A central theme of Seoul Fashion Week in Fall/Winter 2018 was ‘war and peace’. It was held in the wake of recent political developments – in particular, South Korea’s inclusion of North Korea in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics – which appeared, at least briefly, to herald an increasing rapprochement between North and South Korea. A range of fashion designers responded by using their new collections to prompt reflection both on the long-running threat of military hostility and the possibility of an end to it.
Of all the designers that presented their collections during this Fashion Week, I found Woo Youngmi’s collection the most interesting, because of the way it incorporated military wear into everyday life. Her collection presented what could be considered as soldier-inspired clothing, such as bomber jackets and heavy boots, albeit in a more casual, less menacing style. In the context of North and South Korean history, I think it was very telling of a reality which is not often explicitly discussed: namely, the fact that conflict is part of the everyday life of Korean citizens. The division of North and South Korea is in itself the representation of an unresolved conflict, with a nation – and many families – split in two. Although civilians in both countries have lived in relative peace since the end of the Korean War, it is a peace that has been overshadowed by the legacy of past violence and ongoing tensions and uncertainty.
That said, Woo Youngmi’s collection did not only present a militarised aesthetic to capture that sober reality but also invited viewers to think about peace. This can be seen in the inclusion of clothing and accessories emblazoned with the word ‘peace’, worn significantly close to the heart. In popular Western fast fashion shops and luxury brands alike, militarised prints and jackets are easy to find, and have become a popular item of clothing, perhaps responding trends in international political efforts that have promoted the use of hard-power tactics in many different contexts. Woo Youngmi’s collection, by contrast, brings militarism and peace into dialogue with each other, raising questions about how they intersect. Are they opposites or can they sit alongside each other? And do they complement each other or clash? This captures a tragedy within Korean history, that peace and conflict exist in constant tension with each other; but it also prompts a wider rethinking of peace as perhaps not the binary opposite of war but a phenomenon that has a very complex interrelationship with conflict. Woo Youngmi’s cultural background – and the immediate context of Seoul Fashion Week 2018 – has helped to draw attention to this more universal truth.
What do you think?
- What relationship do you see between war and peace? Are they opposites, or in tension, or closely interrelated?
- Can clothing trigger deep reflection on these kinds of topics, simply by using a mix of military aesthetics and the language of peace?
- How gendered is fashion that employs military aesthetics?
- How does Woo Youngmi’s visualisation of war and peace via fashion compare with Jean Gritsfeldt’s vision of future peace in the Berlin Fashion Week show in 2022?
- What do you think of Valentino’s Peace Dress?
If you enjoyed this item in our museum…
Federica Consiglio, May 2022
 Popular interest in the reunification of North and South Korea has fluctuated over time. The Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University has held annual surveys since 2007 to track South Korean interest in reunification with the North. In recent years, hostility to the idea appears to have outweighed enthusiasm, as discussed in this article.
 You can read more about the collection – and the audience response – here: https://www.scmp.com/magazines/style/fashion-beauty/article/2169634/woo-young-mi-opens-seoul-fashion-week-military-style.
 To learn more about popular examples of military fashion, I suggest reading this article: Tschorn, Adam. “Military Influences in Fashion.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Oct. 2011. While it is not a widely researched topic, some studies have highlighted the link between ongoing wars and military fashion, such as Lauren Topor’s dissertation ‘War and fashion: Political views and how military styles influence fashion’ (2008).