[VOGUE] The Story Behind Seoul’s Latest Street Style Staple – 15.10.23
But these things change. In May, when Karl Lagerfeld chose to present Chanel’s Resort collection in Seoul, model Ji Hye Park closed the show in a breathtaking peach and pale pink dress with an airy skirt—the hanbok, translated lovingly into a red carpet–worthy gown. At the recent Paris Fashion Week, Phil Oh trained his lens on two girls in violet hanboks, carrying mini Céline totes along the Champs-Élysées. On the streets from Gangbok to Gangnam, you’ll see them now, and at Seoul Fashion Week, packs of girls in hanboks caused a photographic frenzy each time they appeared. It’s official: The hanbok is back, and making a major impact on the city’s fashion scene. But what exactly sparked this sudden revival?
“In 2014, there was this boom, and it just became a trend,” explains Lee Jiyeon at Dongdaemun Design Plaza with her friend, Kim Garyung. The two met at a hanbok party at Duksung, a private women’s university in northern Seoul. “There are so many hanbok parties at universities,” Jiyeon says. “Many university students these days want to wear hanbok and increase hanbok culture—if you search the hashtag ‘hanbok’ on Instagram, you will see so many people wearing it.”
Garyung, 16, who joined the club last year, wears a hanbok three times a week; today, she’s wearing a galactic skirt, printed with pale blue moons and milky white stars. “I bought the fabric at Dongdaemun Market, and then I took it to Gwangjang Market to customize it,” she says. “A lot of people do that now.” Meanwhile, Jiyeon, 26, who first dove into the scene two years ago, wears a burgundy jacket and sheer gray linen skirt that skims the ground as she walks. “I wear a hanbok every day,” she says. “It’s pretty, and you can wear it so fashionably.” On other days, Jiyeon wears modern hanboks—fetching wrap dresses and skirts—which she says have played a large part in boosting the garment’s renewed presence.
We head to Jeonju, an ancient city south of Seoul, where designer Hwang Yi-seul, 28, crafts neo-hanboks at Leesle: A navy blue coatdress with a Y-shaped white collar and slight side knot, paired with skinny jeans, and denim and white wrap shirts, cut simply to hug the shoulders. “I focus on designing clothes that blend in,” Yi-seul says. “I don’t want to put the traditional elements up front, but rather keep them subtle.”
Though she first started making hanboks nine years ago, the self-taught designer launched Leesle just last August, after seeing demand rise. “Korea has more than 5,000 years of its own history and clothing traditions, but people treat hanbok like clothes reserved only for formal occasions,” Yi-seul explains. According to her, the traditional dress now makes up only 1 percent of the country’s fashion industry. “I thought that if it continues this way, then our unique traditions will disappear,” she says. “That’s why I started to make modern hanboks, so that more people could see their beauty and value.”
Initially inspired by Goong, a popular manhwa or graphic novel from the early aughts, classic motifs become wearable in Yi-seul’s hands, rendered in simple cottons and linens, and leather and lace. “The number of clothes we are selling is proof of how many people are wearing hanboks again,” she says—1,000 pieces each month to 20-something women and teens, like Jiyeon and Garyung. Back in Seoul, Jiyeon sums it up: “Today people want to dress to impress themselves,” she says, smiling, “and hanboks are good for that.”