The Korea Herald


Joseon literati’s robe goes modern

Fashion designers find modernity in the silhouette of the traditional Korean men’s garment

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Oct. 31, 2013 - 19:24

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Po, an outer robe worn by Joseon literati, recreated in modern men’s sizes (Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation) Po, an outer robe worn by Joseon literati, recreated in modern men’s sizes (Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation)
Seeking to find a new fashion inspiration ― much like Japan’s kimono has inspired many global-leading designers ― a Korean cultural non-profit organization hopes to instill the Joseon literati’s outer robe as the next Oriental fashion inspiration.

Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation presents a triennial exhibition shedding light on the outer robe of the Joseon literati and the spirit behind it. The exhibition, which runs from Thursday to Nov. 20, displays traditional robes in various colors and designs, recreated by artisans of today and three leading Korean fashion designers.

“Some of the notable features in po (an outer robe worn by literati) are the understated silhouette, the simple dimensions and the balance and proportions that are in harmony with nature. We decided to study the beauty in the literati’s clothes,” said Cho Hyo-sook, a Gachon University professor, at a talk held prior to the exhibition opening Wednesday at Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation in Tongui-dong, Seoul.

The first part of the exhibition shows robes remade to fit a 183-centimeter tall man of today. Five hanbok artisans reproduced outer robes in colors and designs similar to those of yore based on research of historical documents.

The display of robes brings vitality into the exhibition venue, which is a traditional Korean house known as a hanok. The robes are hung inside the as if they were owned by a scholar living there. A robe worn by King Yeongjo of Joseon (1392-1910) is recreated in the hands of two artisans who used sheer light-weight organza in jade green to create a robe characterized with a sharp, pointed collar and wide sleeves to show the wearer’s dignity. 

A light-weight organza coat by Jin Tae-ok(Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation) A light-weight organza coat by Jin Tae-ok(Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation)
Contemporary designers bring out the understated, but dignified silhouette in their modern designs. Veteran designer Jin Tae-ok, known for her romantic, simple designs, applied the elegant, streamlined V-collar of the traditional robe to her wool coat with a long V-collar in leather.

Menswear designer Kim Seo-ryong said he understood the traditional outer robe as the coat we wear today. He recreated the light feeling of the traditional outer robe in multiple layers of silk, compressed to create a soft, light texture for his clean-cut suits in ivory and black.

“I was worried this might be clothes that are not worn, but just seen. I initially felt helpless in front of the beautiful traditional robes. My focus has always been clothes that feature aesthetic features from tradition, but that are still be wearable,” said Kim.

Juun. J, one of the few Korean designers successful overseas known for his trench coats, applied the traditional inspiration to his signature relaxed, yet classical bell silhouette.

He chose the least likely fabrics ― denim and leather ― in his creations for the exhibition. His oversized coats feature a straight V-neckline that runs to the middle of the chest. He also incorporates a slightly curvy V-neckline to the tailored Chesterfield coat.

“The quest for extreme simplicity, expressed by fashion designers is ‘minimal.’ The original appearance of po is the beauty of refined lines and streamlined cutting lines. Modernity has always been in po, but we were only able to realize it today,” said Jung.

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By Lee Woo-young (