For centuries, the female haenyeo divers of Jeju island have captivated the international fashion scene with their innate sense of style. These remarkable snorkelers, aged up to eighty, have supported their families by braving the treacherous waters of the volcanic South Korean island in search of seafood. Their distinctive fashion statement involves layering wetsuits with repurposed garments from a feminine wardrobe, secured with utilitarian diving belts, and accessorized with goggles, masks, diving bags, and nets. As the world turns its attention to Wooyoungmi, a brand known for venturing into unfamiliar territories, it continues exploring its culture and global allure.
The Wooyoungmi Spring Summer 2024 Collection: Jeju Island Muse
The Wooyoungmi Spring-Summer 2024 Collection draws inspiration from Jeju Island, serving as its muse. From a South Korean perspective, the collection explores the contrasting facets of Jeju—the raw and rocky coastal environment of the hardworking haenyeo divers juxtaposed with the sunny and vibrant party island beloved by the nation’s youth. This duality is reflected in an oscillating silhouette alternating between clinging to and releasing the skin. Scuba gilets, girdles, trousers, and tops create a body-conscious line, contrasting with the relaxed fit of lightweight tailoring reminiscent of 1980s summertime fashion—a loose and boyish spirit reminiscent of pajama elements. Asymmetrically-tied tops, resembling the art of bojagi cloth wrapping, materialize as beach-centric expressions that evoke swimsuit constructions.
A Historical Encounter: South Korea and the West
Madame Woo, known for exploring cultural connections between South Korea and her brand’s adopted European home, delves into the historical encounter between the two worlds as the narrative for this season’s collection. In 1628, thirty-nine Dutchmen shipwrecked on Jeju, becoming the second group of Westerners to set foot on the Land of the Morning Calm. During their time on the island, which they called Quelpart, Hendrik Hamel wrote the first European account of the kingdom, published in 1668.
The image of the marooned Dutchmen in Joseon-era Jeju infuses the collection with Renaissance influences. Ruffles and ruches grace the fronts and sleeves of transparent coats, jackets, and shirts, while cascading flares adorn techno trousers reminiscent of Dutch seamen’s hats and find expression in scuba-inspired designs.
Nature Through Renaissance Eyes: Old-World Motifs and Contemporary Expressions
The collection imagines Jeju’s natural surroundings through Renaissance eyes, with old-world scientific illustrations of the native Nomura’s jellyfish adorning shirts, tops, and the models’ skin. These motifs are contemporized with neon graphics on draped dresses and tops, some featuring embroidered tentacles reminiscent of glow-in-the-dark rave culture graphics. This techno island party aesthetic is embraced with oversized tech workwear and acidized denim pieces. Shiny, glasslike, and translucent materials take center stage in outerwear, tops, trousers, and skirts, complemented by glass jewelry featuring abstract jellyfish designs on necklaces, earrings, ear cuffs, and sea glass pendants. The color palette is rooted in the black, brown, navy, slate, light blue, sunset reds, and pinks of the Jeju landscape, energized by vibrant neon accents.
Technological Trainers and Aquatic Accessories
Collaborating with Italian shoemaker RAL7000STUDIO, the collection introduces technological trainers created through 3D modeling software and AI generation to create a unique fusion of aqua shoes and techno aesthetics. These trainers, available in black, navy, and beige, exemplify the collection’s innovative approach. Additionally, sneaker hybrids inspired by diving boots and sandals with subtle nods to Renaissance clogs appear. Leather and nylon bags inspired by the haenyeo divers’ equipment take on various shapes, from the ball-like forms of their characteristic floating devices to the silhouettes of half-moon nets. Some bags feature tulle overlays, adding an aquatic touch to the designs. Pochettes, bum bags, small leather goods, and belts draw inspiration from the utilitarian accessories traditionally attached to the waistbands of the haenyeo.
While reflecting on the global fascination with South Korea, Woo expresses her enthusiasm for portraying her culture to the world from a South Korean perspective. As a designer, she has always been intrigued by cultures and histories different from her own, including the Parisian mentality, the Belle Époque, and British literature. Through her collections, she aims to intertwine South Korea’s traditions with the contemporary reality of youth and distinct pop cultures. By layering historical elements that connect South Korea and her passion for European studies, Madame Woo brings her vision to life. wooyoungmi.com