she points out that recently, Koreans seem to have rekindled their affection for traditional clothing.

"I think the younger generation is starting to be more interested in the uniqueness of the hanbok. I believe that I will continue to get more young clients so long as I continue to modernise my designs."

She has another line, Choah, which consists of contemporary clothing inspired by the colours, textures, silhouette and lines of the hanbok.

She is also pleased that fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld drew inspiration from the hanbok for Chanel's 2015/16 cruise collection which was shown in Seoul in May this year. He came up with his own version of it for the show.

Ms Park says: "I really liked his designs. The lines and beauty of Korean tradition were well expressed and integrated with his own style.

"There are five colours that are traditionally used in the hanbok; blue, red, yellow, white and black. They're called 'ohbangsaek'.

"Lagerfeld managed to integrate all five colours into his designs. I think that made me appreciate it even more."

This article was first published on October 15, 2015.
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