Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can traditional clothes be fashionable?

Clothing can portray a history, a unified cultural identity rooted in tradition. From Kimonos to Saris, national dress tells a story about its people, their values and lifestyle. On special occasions or in everyday life, people are united through their attire, providing a sense of affinity and inclusion to their culture.

Alexander McQueen, with Sarah Jessica Parker, at the Costume Institute Benefit, 2006

I am from the land of tartan, or more specifically the kilt. From rebellious, spirited clans to highland dancers, tartan, kilts and Scotland are intertwined like Bonnie and Clyde or Tom and Jerry. When I was younger, I proudly partook in Highland dancing and I still have my heavy, blue McPherson tartan kilt to this day.

Tartan invokes many images of Scotland: male camaraderie at weddings, trousers in the 70s worn by the Bay City Rollers (my dad refused to wear his after the Rollers became famous), musician Rod Stewart, woollen scarves as well as the traditional kilt.

Yet, tartan has transcended Scotland and pervaded many areas of culture. Over recent years, it has been heavily utilized by the world of fashion. From Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood in the 90s to one of the major autumn/winter trends of 08/09, tartan is a recurring print again and again. Tartan is so pleasing for designers as it can facilitate many colours or fabrics, from wool to chiffon. It can present gothic glamour, grunge, the 70s or lady like chic in every manner of apparel, from billowing gowns to shift dresses to shirts.

Both photographs are designs by Alexander McQueen

Tartan is so adaptable and accommodating that it can be a fashionable trend or a wardrobe staple. I admit I will not be rocking the streets with my McPherson tartan kilt. It is not fashion forward and it is now, perhaps, reminiscent of a pleated, school girls skirt. It was made when I was 12, I'm now 24. So, in its traditional form, the kilt, tartan may not be fashionable but as a print it certainly is. Kilts may not be timeless outside of Scotland, but tartan is now a classic print. One only has to look to Burberry who have built their brand on their beige, black and red version.

So, if Scotland's traditional attire can be fashionable, can the same be said for Korea? Hanbok, literally meaning Korean clothing, consists of a bolero style blouse known as a jeogori and a long, full skirt known as a chima. Simple lines and curves are contrasted with detailed, highly wrought embroidery and vibrant colour. It is worn for special occasions, specifically Korean Thanksgiving and Lunar New Year.

Hanbok has evolved over time, changing with trends and influences throughout history. Originally a simple, two piece unisex outfit in the Three Kingdom era, Hanbok was then heavily influenced by the Chinese Tang dynasty with the additions of silk and hairpins. Subsequently, during the Josean period, blouses became shorter and skirts became fuller around the knees and ankles, creating a triangular shape and resembling Western bustles. Furthermore, colour gave an indication of status. Royalty and upper classes wore bright, vivid colours with beautiful, intricate embroidery. Ceremonial headwear, Jokduri and Hwagwon, complimented this. Lower classes were restricted to white and pastel pinks and greens for special occasions.

Today, the abundant material and simple shape of hanbok provide great inspiration for Korean designers. One of the most renowned is Lee Young Hee of Maison de Leeyounghee. Over recent years, she has showcased her modern interpretations of hanbok in Paris, New York and Seoul to fascinated audiences. Admiringly, Lee Young Hee incorporates visionary designs and modern silhouettes with tradition. Her haute couture hanbok is intricately embroidered and meticulously hand painted whilst her designs are rooted in symbolism, culture and spiritual belief.

The designs, above, are from her recent S/S 11 collection in Seoul. The inspiration for this collection was plants. Pine trees, orchids, bamboo and plum-blossom portray beauty, integrity, hardship, toughness and loneliness. Traditional Korean fabric, hansan mosi, was dyed in natural hues, emphasising the collection's inspiration. The classic hanbok shape was modified into modern silhouettes, cut at the bust or shortened. Yet, many of the designs retained a full skirt and highly wrought embroidery, significant elements of traditional hanbok.

Designers, like Alexander McQueen and Lee Young Hee, prove elements of traditional clothing can be adapted and interpreted to progress with modernity and in doing so, they become fashionable. Although the shape and pleating of a kilt is not fashionable, tartan, as a fabric, has permeated fashion and culture thoroughly. Hanbok is still evolving and gaining recognition and exposure in other countries. A selection of Lee Young Hee's designs are exhibited in a museum in New York. So, perhaps, hanbok will inspire many other designers outside Korea and its embroidery, full skirt and vibrant colour will permeate fashion to the same extent as tartan. In Korea, however, hanbok certainly is fashionable and more importantly, a symbol of Korea's national pride, culture and history.

