Learning about modern hanbok with LEESLE

Hanbok is a traditional Korean attire which is presently worn on special occasions and holidays.

Modern hanbok takes these intricate pieces and transforms them into wearable every day attire.

I recently had the chance to interview Mrs. Leesle Hwang, a talented designer who has created a new path for hanbok. She aims to make fashionable yet wearable hanbok by adding modern elements to her designs.

The one and only, the amazing Mrs. Leesle Hwang! Can’t you just feel the happiness and positivity radiating off of her?

Please introduce LEESLE to those who are not familiar with it.

LEESLE is a fashion brand that redesigns hanbok.  

Since 2006, I have been making traditional hanboks under the name Sonzzang Design Hanbok.

I wanted people to wear hanbok in their daily life and launched the second brand LEESLE in 2014.

The front of the LEESLE store in Jeonju

It is commonly understood that hanbok is a ceremonial costume worn on a special day, but I tried approaching it as fashion instead.

This kind of hanbok is called the modern hanbok.

When you first walk into LEESLE, you're greeted with this beautiful piece.

How is modern hanbok different from traditional hanbok?

There is no exact definition for a modern hanbok. Each designer interprets it in a different way.

In the case of LEESLE, the structure and silhouette are taken from the traditional hanbok, but the material is modern.

A rack of colourful clothes at LEESLE

The main reason that people do not wear hanbok as an every day article of clothing is that it is difficult to manage. So, to solve this, we use modern materials that can be washed with water or with a washing machine.

We’ve also improved the wearing method so that it’s more easily based on the current lifestyle.

For example, the traditional hanbok has a wrap skirt that is fixed with a string, whereas the modern hanbok uses zippers. Traditional hanboks also don’t have pockets and have a long and rich silhouette, while modern hanboks have pockets and have been simplified.

Each designers’ senses are added to what has been developed to be comfortable to wear today and have completed a unique form.

Some stunning designs made by LEESLE

Mrs. Hwang excitedly waved me towards the right side of her store. “BTS’ Jimin wore one of my pieces”, she exclaimed with joy radiating from her face. “I couldn’t believe it at first until I saw the pictures, and then it felt real. I felt so honored that he chose to wear one of my designs!”

The modern hanbok that Jimin from BTS wore
A snippet of the collaboration corner, where LEESLE has collaborated with other artists.
The modern hanbok that Jimin from BTS wore (LEESLE).
The modern hanbok designed by LEESLE, worn by BTS’ Jimin.

When did you start thinking about making modern hanbok, and what made you start making them?

“What if I made the hanbok similar to the jeans, dresses, and t-shirts we wear now?”

The idea started in 2011.

I had made traditional hanbok, but people didn’t care about the hanbok I made. I was upset to hear that hanbok was expensive and was also not easy to wear.

Honestly, I couldn’t find anyone wearing a hanbok on the streets.

Even the experts that made hanbok did not wear them. Although the hanbok contains Korean traditional and cultural values, it actually died out.

I thought, what if I made the hanbok similar to the jeans, dresses, and t-shirts we wear now?

Based on that idea in 2011, three experimental designs were presented, but the reaction was not positive at that time.

In 2014, its design and ideas were improved and the second brand was launched.

LEESLE's logo behind a rack of clothes.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

It starts with what I’m interested in.

I create a message that I want to convey to the public from among the things that I am interested in, such as youth issues, self-development, environment and health, and traditional culture.

I look for the motif or design that expresses my message best, and start to imagine and brainstorm continuously.

The ideas are inspired by the style in books, movies, and celebrities on TV. I find ideas through trends as well.

Two designs by LEESLE

Additionally, I get ideas from consumers.

If there is an online comment or a direct message saying that a certain type of dress would be good, it is recorded and developed into a design.

Fabrics side-by-side at LEESLE

Browsing through LEESLE’s website, I fell in love with this piece. And when I spotted it on the rack in the store my heart got excited. It’s as if the fabric is telling us a story.

Curious, I asked Mrs. Hwang how she had come up with such a stunning design. “I was inspired by Korean Folk Art”, she explained.

A beautiful black and white design at LEESLE

What is your favorite modern hanbok style and why?

I love the Durumagi.

It is a type of traditional Korean overcoat, and I often make it into a coat or jacket.

Customer responses are very positive.

And when I wear this outfit, I receive good compliments everyday. Some even approach me and ask where I bought the clothes!

It is unique and special.

How long does it take to complete one design on average?

When it comes to design sketches, it takes as little as a day and as long as a month.

The process of making a sample takes as little as 3 weeks and as long as 6 months.

A piece of Mrs. Leesle Hwang's process.
A piece of Mrs. Leesle Hwang’s process.

Do you recommend foreigners to wear modern hanbok?

“You have to be bold and try something new you that haven’t done from time to time.”

Of course, I don’t approach them in a way that I say ‘This is Korean clothes’.

I hope they see it as one of the unique style of clothes.

Fashion should always be new and different from others.

You have to be bold and try something new that you haven’t done from time to time.

In that sense, modern hanbok can be a good fashion item.

It is comfortable and gorgeous.

A sketch drawn by Leesle for one of her designs

Is there anything else you would like to share?

The hanbok’s unique silhouette and color look better at a travel destination.

Hanbok and great background! Upload that photo onto Instagram.

It will double the pleasure of traveling to great places.

A friend looking at one of Leesle's stunning pieces.

Additional information about LEESLE

LEESLE stores are located in Jeonju and Seoul (Hongdae).

If you’re not in Korea, worry not! You can order online from anywhere on LEESLE’s website.

A stunning top of a modern hanbok at LEESLE

Which one is your favourite piece from LEESLE’s collection? Let us know in the comments below!