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Inspired by Nature – The Traditional Cosmetics of Korea

An interesting exhibition coming up at the KCC:

Inspired by Nature – The Traditional Cosmetics of Korea

February 19, 2013 ~ April 6, 2013

The Korean Cultural Centre UK and the Coreana Cosmetics Museum present Inspired by Nature, The Traditional Cosmetics of Korea, a compelling exhibition that brings traditional korean makeup tools and accessories each revealing the supreme craftsmanship, life and wisom of Korean women through the ages.

Inspired by Nature poster

From 19 February to 6 April 2013, the exhibition Inspired by Nature, the Traditional Cosmetics of Korea features 150 handpicked traditional makeup tools and accessories from the largest collection of artifacts related to the history of Korean cosmetics and beauty culture. With exhibits dating from the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC- 668AD) to the early 20th century this exhibition offers the viewer a unique opportunity to sample Korea’s beautiful heritage. With the quest for beauty being an insatiable part of human nature, a nation’s cosmetic culture reveals how society has developed and changed over time.

The history of Korea’s cosmetic culture runs back to the Three Kingdoms period, from the women depicted in the murals of tombs shown with rouged cheeks and lips as well as delicately shaped eyebrows. It has been recorded that ladies from Goryeo (918-1392) favoured light make-up, using powder but without rouge or blusher, and eyebrows in the shape of a “willow leaf”. Although the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was dominated by Confucianism and so restrained the practice of sumptuous makeup, it did however present the opportunity to decorate oneself with hair and apparel accessories.

Such changes in tastes and fashion also extended to the cosmetics containers and makeup tools. As traditional cosmetics were made from natural materials, without preservatives most cosmetics containers therefore were relatively small. During the Three Kingdoms, earthenware was mainly used for the cosmetic containers but the growth of a celadon culture in the Goryeo era produced various designs of cosmetics containers. The Inlaid Celadon Containers, complimented by smaller cases inside, are the highlights of Goryeo’s cosmetic culture. Subsequent Joseon craftsmen and women developed the manufacturing techniques and designs for white or blue and white porcelain, which were among the most beloved of domestic items a new bride would include in her marriage dowry.

Korea’s cosmetic culture refers not only to makeup but also decorating oneself. As Korea’s makeup culture is also closely related to the hair styles and attire, this exhibition showcases various hair and apparel accessories, Toilet Cases and Mirror Stands within their cultural context. Furthermore, the natural ingredients used to produce facial scrubs, beauty lotions, facial creams and oils, along with coloured powders, rouge and eyebrow ink will be introduced at as part of the exhibition’s public workshop programme, when guests can create their own nature-inspired cosmetics and perfumes.

Covering all elements of the makeup routines of Traditional Korea, this exhibition offers a rare and intimate glimpse into traditional Korean life.

The exhibition will include…

Cosmetic Containers

Cosmetic containers not only reveal the history of cosmetics culture but also the craftsmanship as well. From the earthenware of the Three Kingdom period and United Silla, to the creation of delicate cosmetic containers of Goryeo Celadon, to the pure white or blue and white porcelain of Joseon, the function and design of these cases present a journey through Korea’s history.

Cosmetic containers


Directed by the utilitarianism of Confucianism, the Joseon Dynasty regulated the dress code of one’s clothes and hair styles. The Norigae, a traditional ornament to add splendour to one’s dress was one of the most beloved accessories of Korean women, worn by ladies of all walks of life. And towards the end of the Joseon Dynasty, a round twist or chignon style with a hairpin became more common.


Makeup Cabinets

The Toilet Case is a small piece of table furniture containing combs and hair ornaments, with a mirror. The importation of glass mirrors from overseas, during the beginning of modern Korea, gave rise to Cases with mirrors, or a Mirror Stand. It consists of a folding mirror that can be lifted into an upright position and contained makeup items.

Make-up cabinet

Natural Makeup Materials

Without preservatives, traditional cosmetics were made from raw materials in just small amounts and so most containers were equally small. Oils produced from apricot seeds and peaches were commonly used as cosmetics oil. A white powder was made from ground rice and millet and sometimes powder from stone, kudzu and red clay were added to adjust the colour.

Natural make-up materials

The Coreana Cosmetics Museum

The Coreana Cosmetics Museum is the largest cosmetics museum in Korea and was established in 2003 to maintain and spread the tradition of cosmetics culture. Collected over 40 years, Dr. Sang-ok Yu, the founder of the Coreana Cosmetics Company, has donated 5,300 pieces to the collection of artifacts related to the history of Korean cosmetic and beauty culture, ranging from the Three Kingdoms period to the early 20th century.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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