Lie Sang Bong: Passion, Dream, and Korea

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Only a few hours before our scheduled meeting, I found out that my mom was among Lie’s first customers when he had his first boutique in Myeongdong in the 80′s. When I mentioned this to the designer, he cheerfully replied, “Your mom must had been extremely stylish to have worn my clothes back then. There was a saying that a woman in Lie Sang Bong could be spotted even from far away.”

Twenty years passed, and after a few moves within Seoul, Lie has settled in the cozy area near Coex in Gangnam, where a beautiful park is located across the street where he often takes a walk to unwind.

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As we walked into the boutique, we found him busy signing his newly published autobiography for some of the major Korean pop stars, this particular one for 2AM. Since receiving a signed copy at Seoul Fashion Week a few weeks ago, I was able to learn about his life as a student, designer, father, artist, teacher, and most importantly, a man of passion and dreams.

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What caught me by surprise as we walked in was how “different” the clothes looked from how I remembered them from the shows. Basically, they looked more commercial and wearable, but for older women. It’s normal for actual mass produced pieces to be different from sample pieces, but for all the disparity I was seeing, I had to start by asking what his target market was, and about the new brand, LIE.

Interviewed by Justin Shin & Karen Lee of  TOMI:MITO

Translated & Edited by Karen Lee

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TM: Could you tell us about LIE?

LSB: Lie is a line targeted towards younger women in 20′s to early 30′s that I launched with my son who is also a Fashion Designer; however it is mainly for international market. In Seoul, you will only be able to see it at pop-ups. Since it is a younger brand, the pieces are much more affordable. As far as the “theme” for each season, it will be a season behind Lie Sang Bong; since LSB S/S 2013 was based around butterflies, LIE F/W 2013 will be a spin-off of the butterfly theme.

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TM: Where do you receive inspirations from? Do you look at other designers’ collections?

LSB: I don’t feel the need to look at others’ work, although I wouldn’t mind doing so. But the more important reason that prevents me from looking is that I just simply don’t have the time as I show my collection in Paris, New York, London, and Seoul. Since Seoul Collection is a month or two after New York and Paris, if I were only doing the former, maybe I would have time to see what others are doing, but because I am showing my collection at the same time all the other major designers are showing theirs, I just don’t have the time to do anything else besides focusing on my own collection.

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TM: Could you tell us about your show prepping process?

LSM: Unless you attend every show, you probably won’t notice but every show is different albeit all being held for the same season with same pieces. While there are many different reasons why that is, some of which are rather obvious, such that some of the larger production props are just not being able to be transported, etc., some can be thought of as tailored for market/culture as appropriate. For example, for F/W 2013 Seoul Collection, I was able to do everything I wanted to, such as installing huge Korean vintage window frames to maximize the dramatic effect along with a lighted hat and all. In Paris, I didn’t even show the dress which was the finale piece here in Seoul.

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TM: How did you come to develop your signature style/look? You are recognizable from miles away!

LSB: I’ve had this particular hair style for over 25 years along with these round specs. No specific reason for the glasses, it’s just that back in the days, there weren’t many choices when it came to eyewear, but as for my hair, there is a story behind it. I was at a club dancing one day… By the way, this is when I had half-shaved hairstyle. While dancing like nobody was watching, I suddenly looked at myself in the mirror and was pretty much horrified. I was sweating a lot and as you can imagine, my hair was all over my face, etc. So I went home and just shaved it all off, and voila, many years passed and it’s still here. I must have liked it? As for my beard/mustache combo, it’s simply because I don’t have time to spend on myself.

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TM: Every time we see you, you are wearing black. More specifically, that black cape. Would you happen to have other colors in your wardrobe?

LSB: I’m going to surprise you by saying yes, I do. I actually wear color quite often, it just depends on the occasion and location. But mostly, I wear whatever I feel like wearing. If you see me in that black cape, it’s because I want to be comfortable. I dress for myself, I don’t dress for others. I also don’t want to stress over what I wear. I’m a designer, I design for others, not myself. On that note, I like that I can be subjective when I design, as my options are not limited to what I want to wear, but what I would like to see women wear.

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TM: I’m always in a dilemma. I like wearing heels because they are what really complete a look (along with lengthening and slimming the legs), but I honestly am more about comfort. What should I do?

LSB: You should carry a pair of flats with you all the time and just switch whenever you need to. Simple.

TM: I actually do that sometimes already, but because you said it, I’m ALWAYS going to be carrying a pair from now on. Thank you.

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TM: You mentioned that you used to have a half-shaved hairstyle about 30 years ago. That’s quite bold even for today’s Korean standards. Did you always like being different? Korea is known to be more conservative..?

