It’s not often that an honour guard in Joseon dynasty costume greets you as you enter a London public building. In fact the last time I can recall it happening was at the celebration of Korean food and fashion at the Banqueting House in 2009. And at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 30 July we were again being treated to Korean food and fashion in equally splendid surroundings.
Once past the honour guard, the ambassador and Minister of Culture were there to greet you, and you were ushered into the V&A’s central courtyard for drinks. Six years ago Dulsori had performed there at a Korean fashion event and had got very wet. Fortunately for us this time round the weather was dry, and the acoustics of the courtyard fitted perfectly the percussion of Baramgot. In the assembled company (of “300 diplomatic, administrative and cultural figures from Korea and the UK” according to the Chosun Ilbo) were some distinguished guests: directors of the V&A and Edinburgh Festival, former ambassadors, a Viscountess and, right at the top of the A-list: legendary film director Im Kwon-taek.
We were summoned back into the museum, through the shop and into a large room adorned with some of the Queen’s Raphaels. Some 40 tables were laid for dinner, and down the centre of the room ran a large catwalk.
We had been promised a preview of Lie Sang-bong’s autumn and winter collections. Lie (이상봉), Korea’s most famous living fashion designer, is probably best known for his fabrics which are inspired by hangul – Korea’s script. Some of these fabrics adorn the seating at London’s KCC. But Lie has been exploring other areas of Korea’s design and cultural heritage as sources of inspiration.
The advance publicity had led us to expect lots of dancheong-inspired creations. But we had to wait for those. The first designs to be paraded down the room were beautiful creations featuring designs inspired by Korea’s traditional jogakbo (조각보) patchworks.
Pastels and bold primary colours blended in the different designs with fabrics ranging from the wispy and diaphanous to the soft and silky, all of them a delight to the eye. Rather less appealing, though no less inventive, was the next collection on the catwalk, a combination of Michelin man and concertina-like paper Christmas decorations, said to be architecturally inspired.
A brief break ensued during which models were able to execute a costume change, and a video of Korean palace and temple architecture (and of course paintwork) played to the audience to set the scene for what was coming next.
At the start of the catwalk, cubes with dancheong designs had been piled up since the start of the evening like oversized children’s building blocks. These now suddenly lit up like a Nam June Paik video installation, heralding the start of the second part of the show.
Again, the range of fabrics and styles on display was huge, from the dazzling evening dress in a golden green …
… to a dramatic black evening dress and a more casual pleated skirt
The stylists had been having fun with the headwear – most of the models were wearing roof tiles decorated with dancheong painting: a nice touch not seen in previous displays of this range.
With a display of this variety it was easy to want more and more, but we had to fit in a brief cookery demonstration and then dinner for 300 people.
The catering for the dinner was provided by Bibigo, the restaurant chain owned by the CJ conglomerate. A delicate appetiser of octopus in mung bean jelly was followed by a vegetarian bibimbap beautifully served with a side order of sweet-tasting galbi jjim, all rounded off with a sweet pancake tasting like a cinnamon doughnut. If Bibigo – recently opened in Great Marlborough Street – can sustain this quality of food on a daily basis they should do well.
The V-VIP dinner table at the end of the catwalk was hosted by the Korean Minister of Culture Sports & Tourism. He was joined by the director of the V & A and Lie Sang Bong among others. One hopes that some business was being conducted over the soju and that some of Lie’s designs will end up in the museum’s collection before long.
- Official Lie Sang Bong website | Facebook
- More photos and reports at The XOXO Kids | Irenebriation | Korea.net | Korea Times
- Interview with Lie Sang Bong by Irenebration
All photos by LKL except where credited otherwise