Oriental Sensuality (2016)
This project is inspired by the unconventional, talented beauties during old times in Korea, called ‘gisaengs’.
The history of Gisaengs started around the year 57 , as dancers and singers who performed during important ceremonies in the palace.
The collection is portraying ‘oriental sensuality’, looking understated and elegant at the first sight, but indeed very provocative. Unlike their counterparts in western hemisphere, gisaengs were pictured as shy and good-mannered, but the portraits depict their seducing eyes, always appealing to sexual imaginations suggested by a white sock sneaking out of the voluminous skirt or subtly revealed parts of underwear.
In cultural context, gisaeng is equivalent for hostess in the old times in Korea. Although they were present since 576 ( Shilla Dynasty ), nowadays people specifically refer the term to those from 1700 - 1800 ‘s ( late Chosun Dynasty ).
During Chosun Dynasty (1392 - 1910), gisaengs were raised in the specialist institution called ‘Gyobang’ from the age of eight to nine, then began their education when they turned 12. Although they served alcohols and were subject to prostitution, gisaengs were perfomrning artists, and were sometimes accompanied to political and scholastic conversations.
Some gisaengs were chosen among slaves, while others were sold to the gisaeng-jip because of their fathers’ crime or debts. Some girls volunteered to become gisaengs to be taught various types of art, since any kind of performing arts were not allowed to women other than gisaengs.
In contrast, upper class women were taught literature, sewing and embroidery instead of singing or dancing. They hardly went out, and if they needed to, they covered their face and were carried by sedan chairs. During Chosun Dynasty, women from higher class often got married in their early teens by her family’s will.
I am often more inspired by things from the past. For example, craftmanship passed down for generations, history and art history, ladies in the past, old fabrics and papers, or scenes from old paintings.
This is what led me examine excavated costumes that were buried with dead bodies, looking like as if the costumes themselves are embracing the owner’s personal history. The exhibition of excavated costumes that I went to with my grandmother when I was 16, at Seoul Museum of History, remained in my mind for many years. I was so impressed by the beauty of old Korean costumes, and the texture of the fabrics that were aged and discoloured during hundreds of years spent underground. From a visit to Seok Ju-seon Memorial Museum which specialises in excavated costumes, I started to trace the stories of women in the past, including the last princess Deokhye, and the most renowned femme fatale Hwang Jeenie.
The tales of gisaengs were all about flirting and unbelievably interesting episodes, triggering the pistol of my imagination. There are many visual sources depicting gisaengs as well, since they were only women who were allowed to be exposed to men other than their husbands.
Although they were often sexual subject for men and belonged to the lowest social level, it is clear that gisaengs were talented artists who were passed on the traditional performing arts skills and were closely accompanied by the most significant figures of the past. Most of all , they were ordinary girls and women behind all the judgements and rumors.
My concept is to create a range of shoes bearing the story of a girl who likes to sing and dance, obssessed with pretty outfits and always longing for someone whom she is not allowed to see again. The shoes are not going to be symbols of lust but an old page of the talented girl’s diary. Rather than chosing brighter colours, I will focus on the natural properties of the material in softer tones and monochrome shades. Suiting fabric is also going to be used - gisaengs must have wished they were born in men in their after life, not exploited because of their social status and have more power and freedom .
* Pleiades is happy to lend the samples for any collaborations / shootings etc.
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