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KBS K-drama designer Minjung Lee helps bring characters to life [INTERVIEW]

Minjung Lee Kdrama designer interview

Fashion plays an important part in Korean films and K-dramas—from the Joseon era girls who are free to roam in boy’s clothing to the newly rich women obsessed with name brand items—clothing defines and transforms characters. There may be a reason that so many K-drama plots, both contemporary and historical, feature makeovers. Nothing visually symbolizes change and new confidence quite like new and more flattering clothing. Costume designers know that costumes have a lot to say. According to designer Minjung Lee, no one should take costuming for granted.

The outfits are an essential part of historical Korean dramas, contributing to both character development and cinematography. Historically accurate costumes help recreate eras so vividly that viewers feel temporarily transported in time. Those are the clues that Lee seeks to express when she envisions drama costumes.

Currently a visiting scholar at UC Davis, Lee worked as a costume designer for KBS Artsvision for 10 years. She focused on costume design because of her interest in the history of Korean clothing, but also because she was fascinated by the psychology of fashion.

“I really wanted to read someone’s mind, to understand why they wore what they did,” Lee told KultScene.


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This vision to see clothing as a reflection of personality helped Lee create costumes for characters in a range of KBS historical dramas. From the royal robes created for Kim So Eun in Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress to Kim Hyun Joong‘s Inspiring Generation wardrobe, Lee researched and created authentic designs that helped bring the characters to life.

Lee’s first experience creating a costume did not live up to her expectations. It happened in middle school, when her class was planning a costume parade. She knew what she wanted to be but the costume did not exist, so she had to make it.

“I wanted to be a tree but then I thought, how do you make a tree? I had to figure it out, to find out where there were fabric stores in Seoul. My mother didn’t even know. It was my first costume and it was not very good.”

The tree costume, fashioned from nylon tent material, may have disappointed her but that did not discourage Lee from studying fashion for her undergraduate degree then going on to pursue a master’s degree in Korean costume and a PhD in the aesthetics of dress at Seoul National University.

“My mother wanted me to be a doctor, but my talents fell somewhere between the scientific and artistic,” said Lee. “I Ioved to draw but was not talented enough to be an artist. Nothing looked like I wanted it to. Textiles seemed like a good way to combine the scientific and artistic.”

Her university studies included dyeing, printing, design, illustration, and marketing. Lee became so interested in the psychology of clothing that she briefly considered a career in psychology. Then she received her first costume request: The priest at the church she attended asked her to make him an authentic Gogoryeo era (37 BC–668 AD) costume, because he was studying martial arts.

Fulfilling that request was a challenge for Lee, as much of the dress history she studied in the past had focused on Western fashion. So she took a class in Korean dress history but there were few illustrations of what Goryeo era clothing actually looked like. Descriptions of Goryeo period clothing was mostly gathered from tomb paintings and the rare intact clothes displayed in museums were those worn by nobles. Rare Goryeo-era artifacts were mostly stored in North Korea, and while Lee attended school even scholarly access was limited.
There was no way to know what colors people wore, or what patterns tailors used. Despite the challenges Lee was determined.


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She contacted the costume department at KBS and asked to visit their storehouse to see costumes of that period. They agreed. “They could have rejected me but they let me look at the clothes in their warehouse.”

Exploring the KBS warehouse was so much fun Lee decided not to major in psychology but take a course in 10th century history. She eventually she became a costume designer at KBS Artsvision.

“After I got acquainted with the people at KBS I knew I had to become a costume designer,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about being a costume designer, no idea what was involved, but I knew I had to do it. I thought if I can interpret raw data into costumes, it will be perfect.”

Part of the motivation was the clothing, but also because Lee herself is a fan of Korean dramas. “I love every kind of TV,” she said. For a decade she worked on a variety of dramas, set in different centuries.

Once she starts working on a drama wardrobe, Lee says it is an all-consuming process and that she can think of nothing else. After she reads the script, Lee begins to research costumes of the period and create a wardrobe that best portrays the characters. She researches textiles and pays painstaking attention to the details–from hats to belts to jewelry– that make clothes seem authentic. Based on her research, she also has to create a budget and stay within it, oversee the production of all the drama’s clothes, manage fittings, and supervise alterations that might be required while filming. After the drama is over, the clothes must be collected and catalogued before storage.

Her roster of dramas includes Empress Cheonchu: The Iron Empress (2007), King Geunchogo: The King of Legend (2010), which she won an award for, The Princess’ Man (2011), Jeon Woo Chi (2013) and Inspiring Generation (2014).

Despite the rigorous research that goes into costume design, some historically accurate details may not be appreciated by a drama’s cast or crew. When Lee’s research led her to design clothing with sleeves that passed the fingertips, the crew was not pleased.

“The staff got mad at me because the sleeves dragged and ripped off, so I had to shorten them,” she said.“[And] sometimes the actors do not feel the clothes are flattering so they have to be altered.”

After years of designing costumes set further in the past, Minjung Lee designed clothes for the 20th century historical drama Inspiring Generation, set during the era of the Japanese Colonial Rule of Korea (1910 to 1945). “The clothes in such dramas are more realistic since they are well documented,” she said. “It makes it less of a challenge, but easier to replicate.”

