Now Playing

At the Asian Art Museum, Looking East to Dress the West

The Asian Art Museum highlights traditional Korean fashion that has inspired a wave of modern designers.

Jin Teok: Unisex Trench
Having lived in Paris for years, designer Jin Teok is credited with being a pioneer in bringing Western dress to Korea—although the cross-pollination cuts both ways. Couture Korea features five of Teok’s pieces, including this 2013 trench coat, inspired by a traditional men’s dopo, or outer robe. “You can see she put buttons and straps on it, but she kept the essence of the semi transparency in the traditional outer robe,” Han says.

(1 of 8)

Inspiration: King Yeongjo's Dopo

(2 of 8)

Chanel: 2016 Cruise Collection  

It was no accident that Karl Lagerfeld staged the debut of his 2016 Chanel Cruise collection in Seoul: It’s easy to spot elements of Korean arts and crafts in the clothing. Says Han, “You can see in the trademark Chanel tweed jacket and skirt the same motifs that are found in traditional wrapping cloths” called bojagi, patchwork fabrics stitched together from scraps. Other items in the Chanel collection recall Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware: “The distinctive iridescence

(3 of 8)

Chanel: 2016 Cruise Collection

(4 of 8)

Inspiration: Bojagi and Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware

(5 of 8)

Inspiration: Bojagi and Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware

(6 of 8)

Im Seonoc: Modern Baeja

Im Seonoc belongs to an emerging cadre of contemporary Korean designers putting a modern interpretation on traditional wear. Her update on the women’s baeja, or vest, uses neoprene instead of silk—and features no stitching at all. “Her style is more architectural,” Han explains. “But the motifs and forms and shapes are based on very traditional clothing.”

(7 of 8)

Inspiration: Joseon Dynasty Silk Women’s Baeja

(8 of 8)


Even if you don’t know gingham from “Gangnam Style,” there’s no denying Korean culture’s influence on contemporary fashion. At least that’s the takeaway from Couture Korea, opening this month at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. In the slideshow above, we asked Hyonjeong Kim Han, the museum’s curator of Korean art, to break down some of the ways traditional Korean dress is informing modern fashion. Nov. 3–Feb. 4, 2018.


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Ian A. Stewart at
Follow us on Twitter @sanframag
Follow Ian A. Stewart on Twitter @IanAStewart