London’s V&A museum is celebrating the colourful popular culture of South Korea, following its early origins to its place on the global stage today, with an exhibition showcasing fashion, beauty, art, film and pop culture.
‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ features around 200 objects across four thematic sections, including some loans never seen in the UK before, alongside pop culture ephemera and digital displays that explore the makings of the Korean Wave through cinema, drama, music, and fandoms and its cultural impact on the beauty and fashion industries.
Rosalie Kim, curator of Hallyu! The Korean Wave, said in a statement: “South Korea has captivated the world over with hallyu, its vibrant and creative popular culture, which has transformed the country’s image from one devastated by the Korean War to that of a leading cultural powerhouse in the era of social media and digital culture today.
“This phenomenon has been amplified by tech-savvy and socially conscious global fanbases, further raising the profile and relevance of hallyu around the world, and we’re delighted to be bringing its energy and dynamism to the V&A this autumn in the first exhibition of its kind.”
3 highlights from the V&A’s ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ exhibition
The exhibition features a celebration of K-fashion, showcasing more than 20 looks by contemporary hanbok and fashion designers from Korea and the Korean diaspora. This section mixes the fun, fast-moving streetstyle and gender-fluid outfits by Kye, D-Antidote and Blindness with designers reimagining the silhouette of hanbok, the national costume of Korea.
This includes a look specially created for the V&A by acclaimed stylist Suh Younghee, alongside a K-pop hanbok by C-Zann E, a pink jacket by Danha, and a purple cheollik dress by Tchai Kim, drawing their inspiration from traditional garments and patterns.
‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ also highlights hanbok-inspired daily wear designed for and by a younger generation, including looks by Ji Won Choi, Darcycom, and a contemporary hanbok overcoat by Baek Oak Soo, worn by RM from K-pop group BTS in 2018. While the fashion concludes with a display of colourful, showstopping garments by some of the biggest names in contemporary Korean design, including looks by Minju Kim, Münn, and Miss Sohee.
Hallyu! highlights how Korea has positioned itself as a global trendsetter in the field of beauty. This section showcases the historical importance of cosmetics and beauty in Korean culture, with 18th and 19th-century paintings showing old beauty rituals alongside lacquered cosmetic boxes.
It even shares how the industry is continuing to combine centuries-old formulas with new ingredients and advanced technology to create innovative ranges tailored to modern living, such as the 10-step Korean skincare routine and LED face masks.
The exhibition also focuses on cosmetics packaging from the 13th century to the present day to trace how packaging designs have evolved, from ornate porcelain pots to items including face mask wrappings boasting idols as superheroes.
It wouldn’t be an exhibition on Korean culture without a section dedicated to one of Korea's fastest-growing exports: K-pop. The ‘Sounding K-pop and Fandoms’ section showcases the intricate nature of K-pop fandoms, alongside artworks, artwork and costumes, including Aespa’s original iridescent outfits from the music video ‘Next Level’, and British punk fashion-inspired ensembles worn by four members of Ateez in the music video ‘Fireworks.
The V&A has also worked with celebrated K-pop style and visual director Gee Eun, who has styled stars like Blackpink and Bigbang, and style director Balko, who has worked with BTS and NCT, to display two ‘Idol’ looks each.
This is also one of the most interactive rooms in the exhibition and allows visitors to try their hand at a K-pop dance challenge to PSY’s ‘That That,’ co-written and co-produced with Suga from BTS, with choreography by B.B Trippin. Each visitor who takes part in the challenge will become part of an evolving collective dance displayed in the space, created in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture Lab.
‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ runs until June 25, 2023, at the V&A in London.