The design team from modern hanbok brand Rieul has worked with some of the biggest idols in the game, from BTS to MONSTA X. In a new interview with AYO on YouTube, the pair explained their mission behind it all.
Five-year designer Kim Rieul and digital marketer Yoon Seo Jeong make up Rieul, one of the most highly-sought modern hanbok brands in the K-Pop industry. Rieul has provided creative and beautiful hanbok suits to BTS, MONSTA X, CLC, Zico, and many more.
Interestingly, though many costume designers won’t work for free, the Rieul team is so passionate about making idol outfits that they rent them out at zero cost. But why? To understand their goal, you need to understand the recent conflict that’s been brewing over Korean culture.
Late last year, many Chinese netizens began proclaiming that Korean cultural treasures like hanbok, kimchi, taekwondo, and even the Korean flag were “stolen” from China. Unsurprisingly, Korean netizens and stars have fired back at the accusations. One kimchi brand took out an ad in The New York Times stating “Kimchi is Korean“, while rapper E-Sens vented on Instagram, “It’s ‘hanbok’, not ‘hanfu’ you crazy thieves.”
As tensions run high, one AYO viewer brought up the matter in a new “Comment Defenders” video, prompting Kim Rieul to explain his motivations behind starting his brand.
Updates about China who’s trying to steal hanbok from Korea.
— AYO commenter
Kim Rieul says the idea first came to him when he saw his foreign friends renting and wearing hanbok in Korea. Major cities are dotted with hanbok rental stores, and some attractions even offer discounts to tourists who are wearing traditional Korean clothing.
When Kim asked his friends why they rent hanbok, they told him, “Hanbok’s fabric is really pretty, but it’s uncomfortable… that’s why you don’t wear it too, right?” That’s when the designer realized that hanbok was dated in terms of comfort.
It’s uncomfortable for 21st century people to wear the 19th-century traditional hanbok.
— Kim Rieul
So, to bridge the gap and make hanbok more accessible, Kim Rieul decided to start designing and creating suits out of traditional hanbok fabric. But, he also wanted to get the word out even further than his friendship circle. “I thought if I lend them for free to people who perform on behalf of Korea,” Kim explained, “Foreign fans can naturally learn about hanbok.”
That’s when the Rieul team started designing with celebrities in mind—and it worked. Take, for example, BTS’s “IDOL”, which incorporated traditional Korean culture into its concept. Rieul made Suga, J-Hope, and Jimin‘s hanbok suits for an “IDOL” performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and fans around the world couldn’t stop talking about them.
And the idols like them just as much. When BTS was recently interviewed for Cosmopolitan, Kim recalls how the members gushed over the hanbok suits being their most comfortable outfits. “When people who represent Korea clarify like that,” says Kim Rieul, “People overseas understand that Hanbok is Korean”
If a lot of idols wear hanbok, wouldn’t it be a chance to inform the world that hanbok is Korean clothing? I hope that more people wear hanbok so more people know about it so that our indigenous beauty spreads a lot more.
— Kim Rieul