Lee also hopes to design costumes for films, citing The Royal Tailor, starring Park Shin Hye, as an excellent example of faithful costume replication. “The costume designer was brilliant, one of the best. I actually made my dream come true by pursuing textiles, but I want to be a designer like her. That is my ideal.”

The costumer has written about dress aesthetics in the era represented in Inspiring Generation in her PhD dissertation, “Dress and Ideology during the 20th Century of Korea,” where she examined the clothes and ideology of that time. She presented a paper “Fashioning identity and Ideology in Inspiring Generation” for a Fashion in Fiction conference and recently also spoke about the era at a Fashion Institute of Technology conference in New York.

Minjung Lee is currently living in the U.S. and taking a sabbatical from her design work while serving as a visiting scholar at the University of California-Davis in the Textiles and Clothing/Women and Gender Studies departments. When she returns to Korea in February, she plans to write more about the significance of fashion. “Academia does not always respect dress,” she said. “They take dress for granted and fail to see it in the social context in which it originated.”

What do you think of Lee’s take on K-drama fashion? What’s your favorite historical drama fashion? Share your thoughts about this article in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

5 Everyday EXO Looks We Love [+ North American The EXO’luXion Tour Information]

EXO Simple Fashion

As far as K-pop acts go, EXO has kept it pretty simple when it comes to their stage outfits. While SHINee is the SM Entertainment poster boy for colorful skinny jeans, EXO is the company’s spokesperson for varsity prep fashion.

EXO keeps it typically pretty safe with less than shocking outfits (a la VIXX’s “Chained Up”), but they make the least-embellished outfits seem high class with a few key touches. Throughout much of last year, we’ve seen EXO keep it simple in the best way possible.

Jean on Jean

Jean on jean may make you think of Britney and Justin, but wipe that image from your mind and replace it with EXO’s take on the 2001 style. Because during their “Call Me Baby “ performances, EXO showed off a variety of different ways to wear the basic jeans and t-shirt combo.

From the members who kept it simple with a button down shirt paired with their jeans, or the more daring approaching like Xiumin’s vest-shorts combo and Kai’s zippered short-sleeved jacket, this may not be for everyone, but it works for EXO. (Except Chanyeol’s jumpsuit. Nobody should ever wear a denim jumpsuit except under threat of death.)

College Prep

Needless to say, 2015 was a busy year for EXO. So keeping it cozy was probably the best way to play it. They definitely did just that with their promotional images for their Japanese release of “Love Me Right.”

With button down shirts, sweatshirts, denim letterman jackets, jeans, loafers, and white socks, EXO could be mistaken for extras in a 70’s college film (“Animal House,” maybe?) Retro is the trend in K-pop, and this “Love Me Right” promo pic makes it blatantly obvious why. You take the style of the past, make it comfier for the present, put it on nine of the most popular men in Asia, then looking good is easy as 1,2,3.

EXO fashion 2


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Black, Black, and More Black

If other looks donned by EXO this year were low key to the nth degree, their ad campaign for KFC had the members of EXO back in black. This urban take on their jacket and jeans concept had EXO looking a bit like a group of biker wannabes, and that’s okay.

High tops and ripped jeans kept it comfy, but the different styles of black jackets and black shirts showed off the individuality of each EXO member. The detailing is nuanced, but appropriate for each member: Suho (peddled as the most high brow of the group thanks to his family background) still has a blazer on, while the rappers are in similarly draped jackets.EXO KFC

Colorblacked Shirts

Perhaps it’s not color blocking if it’s just a few parts of their shirts, but whatever it is, EXO looks good. Tight leather jeans aside, putting the EXO members in what could be boring button downs is one of the best things SM Entertainment’s stylists have ever done. Offering a new take on a simple, old school style is one of the things that EXO (and their stylists) are the best at and this is a look EXO should hold on to.

The shirts, each of which is differentiated to highlight each member of the massive group as individuals, are all white bases with black portions. Some come off as being more traditional, with just the collar or arms blackened, while others offer up a post-modern take on the white collar style. In the picture, Suho and Chen are in traditional white suit shirts that have been heavily altered, while Baekhyun’s shirt, with its rolled up sleeves and mostly black portions, looks more like a simple button down than something meant to be worn under a suit jacket.EXO Fashion


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Twenty-Something Chic

EXO’s members definitely don’t pick all of their own clothes out, so it’s nice to see what they wear in between the live shows and in front of the paparazzi. SM Entertainment provides regular photos of its artists behind the scenes, which means that this is EXO camera ready, but on their own terms.

The outfits are all similar to what EXO wears on stage (likely because of corporate gifts and sponsorship). There are the varsity tees, jackets, and button downs. But they look comfortable, and each member of EXO is doing his own thing, looking like the 20-somethings they are. Their personalities are obvious; it’s easy to tell which member doesn’t care at all about being anything but cozy (spot the member in sweats) while other members practice in leather jackets, dress shoes and/or parts of their stage outfits.EXO Fashion 1

Speaking of stage outfits, some lucky North American fans are going to see EXO for the first time next month at EXOPLANET #2 – The EXO’luXion – in NORTH AMERICA.  MyMusicTaste is working with SM Entertainment to bring the group on their first ever North American tour, and tickets are going on sale later this week.