On a final note, here is a Korean celebrity modelling a modern adaptation of the kilt. Scotland's traditional attire has even reached Korea. Hopefully, Hanbok will reach Scotland one day. Maybe, I should take a design home with me...

More from Vogue Korea, the September Issue

Models Ji Hyun Jeong and Lee Hye Jeong, photographed by Hong Jang Hyun, wear black lace and deluxe silk, in an Edwardian style grand house.

The stunning Australian, Catherine McNeil, showcases the work of Ye Young Kim in the September issue of Vogue Korea. Photographed by Rafael Stahlin, the model is reminiscent of Rita Hayworth in the film noir Gilda, charming, alluring and seductive.

Rita Hayworth is the incomparable femme fatale, alongside Glenn Ford in Charles Vidor's film. McNeil, with her wavy red hair, bears a striking resemblance to Hayworth, below.

Purchases from the Weekend

Below, Olivia Palermo looking polished in khaki at the Peter Som show at New York Fashion Week. She was the inspiration behind my purchases this weekend, proving khaki can look sophisticated and youthful.

Khaki, slim, slightly cropped trousers. Like Burberry without the price tag.

Cross between a satchel and a bag my granny used to have. Very lady like.

Best dressed: Vintage Chic

Two, very cute assistants at the vintage market, wearing chic buttoned up blouses and pretty pencil skirts. I particularly liked their accessories, kitsch hat, Victorian brooches, red leather watch and tough biker boots. Vintage worn superbly.

Seoul's Only Vintage market

"What I really love about them... is the fact that they contain someone's personal history...I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment... without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?... I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone...I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it... When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you're not just buying the fabric and thread - you're buying a piece of someone's past."
— Isabel Wolff A Vintage Affair

"The idea of wearing old clothes was simply not mainstream. It wasn't until the early '90s and the ascendancy of grunge that vintage really hit the mainstream. Grunge as a fashion moment passed but the doors of vintage clothing shops had been thrown open, never to close. Subsequent trends meant interest in vintage has waxed and waned, but just barely. It has successfully permeated the red carpet, and instead of suggesting eccentricity, now suggests taste, a good eye and subtlety,''
- Tim Gunn A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style

Vintage clothes are appealing to people with distinct styles and tastes or people wanting to differentiate themselves from the masses. As Time Gunn points out, vintage has moved from the bohemian world to the popular sphere, championed by icons such as Kate Moss. In Glasgow, the vintage shops are excellent, with apparel ranging from the 50s to 90s, in good condition. It never occurred to me that Seoul would have a market for vintage wear, considering the dominance of malls, filled with cheap, throwaway fashion. This seems the opposite of vintage shopping, of rummaging for hours for one piece, hoping what you like doesn't have holes in it. Yet, after stumbling upon vintage shops in Hongdae, I did a little more research and found Gwangjang market. This is one of the oldest markets in Seoul with a traditional food market and hundreds of stalls selling hanbok and textiles. Imported mostly from Japan, the vintage section is located on the second floor.

Walking up the stairs, the musty smell of clothes hits you, reassuring when you are searching for vintage garments. In a tiny space, 80s woolly patterned jumpers, 50s flowery sundresses and blazers in all shapes and patterns are crammed to the heights. There are rows and rows of plaid and denim shirts, in amongst leather biker jackets and funny, but sometimes vulgar knitwear. I noticed a few pieces encapsulating trends of the moment, specifically military army jackets, leather, furry aviators and polka dot, 50s full skirts. Menswear and ladieswear is mixed together, accompanying chain bags, bowties, belts and suspenders. I invested in a sleek lady like bag, a cross between a satchel and boxy, 50s purse. This type of bag is another key trend for winter.

The majority of vintage clothes are overpriced considering their quality but here, prices range from 5000 won to 20 000 won, so it is very affordable and more reasonable than the vintage shops in Hongdae. Consequently, the customers were predominantly young, cool students, eagerly searching for something unique. Lugging armfuls of clothes, they want to separate themselves from the shoppers at Dongdaemun or Myeong dong, where mass produced clothes prevail. And, I would recommend this market for its difference to these shopping areas. Although it was tiring raking through the clothes, it was a fun, shopping experience.

