Hanbok: Traditional, Modern, and Haute Couture Fashion

Today, Korean fashion designers are taking the hanbok to new heights by incorporating contemporary trends, patterns, materials, and remixing all of it to create a style that’s uniquely Korean. To the viewer, it’s a cool piece of wearable art and stretches the imagination to new heights by showing us how the traditional hanbok and the modern fashion styles of today can come together into some awesome, creative pieces. 

In a modern hanbok design project called “the New Hanbok Project” with the Korean Hanbok Advancement Center, several modern hanbok designers showcased their vision for hanbok in these hybrid and completely new designs for men and women. We’ll take a look at what hanbok means to each designer, the inspiration behind their designs, and see a sneak peak at the future of the modern hanbok in not only Korea, but in global fashion. 

About the New Hanbok Project:

Embracing our lifestyle and sensibility, Hanbok has continuously evolved in the pursuit of beauty. Rather than garments worn only on certain occasions, the New Hanbok Project proposes clothing that can pervade our modern lifestyle. 

– Choi Jeongcheol, Head of the Korean Hanbok Advancement Center

What is modern hanbok? What makes a hanbok modern? 

In the New Hanbok Project, hanbok is considered as “a clothing that has found the inherent aesthetics values of Hanbok and one that can fulfill the desires and needs of clothing for people in the present” at the same time. 

It is true that currently, hanbok is seen in Korea more as a traditional costume, rather than an everyday outfit or a casual fashion. When you bring up hanbok, it makes people think of special festivals, celebrations, and dress-ups at pretending to be royalty for play — but it doesn’t convey the sense that hanbok can be part of our normal style. The point of the New Hanbok project is to break that mold and see how hanbok can not only be a blast from the past, but something to propel haute couture fashion into the future. 

Featured Designers: 

Park Seonock

Kim Sujinn

Song Hyemi

Lee Haemi

Cheong Minkyung

Hong Ahyoung

Hwang Suntae

Ccomaque

Modern Hanbok Designer, Park Seonock

Q. What does Hanbok mean to you? 

Where you belong, without a choice from the moment you are born, is tradition. No matter what I make, the Korean tradition is the place where I belong as a fashion designer. I can never be free from traditional clothing. In other words, in any of my works, a Korean tradition is implicitly reflected.

Q. What is the purpose of your modern hanbok design?

While pondering on New Hanbok designs, I have come to realize that if you have a deep appreciation for traditional culture and have studied the traditional clothing, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to develop your work freely reflecting on what you see and feel as a Korean living within modernity.

Overall, the show’s target was Korean urbanites that are living in an omni channel-like life, which is seemingly far from tradition. By offering costume designs where the principle of Hanbok has pervaded, I intend for Koreans, who seemingly live in a modernized life, but in fact, belong to the life in tradition, to enjoy our tradition in an office environment or in everyday life.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

The reddish color, Eunsaek (은색, blackish red color) amongst Obangsaek, was the core color in the development of my work. In terms of color, I was inspired by Mark Rothko’s late work for the color, and it’s also the color that is used often on Hanbok’s goreum.

In terms of material, my inspiration came from traditional armor, so I used padding fabric that possesses a metal feel to it, leather like material and spangle fabric. While existing traditional Jeogori is about 15 inches (38cm) in width, which is made from a narrow pattern, the Jeogori pattern that is newly implemented for the show was 58 inches (147cm), which is used quite often lately. All the tops introduced in the fashion show utilize exclusively developed Tangram patterns.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Lace, suede, spangle, padding, fake leather quilting, saekdong, overlapping fabrics

Q. What do the designs look like? 

Modern Hanbok Designer, Kim Sujinn

Q. What does Hanbok mean to you? 

Hanbok, which has become emblematic of discomfort after modernization, has approached us as a nationalist motive, rather than from the freedom of interpretation. Our efforts to interpret the tradition focused on questions like, ‘why are our Hanbok clothes not worn,’ or ‘how can we make more people wear our clothes?’ Previously, there was no process of bridging the gap between it (Hanbok) and our lives in the present.

Q. What is the purpose of your modern hanbok design?

As a fashion designer, most works in the past were the process of having an up-to-date conversation with a few extracted essential elements from our traditional sense of beauty. The essence of the process was not expressed from a commitment to tradition. Our hometown, the homes in which we were born and its history have the necessary remedies for people living in the present-day.

