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Esther Hong ’23: On the fashion of self bastardized Korean culture: A living exhibition

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2022

An upcycled fashion collection that speaks to a multi-cultural identity by using traditional Korean and American garments.

About the Project

I curated a fashion collection that explores the mutilation of my nationality as a Korean-American who is out of touch with her mother country. My initial pitch was to use upcycled hanboks to create more “modern” clothing as a symbol of my active and invasive cultural disfigurement, but I soon felt as if I was destroying history by doing so, even if it was unwanted history. The end product uses costume hanboks, my mother’s hanbok undergarments, and some bits of more modern American (or nationless) clothing/props to create something new. These looks, which reference some historical themes of Korean and American history in a quite kitschy way, come together to represent the liminality of my cultural identity and what it might grow (does it grow?) to become, as well as my unique agency in the process of discovering where or with whom I belong.

At times, I made this project more arduous than I needed to, by handmaking most of the accessories, choosing to work with simultaneously flimsy yet stubborn materials, and dyeing fabrics thrice over to achieve the exact kind of gradient that I envisioned in my head. Even with all this work, a lot of my concepts didn’t end up making it to the final photo shoot. It was a perfect simulation of the fashion designer’s life.

Though this project is far from over, I feel as though I’ve already discovered a great deal about my creative self while also making conclusions about my positionalities with my cultural and physical identity. I am greatly appreciative of the Benenson family for providing me with this opportunity to reach them.

Greatest thanks to Claire Song 송지원, Angela Chung 정유진, and Jenna Yeam 연서희 for modeling my looks and bringing them to life. To Nia Williams, for capturing my project with such ease and beauty. And lastly, to my mother, for graciously offering me pieces of her history with no control as to how I would warp them to my own liking. 엄마, 보고 싶어.

What changes did you notice in your summer experience due to COVID-19?

I became more seriously interested in fashion during the pandemic, with all my extra time in isolation being spent on making jewelry and watching fashion competitions on Netflix. Looking back, I cherish how the stillness brought me to certain hobbies that have stuck with me present day.

The fashion world has transformed significantly due to countless individuals like me who used their years in isolation doing similar things, and it’s interesting to see how much the culture of apparel has evolved so rapidly in the past years.