This market can be reached by line 1, Jongro 3, exit 12. It is open from 6am to 6pm and closed on Sundays. All photos were taken by me.

In anticipation of Seoul Fashion Week

As all fashion aficionados will know, the Spring/Summer 2011 shows have commenced, with New York showcasing its style now. London, Paris and Milan will follow suit soon. As for South Korea, Seoul fashion Week will begin on the 22nd October, running until the 27th. I am very excited to say the least. Hopefully, I will be watching menswear on the 23rd and the first day of womenwear on the 24th. Seoul does not seem to be as organised as their counterparts in Europe and America as tickets are yet to go on sale. However, all details can be found at

Vogue Korea August and September Issues

In high school, I was terrible at maths, science or anything remotely involving numbers. My area of expertise was languages, specifically French and German. (I can still very proudly recite the German alphabet.) Grammar, pronunciation and writing, I was quite the enthusiast. So, in anticipation, before moving here, I was certain, adamant even, I would learn Korean or Hanguel as the locals say. Ashamedly, I have been here for seven months and can only speak a handful of words. Retrospectively, my certainty was very misguided. My days have been filled with teaching, writing and exploring this exciting city. So, no time for Korean classes. Conveniently, I also forget I had to learn languages in school, I was not doing it by choice.

So, lack of time and motivation have contributed to my lack of Korean. Unfortunately, this means the inability to read Vogue Korea. Flicking through the pages, I can appreciate the beautiful photography and fashion. However, I'm at a big loss understanding what the articles are about. My lovely mum has been kind enough to send me magazines from the UK so I can keep updated. Yet, I still wish I hadn't been so lazy so I could fully enjoy Vogue Korea.

The first photographs are Ji Hyun Jeong from the August issue, perfectly modelling lady like, calf length skirts with block heels.

The following photographs from the spread "The Poetics of Body" juxtapose sharp, black ensembles with beautiful draping and intricate headwear, modelled by Freja Beha from the September issue.

A Collection of Korea Vogue Covers

Published in 18 countries, Vogue is the most critically acclaimed, respected fashion magazine in the world. Revered for its excellent visuals and its acute, insights into art and culture, it influences and dominates fashion and consumer culture today. It is also widely acknowledged that Vogue pioneered celebrities as cover models, appreciating their public appeal.

The American publication of Vogue is perhaps the most widely known, with Anna Wintour as its infamous editor in chief. I advise watching The September Issue for a fascinating exposition of the relationship between Wintour and Grace Coddington in the creation and countdown to the publication of the most significant, consequential issue of the year. A lesser known but excellent counterpart, South Korea has its own publication of Vogue. It began in July 1996 with Myung Hee Lee as the present editor in chief. Since its inception, the cover has featured prestigious supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Coco Rocha, Chanel Iman and Karlie Kloss to Korean actresses and models such as Kim Tae-hee.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Flying in Aviator Jackets

My aviator from Japanese brand Uniqlo

Amelia Earhart, the original aviator

Burberry's cosy models

It's finally September and a change of season is upon us. It is time to go back to school and time to choose and buy new pieces for winter . Sheepskin, leather and big collars, the aviator jacket is the investment for this coming season. Cosy and comfortable, yet stylish, the aviator is the one winter trend from the catwalks which is already selling abundantly in stores. Burberry's collection, Burberry cadet girls, is the most responsible for developing the trend when it closed London fashion week in February. Then, the mania began and the world is now obsessed with the aviator jacket. Why did it become so desirable so quickly? Well, it is practical enough to cope with freezing temperatures but stylish enough to wear with pretty dresses, slim trousers and Chelsea boots. We can now equate style with the reality of winter weather.

Historically, the aviator was used to keep World War 1 pilots warm in their open cockpits whilst the US Army established the Aviation clothing board in 1917 for pilots. Their flight jackets with high wraparound collars, numerous zips and tight cuffs provide the trademarks for today's aviator. Shearling and fur were also introduced into the design when pilots began flying at higher altitudes and therefore, needed cosier jackets. Perhaps, the most iconic female to wear the aviator was Amelia Earhart, when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. So, the aviator symbolizes power, a mixture of femininity and masculinity which makes it so appealing.

Unfortunately, I can't afford a Burberry aviator but I bought my faux version from Uniqlo last week, in preparation for Seoul's harsh winter. Hopefully, it will be as warm as the real version. Fingers crossed.