How much have we forgotten, having lived inside mechanical spaces? I went back to the basics as a researcher, and released the lyrical representation that reduces the resistance of one’s mind. Then I started writing down a prescription, named ‘The Beauty of Purify, Calm, Elegant.’ This is for us who live with modernity.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

The suggestion gained from the New Hanbok Project is not just one of a chuck of stuffed traditional signs presented on Chima. It is ‘ texture,’ which translates aesthetics in current signs and creates the necessary gesture and attitude for us living in the present. That is, style.

Followed by a form of self-replication, and in addition to considering the current discourses of ‘what tradition provides and what tradition can change,’ what needs to be done in our generation is to make an environment where various shades can be created. Also, a ‘form’ based on today’s ‘consciousness’ will be eventually brought to light, only if our own individuality fully performs as a base of ‘beauty.’ This process is not merely based on ‘our own traditions,’ some of which come from propaganda. Only if such a vocation develops, can the spectrum that consists of an inherited tradition be created.

Q. What are the main materials and technique?

Linen, silk, cotton, with pleats and overlapping

Q. What do the designs look like? 

Modern Hanbok Designer, Song Hyemi

Q. What does Hanbok mean to you? 

‘Clothes… the largest part of our life. History says that the clothes are Hanbok, but in the future, what we wear now will be our country’s traditional costume. In the end, I am not making Hanbok from the past, but the clothes that can be worn now.’

If you look aside from the ideas that say that Hanbok is simple and only consists of Jeogori and skirts, there are endless ways to design Hanbok with its elements in ordinary life. What I think of New Hanbok is, clothing which can pervade everyone’s daily life without hesitancy. This can be achieved if the contemporary designs and the traditional designs of Hanbok are constructed harmoniously with a variety of materials and colors for the ready -to-wear clothes. New Hanbok is not about creating completely new things, but in making Korean clothes that anybody can wear comfortably and harmoniously with any old outfit from a closet.

Q. What is the purpose of your modern hanbok design?

The clothes that you would like to wear, not to show… the clothes you can wear and go out anytime without discomfort… the clothes that are affordable and not so pricey to buy … Rather than seeing New Hanbok from the traditional point of view or from a more general perspective, this project begins from the perspective of the everyday person who can incorporate traditional clothes into their daily life.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

Dopo (도포, a variety of overcoat in Hanbok)’s Seop (섶, overlapped column on the front) and Mu (무, left and right Mu on the back side put into the back hem of the cloth), are reinterpreted as a modern coat and jacket. The Git from Jeogori is also translated as the form of a scarf that can be freely transformed.

In order to express the color that seemingly embraces moonlight, the lining and outer garment’s transparency is applied differently, creating a soft glowing light. For the material, Bongyeonnobang (본견노 방, pure silk fabric)/suiting /vertical silk was used to break away from vibrant colors and forms. This was done so that anybody could comfortably wear the clothes that were created from Korean-like patterns, simple lines in one color, and with blue and yellow colors from Obangsaek. A three-dimensional silhouette is created, which focuses on the colors and form in design process.

Followed by a form of self-replication, and in addition to considering the current discourses of ‘what tradition provides and what tradition can change,’ what needs to be done in our generation is to make an environment where various shades can be created. Also, a ‘form’ based on today’s ‘consciousness’ will be eventually brought to light, only if our own individuality fully performs as a base of ‘beauty.’ This process is not merely based on ‘our own traditions,’ some of which come from propaganda. Only if such a vocation develops, can the spectrum that consists of an inherited tradition be created.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Silk, polyester, and technique of expanding the Mu and the Goreum

Q. What do the designs look like? 

Modern Hanbok Designer, Lee Haemi

Q. What does Hanbok mean to you? 

Hanbok are the clothes that were worn, are being worn and will be worn by our people. As something intimately related to our daily lives, Hanbok reflects our ancestors’ mode of living. We surely can say that it’s natural as Hanbok is being transformed into a suitable outfit for people living modern lifestyles. While developing the New Hanbok designs, the focus was to renew and reconstruct the old values into our new sensibility in clothing, blending the past and the present harmoniously so that the unique aesthetics of our people could be represented.

Q. What is the purpose of your modern hanbok design?

The given motif was Obangsaek. Colors are chosen in order to offer the strong stimulation when expressing beauty. Color images stimulate associations related to clothes and they can be considered a significant impact to the overall composition.