LSB: I never cared about what others thought of me or said about me. That’s just too much headache, don’t you think? I already have too much on my plate. Why even bother? Actually, if I ever did care about that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Only way to develop your own style is to do whatever you want, wear what you want, and believing in it. Besides, I never liked being around people anyway except when there are interviews. I consider myself introvert and I’m happy that way.

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TM: I’m actually the same way. I’m just a lot more socially awkward than any other introverts ever lived. :P

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“Designer is wind… water… a tear, a cloud.”

- from “Fashion is Passion” by Lie Sang Bong

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TM: What is the first thing you do after the show?

LSB: The process of “Emptying.” It is very important to me, as it’s the only way I can start “Creating” again. Preparing for a show is “Filling” myself, subsequent to the show, “Emptying” by exposing myself to environment and activities that which help me become creative again.

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“A person who wears fashion is what completes fashion.”

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“Designer is one who creates; Stylist creates trend.”

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TM: What is the process of coming up with a theme for each show like?

LSB: That’s probably the most difficult part of the show. I go through lots of books in various topics, ranging from architecture to fiction. I travel sometimes, but mostly spend my weekends catching up on movies and theatre arts, or going to museums which I find most helpful.

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TM: How long does it take to create each show piece after you have decided on the theme?

LSB: That’s the easier part, because I can then focus which means my mind doesn’t need to wander anymore. That’s when comfort comes to heart, when my mind is at peace. It’s easy from there.

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TM: I understand you have created many collections around a Korean theme. Does your collection always have some kind of Korean element in it?

LSB: No, not all the time. Working around a Korean theme is the most difficult, because there aren’t enough resources to refer to. I wish more designers would do it; not just fashion designers, but designers of all types.

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TM: What are your thoughts on Korean fashion?

LSB: Fashion designers these days seem to know what “sells”… which is a good thing. Back in the days, we placed more focus on philosophy, the artistic aspect of fashion. We had dreams, and that’s what drove us.

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TM: In the book, you mention that your dream was to show your collection in Paris, and that was achieved quite a while ago. What now?

LSB: The only one who can say that he’s achieved his dream is one who is about to pass away. I have bigger dreams now, which is to travel the world and continuing to be an ambassador of Korean culture and tradition through fashion.

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TM: Can we talk about education a bit? How can one become a Fashion Designer?

LSB: Exposure comes first, not Learning. Many parents seem to think that putting knowledge into children as early as possible will help them become smarter or better, but the truth is, what they are exposed to is so much more important than what is (often reluctantly) deposited into them.

TM: Basically you mean instead of learning how to draw an apple, it’s better for them to play with one, eat one, or maybe even picking one at a farm.

LSB: Yes, by “learning,” you are only limiting a child’s potentials.

TM: As a psychology major, that totally makes sense. Everyone has his/her own unique way to process thoughts, and by training everyone to structure their thinking in a certain way, you only limit their true potentials when they may naturally have had a different yet creative way to do so.

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TM: Are there things we can do to think more like a designer? What are some of the things we can do on our own besides schooling?

LSB: Compare and contrast. Practice paradigm-shifting. In order to develop your own style, it’s important to know and fully understand what others are doing. For example, to develop a new style incorporating Korean culture, you need to know what those in Western country are doing with their own culture. As for paradigm shift, you really need to start thinking differently- for example, I turned a traditional Korean hair accessory into a brooch for one of my collections.

TM: Yes, you also had a necklace that looked like a vintage Korean doorknob at the last show. Brilliant.

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“There are certain activities I do to enhance my creativity, one of which has now become more like a hobby. Before I fall asleep, I close my eyes and think about everything that happened that day, backwards.”

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“I’ve lived a life that is full of passion, sometimes having to fight against myself. Many years may have passed but I’m still learning about myself. What I do know so far is that fashion is my destiny and purpose. So far, I’ve been running a race only looking ahead, but from now on, I want to pay attention to what’s happening around me, too. With this upgraded mindset and passion that constantly and unceasingly seeks challenge, I want to continue walking the path that has been given to me. I am where I am because of all those who sacrificed for me and helped me along the way, and some luck too, considering my skill-set. On that note, I would like to thank everyone who knows me and has been with me.”

- Fashion is Passion by Lie Sang Bong

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See Lie Sang Bong F/W 2013 

Lie Sang Bong S/S 2013

© 2013 – 2014, Tomi. All rights reserved.

  4 comments for “Lie Sang Bong: Passion, Dream, and Korea

  1. April 15, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Karen you look amazing in these photos! What an honour to meet such a great designer – he seems like such a lovely and inspiring person.

  2. April 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Thanks, Winnie. It’s an honor to have got to know him.

  3. Hadassah
    November 24, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Awesome! I love him now even more! Thanks

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