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South Korea Hallyu

It’s fair to say that Mexican wave, has nothing on the South Korean Hallyu that’s been sweeping the world for the last decade. ‘Hallyu’ which means ‘wave’ in South Korean has brought a long awaited exhibition to the Victorian & Albeit museum , and I felt privileged to attend the press preview. This first exhibition of its kind, celebrates the colourful and dynamic popular culture of South Korea, following its early origins to its place on the global stage today.  

Rosalie Kim, curator of Hallyu! The Korean Wave, said: “South Korea has captivated the world overwith hallyu, its vibrant and creative popular culture, which has transformed the country’s image fromone devastated by the Korean War to that of a leading cultural powerhouse in the era of social media and digital culture today. This phenomenon has been amplified by tech-savvy and socially conscious global fanbases, further raising the profile and relevance of hallyu around the world, and we’redelighted to be bringing its energy and dynamism to the V&A this autumn in the first exhibition of its kind.”

Striking a pose in a traditional Hanbok skirt

As a stylist who leans towards individuality , I have long been curious and experimented with re-interpretations of traditional outfits, and despite my love for travel, my main motive for the trip to South Korea a few years ago was purely to see the traditional Hanbok first hand and be inspired by the modern interpretation in the day-to-day life. There is so much potential to re-interpret traditional outfits, as I can pick a single accessory, an aspect of tailoring, or even a old way of wrapping and incorporate it into my everyday style to create a very individual look. This exhibition has so much to offer, and I spent many a moments standing in front of the fashion installations, just re-imagining on the reimagined.

Traditional Military Hanbok

Kye Hanhee’s evening dress with it’s very oversized collar and strips instead of the traditional buttons on a Hanbok makes it a quirky stand out outfit, but still maintains the shilouette of a traditional hanbok.

Saekdong jeogori multicoloured stripped jacket

This outlandish ‘Saedong’ , which means ‘coloured stripes’ particularly caught my eye because of its colour pop, stripe-on-stripe with and pipping on the sleeves and neckline. Its original concept stems from sewing together left over strips from dyed fabrics, resulting in no one piece being the same. It also has sustainability at it’s core, encouraging zero waste. It’s got a street style vibe going on, yet still has a warrior feel to it.

Traditional Po overcoat in silk with white paper collar lining
Indigo Denim suit – Jung Wook Jun for Juun J

The basic concept of mens suit has stayed the same over the years, and whilst the length, width of and waist line has always been a focus of expression, The neck details is what sets it apart from the crowd. This indigo denim suit, – a reinterpretation of the traditional Po overcoat, replaced the silk material for denim and the thin white paper lining the donjon collar with Leather – creating an extremely edgy and one of a kind look, and in my opinion certainly gives Savoy row a run for it’s money.

Long gone are the days when sportswear was defined by tracksuits and trainers. Collaborations are leading the way forward to create edgy cross overs from sports to occasion wear. Ji won monochrome reinterpretation from the goreum (jacket tie-straps) & daemim (trousers with straps) that replace the buttons on a traditional hanbok is fluid, badass and has an authentic ,yet model look to it.

Deconstructed denim with traditional
handbook angles by Jin Teok
Beyond underwear by Sun Younghee

Two outfits really stood out to me because of the exaggerated shilloutes. The layered denim and tapestry waist coat paired with deconstructed denim skirt/trousers, has such a modern twist on the hanbok, is attainable and very individual. I’m inspired.

Beyond underwear – really strips in back to the skeleton, but also brings to mind the current underwear/outer trend. My re-interpretation, rather then pair bras/corsets with jeans or one layer, I’ll double layer at the bottom and take it further with dimension.

Black brimmed hat – Jung Choon-mo. /Indoor headwear – kim Hye-Jung/
Man headband – Kang Jeon yang/ Joseoan military official hat – Park Chang-young

I doff my hat, to these traditional mens headgear which were seen in Joseon era zombie series Kingdom. They are so out there that I couldn’t help but notice them! Take the man headband in front for starters, it certainly makes modern day bands look dull. These shapes are so individual and the only reinterpretation needed is to dawn one of these with any modern outfit, and the swagger is instantly elevated.