I chose the color black from Obangsaek, the main theme of the New Hanbok Project. In Chinese characters, the color black signifies ‘profoundness.’ In addition, the color black implies the nuanced meaning of neutrality and wisdom. Implemented black with Sosaek (소색, raw fabric color) in our ancestors’ clothes symbolizes incorruptibility, honesty and modesty, and this can be largely found on Simui or Hakchangui (학창의, the men’s outer robe in Joseon dynasty), the clothes of scholars from Joseon dynasty.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

Using black, the design intends to resolve the complex and diversified changes and visions of contemporary people with the internal spirit of Korea’s understated tradition. The technique of ‘closure’ in Joseon dynasty’s clothing culture (which is a way of wearing clothes by wrapping around the hem) shows our unique tradition and its neatness.

I intend to offer a design that interprets this as a deconstructed and disclosed culture, with a particular Korean sentiment that is widely seen in current society. In addition, through these designs I try to impart stability to contemporary people who are living in chaos.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Silk, wool, polyester, and designing the Goreum, ribbon embroidery, and disentangling the fabric.

Q. What do the designs look like? 

Modern Hanbok Designer, Cheong Minkyung

Q. What does Hanbok mean to you? 

I majored in Western fashion. And my job is to design wedding dresses for brides, and for special parties. However, I was always told that my designs had a Hanbok or Korean sensibility. In more recent experiences before studying western fashion, I have worn Hanbok for about ten years while playing Kore- an traditional music. From my childhood experience, I have memories of dressing up in Hanbok, following my parents and entering Biwon (비원, the secret garden at Changdeokgung palace) on holidays. I suppose all this has been reflected in my work.

Q. How has hanbok changed?

A century ago, Hanbok was merely known as our clothing. These garments, worn by our ancestors were used in their daily life. Adorning oneself with new clothes for special days was considered good manners. In present times Hanbok has adopt- ed itself to the social environment and circumstances, which has change rapidly. As a result of it, the names of each piece of clothes has become obscure, and Hanbok has departed our everyday vocabulary of clothing. Now they are only worn on very special occasions such as weddings, or for ceremonies. Nowadays, even on these occasions western style dresses and suits have replaced the role of Hanbok.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

The theme for the works in the New Hanbok Project is “flowers” — fully bloomed flowers and ones that are about to bloom. Flowers resemble the laughter of young women. “HoHo,” this is how they shyly laugh sometimes. At other times they laugh freely like this, “WhaWha!” With this in mind I compared flowers to women and captured images of them laughing inside the designs. In terms of colors, I used the five traditional Korean (primary) colors: Obangsaek; red, black, yellow, blue and white. However, I transformed them in into more intense colors. Furthermore, to achieve the aesthetic characteristics of an Asian look, the beauty of overlapping was expressed in overlaying, repetition, intrusion, and transparency.

Q. What are the main materials and technique?

Beads, satin, organza and with techniques of overlapping and flower decorations

Q. What do the designs look like? 



Modern Hanbok Designer, Hong Ahyoung

Q. Why did you want to design modern hanbok? 

To not to deviate from the tradition of Hanbok, I always get preoccupied when making design changes. Also, it’s always difficult to draw a boundary and determine how much traditional elements should be reflected in each design. For me, the New Hanbok Project is not a simple task that merely transforms the old into new design elements of Hanbok. I consider tradition as a process that dissolves and flows inside years, creating a story. Thus, I think the Hanbok I am newly transforming, can be a part of its story in the future. All my work is the story I want to tell, and I want to tell the story of currently modified Hanbok with a child’s mind.

One thing is for certain, how the story of Hanbok will continue and change cannot be entirely determined at this moment. The story I will unfold should face the future rather than the past. I want to make a story of Hanbok, which pervades and flows naturally into our times.

Q. Why did you choose this design?

The story to tell is related to Akhakgwebeom. With Akhakgwebeom — a kind of musical grammar written in the early years of the Joseon dynasty, the clothing’s Ogansaek (오간색, five traditional Korean secondary colors) were reinterpreted with the warm and soft tones of the traditional colors of Hunsaek. This is achieved so that contemporary viewers can easily approach the New Hanbok. In addition, the subject matter of the ‘youth’ of the present was borrowed from genres of music. Along with the texture of ‘neoprene,’ which has recently become a trendy material, it brings a large visual impact.

