How Korean 'Clothes of Wind' Blew the Minds of Fashionistas

      November 24, 2008 08:23

      Designer of hanbok or traditional Korean dress Lee Young-hee, 72, instantly captivated Hillary Clinton and Michael Jackson, while U.S. President George W. Bush says she is "the best."

      Lee created quite a stir in fashion circles with her debut Paris collection in the early 1990s, and played a pivotal role in establishing the Korea Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution. She published her autobiography, titled "A Hanbok Designer Who Went to Paris."

      "I have thought about writing an autobiography for 10 years. I wanted to let junior designers know that confidence can get you through anything," said Lee in her boutique in Apgujeong-dong on Wednesday.

      Designer Lee Young-hee shows a hanbok she designed.

      Although she inherited sewing talent from her mother, who made clothes during her pregnancy thinking that it might have a positive influence on her unborn baby, Lee did not dream of becoming a professional hanbok designer. She sold blankets to help run her household after getting married, then began making hanbok with leftover silk garments, which eventually led her to finding her vocation as a hanbok designer.

      "When I went to Paris in 1993, most people thought of hanbok as a variation of Japanese kimono. After months of deliberation, I came up with a jacketless dress, which was most unconventional for a hanbok," said Lee.

      Laurence Benaim, a fashion reporter for Le Monde at the time, called her costume "clothes of wind" in tribute to the wonderful piece of work. Lee broke a stereotype of traditional clothes being boring. Her "clothes of wind" is now one of the most representative contemporary styles of hanbok.

      It is not just the artistry of Lee's design that has captured people's minds. The subtlety of the colors she creates using natural dyes has also won her many admirers. When she created the outer jacket for national leaders participating in the Busan APEC conference of 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush took his jacket home with him, saying he loved the softness and color of the fabric. Lee believes the essence of hanbok design comes from the colors.

      Lee says she would like to be reincarnated as a hanbok designer. Her passion seemingly knows no bounds.

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