This project is inspired by the unconventional , talented beauties during old times in Korea, called ‘gisaengs’ .
The history of Gisaengs started around the year 576 , 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 .