Q. How did you design this style? What are the stylistic components of it? 

By using traditional black colors along with four Hunsaek, traditional garments such as, ‘Bhangui (방의, the dance costume for Dukje ritual in Joseon dynasty),’ ‘Cheoyongui (처용의, the dance costume for Dance of Cheoyong in Joseon dynasty)’ and ‘Osaekdahngahp’ were interpreted in a contemporary manner. Perhaps, the narrative of these clothes, which would be difficult since they have never been experienced before, can be more accessible when approached with the traditional Hunsaek — a pastel color of the now.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Neoprene, satin, fake fur, and padding

Q. What do the designs look like? 



Modern Hanbok Designer, Hwang Suntae

Q. What do you hope to achieve with modern hanbok designs? 

When two tile-layers stand at the end of a rope on both sides and stretches the rope, no matter how hard it’s pulled, due to the law of universal gravitation the rope will always slant — this is called the curve of Yongmaru. Giwa (기와, roof tile) has this natural line. As natural as curves found in our traditional clothing, our cultural heritage is unfamiliar yet recognizable, near yet far. I hope our clothes will be inherited and developed with an embraced microcosm of craftsmen who follow the path by overlaying roof tiles and doing needlework stitch-by- stitch.

Q. Why did you choose this design?

For this New Hanbok Project I want to express the lines from nature, which our roof tile and Hanbok offer. The harmony between the lines and curves on roof tile and the relaxed atmosphere from negative spaces are observed from excavated samples in Mu from the long Jeogori and Samhoejang Jeogori (삼회장저고리, women’s jackets). Based on this I intend to ex- press the beauty of roof tile with lines of Hanbok.

Q. What changes did you make to the traditional hanbok design to make your own?

Samhoejang Jeogori is transformed into a contemporary style of Jeogori with a color scheme, and by utilizing Mu I try to give mobility and comfort in linear patterns. Also, with Magoja (마고자, a type of long jacket worn over Jeogori), men’s pants, Dahnsokgot (단속곳, a traditional underskirt), and Acjurumpo (액주름포, quilted jacket), there will be much more emphasis on style.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Silk, wool, cashmere with techniques on quilting, embroidery

Q. What do the designs look like? 

Modern Hanbok Designer, Ccomaque

Q. What does hanbok mean to you? 

Hanbok is just one of the clothes for me. There’s no identity of nation, nationality or meaning in Hanbok, just clothes that a living person wears. I want someone to wear it because one prefers to wear it because of the style of Hanbok, not simply because it’s Hanbok. I want Hanbok to be as we define it; clothes that can be worn not only any day anywhere, but also on special occasions when it’s necessary to dress up. As a compound word, CCOMAQUE consists of the words ‘ccoma’ (meaning ’little’ in Korean) and ‘unique.’ This is Dolsilnai’s second brand, which presents the beauty of a forgotten tradition. First launched in 2014, the brand is offering Hanbok, which is somewhat far from our normal routine, to a young generation in a desirable form.

There were a considerable number of Jeogori and skirts in grandmother’s dresser when I was young. The name of the Hanbok pieces such as Gojaengi (고쟁이, woman’s undertrousers in Hanbok), Jeoksam (적삼, under jacket in Hanbok) and more were items that we used everyday. There was no discomfort, as young generation tends to think of Hanbok now. Clothes gain vitality when they are worn and called upon on a daily basis. CCOMAQUE aims to be the brand, which exceeds the young generation’s ephemeral trends or curiosity, and chosen as an everyday clothing.

Q. What techniques did you use for this collection?

The collection applies D.T.P (Digital Textile Printing) techniques to Saekdong and the characters from Shipjangsaeng (십장생, ten longevity symbols) that are developed exclusively. With the red and blue colors from Obangsaek as the collection’s main colors, it mixes various materials and offers a lively and unconventional style.

Q. How was this designed?

Formal motifs were derived from the shape of Jeogori, Cheolik and Sapok Baji(사폭 바지, man’s traditional trousers) and the formative aesthetics are drawn from the waist decoration and patchwork. In addition to it, traditional goods such as Beoseon (버선, traditional Korean socks), Gwee Jumoni (귀주머니, pouch), Chobawi (조바위, a women’s winter hat with earflaps), Tosu (토수, ornamental roof tile) and more are utilized as coordinating items.

Q. What are the main materials and technique? 

Denim, jersey, cotton with techniques on discharge printing, D.T.P(Digital textile printing)

Q. What do the designs look like? 

What do you think about these designers’ take on the hanbok and their approaches to design? Did you like any of these designs? Would you wear it? 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! 

 

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