1999.9.6 The Korea Herald (English)
PRESS RELEASE/Newspaper 2007/02/26 18:56

Designer transforms Buddhist art into fashion

<By John Sullivan Staff reporter>

Korean fashion designer Lee Ki-hyang was once ashamed of her country. So her mother introduced her to Buddhism. which opened her eyes to the spiritual beauties of her culture, and in-spired new ideas for her work.

Her latest fashion line, now on exhibit at Gallery Mokkumto in Taehakno (764-0750). Seoul through Sept. 7. is an affirmation of the values she has learned through her religion. Adorned with prints of characters from Buddhist mythology, the clothes incorporate the splendor of her newfound piety, and make it possible to spread the faith by wear-ing it, literally, on one's sleeve.

"I want these prints to be worn so that they come to life and be-come a part of people's think-ing." said lee. "I want to share this religion with others."

The characters that make up the prints come from a ritual Lee observed on Mt. Grdhrakuta, India which is located near the site of Buddha's birth. The formalized song and dance performance was a reenactment of the mythological story in which all the creatures of the earth ascended the mountain to here Buddha speak. When they heard his words, they were so taken in that the world shook six times and the heavens opened up, raining down lotus flowers upon the mountain, Lee said.

"I was so impressed by the performance that I decided to study it and see if I could apply some of its motifs to my clothes design," she said.

Most of the prints are placed on a black, see-through traditional Korean fabric. which is shaped into Korean vest, dresses and capes.

When draped over a dark blouse or one-piece dress, the designs take on a mystical and elegant quality. The clothes also give off a strong aura of Oriental dignity, which is why Lee may suggest that the line be worn by the cast of Korea's hit musical production "The Last Empress."

However, Lee's acceptance of her cultural and spiritual heritage did not come easily. In her youth, while studying design in the United States, Lee was often embarrassed by the low status with which Americans viewed her country. Being a sensitive woman, she chose to turn inwards instead of thrashing out at their ignorance. Describing the period as one of loneliness and alienation, she then began a search for the answer to her significance.

"I felt like such a stranger. When people would ask me what my country had to offer to the world. I became ashamed because I couldn't think of an answer," she said.

On the proddings of her mother, Lee eventually turned to Biddhism. "I was reluctant at first to find out about it. because I thought that a lot of it was based on Korean shamanism; but I was wrong," she said.  

Instead, the religion taught her that through the acceptance of others, once could overcome the feeling of being alone. And the fact that the religion was steeped in her country's history, instilled within her a pride in her country.

"What I discovered was that Buddhism has all our culture and tradition melted into it, so I began to use that as the motif for my designs."

Now, Lee is trying to tone down the religious message in her design to produce a more "wearable art." Instead of using the prints of characters that make up the fire-and-brimstone parts of Buddhism. she is sticking to using the benign saints. She is even considering starting a line of T-shirts, with Buddhist art prints on them.

After all, she emphasized, Buddhism isn't about telling people how to live their lives. but a way of accepting individual differences so that we can all live in peace. Besides; "When people are wearing Buddha on their T-shirts, they are not as likely to have bad thoughts." she said.

사진설명 Model shows off dress with Buddhist motif.

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