Hubert Burda Media

It’s Seoul Time

The spirit of Alexander McQueen lives on…in Korea, with avant-garde designer LIE SANG BONG. By Ayesha Khan

A massive Korean wave swept across the world in 2012, heralded by rap sensation Psy’s anthem Gangnam Style. But long before him, there was Lie Sang Bong.
In 2002, the fashion designer debuted in Paris with a stunning collection entitled The Lost Memoir. Credited for putting Korean fashion on the world map, Lie is lauded by the likes of Vogue and Vanity Fair, and his pieces are worn by everyone from Beyonce to Lady Gaga. Many even lovingly refer to him as the “Korean McQueen”, a title which he humbly declines.
“I really love McQueen’s work. I think we share similarities by challenging ourselves to create new fashion. However, our way of analysing and our approach to creating new fashion is different. It is an honour to be called the ‘new McQueen’ but I would rather be known by my own name,” he says.
So what makes this quirky designer so sought after? Respected fashion historian Valerie Steele aptly describes his appeal: “As a designer, he is highly sophisticated both with regard to his Korean heritage and the latest trends in Paris.”
Just like his late English counterpart, theatricality is part of every Lie Sang Bong collection and show. And that’s no coincidence. “I used to study acting, but ran away just a few days before my first performance,” Lie recalls. “Since then, I was looking for what I really wanted to do and found my passion for fashion. It was a perfect tool for me to express my thoughts, inspirations and emotions.”
Using his background in theatre, he has curated his fashion shows and exhibitions to be like performances. “Nowadays, everyone expects it during my fashion shows, and I love [coming up with and] presenting new ideas every season,” he enthuses.
Lie also designs costumes for operas, musicals and ballets, as well as the on- and off-stage looks for artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. He recalls his cherished experiences working with all three stylish divas: “Rihanna has such great energy. She wears my designs when she performs on stage, and I think it’s because she loves the confidence and energy of 
my collection.
“Lady Gaga is the icon of style, and it was fascinating working with her. I really admire her passion for fashion and her willingness to always try new styles and futuristic designs. She is the one who could pull off the hardest pieces from 
the collection.” Beaming with pride, he 
adds: “Beyonce is gorgeous and so charismatic. It looked as if she was meant to wear the designs. Her body fits the collection perfectly.”
Despite his immense success, Lie still finds that there are many misconceptions about his country. “I think there are still some people who don’t know the difference between North and South Korea. Another thing is the language. Some people asked 
me if we use Chinese but we have our 
own language — Hangeul (Korean characters), which I am personally in 
love with,” he explains.
Fiercely proud of his heritage and origins, it is no surprise that it means the world to him that the fashion elite from his home continent appreciate his work. “The Asian market is growing rapidly and they are showing great interest in my fashion. It is very important for me since Korea is where I’m from,” says Lie.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that Lie had to make his international debut via Paris and not Seoul — a city still falling short of the status of fashion capital. “[The City of Light] has always been the centre of avant-garde, luxurious fashion and it was the place that I had always dreamt to present my collection. Spending time there gives me vital inspirations and experiences for my collection.”
When fashion editors and tastemakers came together to see Lie’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection in New York, Paris and Seoul, they were treated to a visual feast inspired by butterflies and transformation. It explores retro elements and transforms them into modern shapes and volumes. The silhouettes reference the shape of butterflies interpreted in sophisticated architectural and structural forms.
The collection focuses on drapery and harmonious combinations of surfaces and spaces with a mix of fabrics and details that highlight the precise tailoring of these modern classics. One of his best received looks, for example, reinterprets the traditional houndstooth pattern and is set in neon hues.
Outside of fashion, Lie has also been involved in industrial design (computers with Samsung and mobile phones with LG), home décor (his chinaware for Haengnam has become part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection) and even designed cigarettes for Esse.
For someone who never knew that he would become a fashion designer, Lie has left an indelible mark on the design front and believes that “fashion can transform itself into art, influence the public and change the world”.