Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu, enthusiastic about the “vibrant colors” in “Couture Korea,” points out that the exhibit is the first of its kind in the U.S. and the last major show before the museum’s big $38 million expansion project begins.

Korean art and history have been featured prominently at the Asian before, but not the country’s traditional styles and contemporary designs in clothing.

“‘Couture Korea’ elegantly interlaces the traditions of the past with contemporary clothing design to illuminate the ways Koreans — and fashion aficionados around the world — express themselves and their cultural affiliations through dress today,” says exhibition curator and Asian Art Museum Associate Curator of Korean Art Hyonjeong Kim Han. “By guiding audiences in identifying the unique shapes, materials and colors that distinguish the spirit of Korean fashion, we reveal fashion’s critical role in defining Korean cultural identity now and in the future.”

The exhibit was created in collaboration with the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation in Seoul. Many of the 120 works, beautifully displayed in a design by Marco Centin, are of bold, contemporary lines, with high waistlines and loosely billowing material, reflecting history and tradition.

The first of the ground-floor exhibit halls, the Osher Gallery, shows traditional “Hanbok” attire, characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets.

King Yeongjo’s outer robe (dopo) is a reconstruction based on a pre‐1740 garment. (Courtesy Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation)

On display are reconstructions based on garments from the 16th through 19th centuries. One striking item is King Yeongjo’s robe, a translucent silk recreation of a pre‐1740 cape.

The Hambrecht Gallery is graced by present-day couture, from internationally acclaimed Korean designer Jin Teok and the German Karl Lagerfeld.

Jin, 83, in town for the exhibition’s opening last week, has enjoyed a career of more than a half a century, and is known for her tradition-based designs with wildly imaginative variations, such as a Korean wedding robe combined with a vest, and a denim skirt.

Lagerfeld exhibited Korean-influenced works in the Chanel Cruise Collection last year in Seoul. The flared sleeves and bright colors of his stunning creations on exhibit here pay homage to the spirit of Korea. In a message to the show, he emphasized his “love for classical Korean patchwork, the proportions of dresses, even the fibers.”

The final section of the exhibit in the Lee Gallery features fashions by two Seoul-based, eminently contemporary women designers.

Im Seonoc was formerly a costumer for dance companies and Olympic skaters.

Jung Misun is known for her collections that have fluid lines, unconventional cutting and slick leatherwork, evoking a tough, avant garde yet feminine beauty.

Among her designs are: “blouses cut asymmetrically so that the point of the collar hit just below the right shoulder bone, curve-hugging pencil skirts slit up the front and tied with white ribbons, and faux-leather pieces, including low-slung liquid flares slit far up the sides.”

Couture Korea
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, closes Feb. 4
Admission: $15 to $25; free for ages 12 and younger
Contact: (415) 581-3500,

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.

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