Korean womenswear designer Lie Sang Bong has been presenting rich and fantastical collections in striking mash-ups of Eastern aesthetics with modern Western silhouettes for over 20 years now, both in his hometown of Seoul and more recently in Paris since his debut there in 2002. Known for taking inspiration from Korean cultural elements such as traditional architecture, poetry and calligraphy, Lie has dressed the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and even South Korea’s First Lady. 1883 caught up with Mr. Lie when he presented two of his recent collections at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the Korean Cultural Center UK’s ‘100 Day Festival of Korean Culture’.
Where has been your favourite place in the world to present one of your collections?
The place that comes to mind first is the ‘Musee d’art Moderne’ in Paris, France where I showcased my Spring/ Summer 2010 collection. The museum’s unique atmosphere was fascinating and very interesting. The museum staff members treated my collection as if they were art pieces, and there was creative energy everywhere. I felt that same way when I presented my collection at the V&A Museum recently. It was so beautiful!
How old were you when you started getting interested in fashion?
I jumped into fashion when I was 26 years old; before then I was crazy about literature and acting. I never knew that I would be become a fashion designer when I was young.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Writers like Jean Paul Sartre were my heroes in my childhood. I was deeply inspired by reading their poems and novels. I was in love with them.
What challenges did you face when you began expanding and doing shows in the West?
The very first time I expanded into the Western fashion industry, Korea was still an unknown country economically and culturally to many people. To them, I was a strange wonder in fashion, and they did not consider a brand made in Korea to be very valuable. Luckily, I did not have that much difficulty since the appreciation of my collection attracted buyers and press in a short period of time. I’m very impressed with Korea’s sky rocketing economic power and cultural development.
What advice do you have for young Korean designers who might want to follow in your footsteps and expand westwards?
In the past, being a Korean designer did not help you much or could be a disadvantage for various reasons. As people’s points of view changed, you can be successful reaching your goal if you are confident and passionate.
Are there any aspects of the fashion industry that you dislike?
It is a pity that many people are emphasizing fast fashion. I’m personally concerned that the culture of fashion is like thin ice on the river because it only focuses on the economic standpoint and lowers the appreciation of the other values of clothes. In my opinion, if fashion is well balanced between cultural and economic positions, it will create a positive impact.
How do you handle the stress of the fashion world?
The most efficient way for me handle the stress is to travel. The joy of experiencing new cultures blows my stress away. Also, enjoying other fields of art or design makes me relax and be able to focus again.
The fabrics and textiles in your ‘Over the Rainbow’ collection are so varied and intricate. Where did you source them?
The collection was inspired by the Korean traditional architectural element ‘Dancheong’ (the art of decorative colors stylistically painted on wooden buildings and artifacts). The shapes of the jackets and dresses were created through playing with the structures and colors of the architectural elements. We designed splendid patterns with a mix of straight and organic lines using a bright color palette of pink, dark blue, and lemon yellow. The vivid colors paired with restrained silhouettes made the collection simple and fun. All the prints were made with unique design in-house.
You’ve collaborated with a wide range of brands in the past. Which have been your favourites? Any upcoming collaborations you can share with us?
I have collaborated with many companies in the past. Designs for an apartment complex, national racing cars, LG cell phones, Chivas Regal whiskey bottles, Franklin Planners, Samsung laptop computers, wine bottles, and more. The most memorable ones are the car design and the LG cell phone design. LG limited edition designer cell phones were sold out as soon as it was launched. That was one of the earliest collaboration projects that was non-fashion related. I’m currently collaborating with the Korean National Postal Service to design the uniforms for the 17,000 mail carriers nationwide. I’m very excited to give them a new look.
If you didn’t study fashion, what career would you have pursued?
If I didn’t become a fashion designer the only other career I think of is acting. The admiration and love of acting was tremendous to me and I was too worried to fail at something that I love. I wasn’t sure about my future when I was acting on the stage. That’s maybe why I ran away from being an actor.
What can we expect in the future from Lie Sang Bong?,
By continually creating Lie Sang Bong’s distinctive design style, I want my brand to be able to communicate with the world.
Interview by Chad Burton
Photography: David Sheldrick
Fashion: Neha Taneja
Video: Nicole Markhoff
Makeup: Chloe Han using MAC Pro Cosmetics
Hair: Lily Park using Bumble and Bumble
Model: Renata Trencanska