Here’s all the information that you need to know if you’re interested in buying tickets. Seating charts have yet to be released, but MyMusicTaste shared ticket prices through their Facebook page.

All tickets go on sale Saturday, Jan 16 at 8PM EST/5PM PST.

Feb. 10 Verizon Theater [Dallas, Texas] — Tickets on sale through Axs
Section A: 195 USD
Section B: 165 USD
Section C: 110 USD
Section D: 75 USD
Feb. 12 Thunderbird Arena [Vancouver, British Columbia] — Ticketmaster
Section A: 195 USD
Section B: 165 USD
Section C: 110 USD
Section D: 75 USD
Feb. 14 Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena [Los Angeles, California] — Ticketmaster
Section A: 195 USD
Section B: 175 USD
Section C: 160 USD
Section D: 130 USD
Section E: 80 USD
Section F: 60 USD
Feb. 19 Rosemont Theater [Chicago, Ohio] — Ticketmaster
Section A: 195 USD
Section B: 165 USD
Section C: 110 USD
Section D: 75 USD
Feb. 21- Prudential Center [Newark, NJ] — Ticketmaster
Section A: 195 USD
Section B: 175 USD
Section C: 160 USD
Section D: 130 USD
Section E: 80 USD
Section F: 60 USD
Which EXO look do you like the best? Are you going to their tour in North America? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Best Music Video Fashion: April 2015 Releases

March had great music video releases, with too many having amazing fashion that if we had done the best fashion for the month, the list would have been huge. But April just ended and we narrowed down the best of the best. From legendary duo Jinusean exploring different eras through clothes, to boy next door looks by Niel from TeenTop, onto sexy hooligans like BTS. The fashion was great and here are our picks for the best music video fashion for the releases for April 2015.

 

Niel Spring Love

Photos via Top Media

Niel from TeenTop had amazing success with his first solo debut album. For the repackage of his first album, he released a music video for his new track Spring Love. The styling of the music video was crisp, paired perfectly with the simple and romantic song. The music video is full of bright colors and the stylist kept Niel’s outfits in pastel tones that didn’t clash with the colorful locations. The singer looks like a boy next door but with an edge that is added with his jewelry and the choice of his footwear. Pale pink blazer, blue checkered button ups, striped jeans and Dr. Marten’s chelsea boots are the perfect looks for this spring.

 

 

BASTARZ Zero For Conduct

Photos Via CJEN Music

When it comes to Block B stylists, they are always on point. The have very creative ideas that even if they have been seen before, they seem fresh and new. Their mixture of high end pieces with streetwear gives a very avant-garde and modern look to BASTARZ, the new Block B sub-unit. The styling in their music video for Zero For Conduct has an array of different trends and styles mixed in. There is a little bit of punk, glam-rock, goth, and classic suits in every look, thus creating a very unique look for each member. The boys come off fierce with duster coats, fur jackets, and dungarees, and even their hairstyles look amazing.

 

 


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Jinusean  Tell Me One More Time

Photos Via YG Entertainment

 

Jinusean gave a total throwback to every era in their music video for Tell Me One More Time. From the ‘70s to the ‘90s, they showed different looks that even if they are meant to be more like costumes, you can still wear any outfit today (sans the costume wigs and props) and it will look modern and on trend. Their ‘90s looks are my favorites with the track suits and bucket hats. But the one that stole the show in the styling department was Jang Hanna. She looks beautiful with blonde long hair and the head-to-toe Moschino by Jeremy Scott crop top and pencil skirt ensemble.

 

 

Lim  Kim Awoo & Love Game

Photos Via 1theK

As we talked about it before with Niel’s styling for his Spring Love, the stylist for Lim Kim went the opposite direction for her music video for Awoo. All the sets have a pastel and demure color palette, while Lim Kim’s looks are full of dark clothing and bright neons. This creates a very cool contrast with the feel of the music video that pairs well with the track. The song is a little dark but it’s also fun, and the way the stylist interpreted it with the looks was perfect. Simple tops and skirts that contain no graphics or patterns but have bold colors that make a statement.

 

On the other hand, for her other music video released in April, Love Game, the sets are bright and so are her clothes. This time around the clothes do have graphics and textures that stand out with the scandalous sets.

 


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BTS I Need U

Photos

Photos Via 1theK

BTS’ stylists, like Block B’s, always surprise us with the looks they create. And on BTS’ music video for I Need U, the stylist made the boys look like London hooligans. It seems like they took inspiration from movies like Trainspotting and overall looks worn by skinheads. The styling had a mixture of punk and mod that many men are trying to emulate with their styles these days. Bomber jackets, harnesses, Fred Perry polos, ripped skinny jeans, and Chelsea boots are some of my favorite pieces worn through the music video. BTS are known for being the cool, bad boys, and with these outfits they fully embodied that image.

 

Which one was your favorite music video fashion for the month of April 2015? Did we missed your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.