The Hanbok fashion is of course only one part of the many displays and immersive exhibits, and there is something for everyone. Ranging from contemporary Korean fashion to the spotlighting of K-drama and film through multimedia, installations, posters, props as well as costumes from the iconic pink guard and green tracksuit from hit Netflix series Squid Game.

Organza frill ensemble – kyu Shin

Contemporary designers from Korean and the diaspora have risen to world wide success due to K.POP and K-Drama. Seoul Fashion week, with it’s Instagram-able, Neo-futuristic backdrop also allows young and new designers to extend their reach through social media. This whimsical gender neutral piece by Kyu Shin is an example of the styles occupying the niche market between street wear and luxury brands and targeted towards Millennial and Gen-Z at on-line platforms.

Netflix the ‘Parasite’
‘Squid game’ on Netflix
K-POP Fashion

There’s also the immersive recreation of the bathroom set from Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning film ParasiteThis will be the first time the bathroom in the Kim family’s banjiha – or semi-basement apartment – has been re-created, under the guidance of its acclaimed Production Designer Lee Ha Jun. (no spoilers, so go along and see and smell it for yourselves).

The Peony dress by Miss Sohee, 2020 graduation collection ‘The Girl in Full Bloom’. Photograph by Daniel Sachon.

For all the k- beauty fans, there is a plethora of presents K-beauty, underlining their origin whilst showcasing their innovative and experimental approach that has led to new aesthetic standards both inside and outside of Korea. Curated Highlights also include how product placement in K-dramas and endorsements from K-pop idols have amplified the international profile of K-beauty and fashion.

The grooming kit from The Handmaiden

Also featuring are cosmetics packaging from the 13th century to the present day, traces packaging’s design evolution, from ornate porcelain pots to items including face mask wrappings boasting idols as superheroes. 

South Korean rapper Psy performs his massive K-pop hit “Gangnam Style” live on NBC’s “Today” show, in New York Psy performs on TODAY, New York, USA – Photo by Jason Decrow/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9056138l)

I took a tour of the exhibition in reverse, starting at the end with the fashion exhibits, then having satisfied my curiosity, made my way slowly through everything else, and eventually found myself at the beginning, which opens with the familiar example of hallyu:- PSY’s viral 2012 hit single ‘Gangnam Style’,with his iconic pink suit jacket on display– FACTS -The song and its quirky dance moves were an overnight sensation, and it became the first music video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. The hugely successful video was an early reflection of hallyu’s international appeal that went on to launch a global phenomenon, inspiring parodies and cover versions across the world, several examples of which, filmed across multiple continents, also feature in this introduction.

BTS merchandise
Samsung phone

Webtoons , Korean’s innovation of digital cartoons designed for mobile devices, as a source of inspiration for many K-dramas are also showcased.

K-POP Fandom light stick corridor
K – POP group – Aespa ‘Next Level’ MV, 2021 © SM Entertainment

K-POP fans are welcomed through a corridor gallery lined by fan lightsticks, then greeted by posters, ephemera and album covers from early K-pop bands like Seo Taiji and Boys and BoA, before progressing through to explore the concept of ‘Idols’ in K-pop. This immersive room hosts music video excerpts by the likes of BIGBANG, NCT and BLACKPINK, surrounded by artworks, ephemera and costumes. Highlights include a monumental three-metre-high sculpture of G-Dragon by Gwon Osang, whilst costumes on display include aespa’s original iridescent outfits from the music video ‘Next Level’, and British punk fashion-inspired ensembles worn by four members of ATEEZ in the music video ‘Fireworks’.

Moi in traditional Korean Hanbok.
The Book – available at V & A shop
Dance challenge on!

I took on the interactive K-pop dance challenge (created in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture, inviting visitors to try their hand at K-pop choreography for PSY’s ‘That That’, co-written and co-produced with SUGA from BTS), and my renditions became part of an evolving collective dance displayed on a big screen in the space. Fun times!

Finally , if you appreciate a good fashion book, stop by the shop.

Hallyu! The Korean wave24 September 2022 – 25 June 2023

Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road

Gallery 39 and North Court

London SW7 2RL

United Kingdom

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