Sitting in a maroon-colored two-piece Galot clothing set of her own design, Eun Hee describes one of her creations.
“This is one of a kind,” she said. One gets the sense this woman could sell a bible to Richard Dawkins.
Eun Hee has transformed the idea of Galot clothing. If you were to purchase one of her garments, you would look at spending anywhere between 150,000 won for a scarf to more than 3 million won for a dress. That’s because her clothing is wearable art, comparable to Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani.
Her designs have been shown in New York and Japan alongside the top designers in the world. Eun Hee said it was in 1985 that she went to the five day market and noticed Jeju women selling Galot articles so cheaply. She realized there was nothing like the material anywhere else and started to design with the fabric in New York.
For more than 500 years the people of Jeju have worn Galot clothing. Eun Hee tells a story of how this form of cloth was discovered.
She said for many years the island was very poor and dependent on persimmons as an important food in their diet.
While eating the fruit, she said, sometimes the juice would stain their clothes. The fruit juice was impossible to get out of the clothing, so the people proceeded to dye entire articles. While wearing the cloth, Eun Hee said certain qualities of the persimmon dyed material became apparent.
The clothing was now cooler, preventing the skin from sticking to the material. It was durable and lasted for years and remarkably resistant to certain insects, like mosquitoes. Because the cloth wasn’t absorbent and of the bitterness of the tannins in the fruit juice, the material was resistant to smell and prevented germs.
The clothing is truly a product of natural elements. According to Eun Hee, weather is the most important factor in her rich design. She has created more than 70 colors for her work and they are all dependent on the strength of the wind, the saltiness of the sea air, the light of the moon, even the morning dew.
She says the process is comparable to cooking; food changes as you alter the temperatures, and so do the variations of her greens, purples, browns, oranges and blues. Eun Hee has been working with Galot for more than 20 years and said her favorite color is brown. It is also the basic color in most of her clothes. If you look closely you can see remnants of brown underlying the other more vibrant patterns. “Cheap Galot is not authentic,” she emphasized.
The process of creating the clothing is arduous and labor intensive. All of her clothing is handmade down to the last stitch. According to Eun Hee, there are several people who have replicated her design, but none of the same quality.
Her product is like a painting, no one is identical to the original, ever. Each article bought from her is an original, which is also why the price is so expensive.
Next spring, however, she said she will begin to mass produce her work, dramatically dropping the price.
The most difficult thing as a designer, according to Eun Hee, is being able to appeal to the masses. She believes Galot does that easily with her help. Her clothing could be worn with heels and diamonds or a pair of boots and a straw hat. Her clothing is comfortable. It is functional.
Eun Hee describes her creations as long lasting, “like a home,” it will be with you forever. Her clothing is also chemical free, which helps minimize issues many Koreans have with skin allergies like atopic dermatitis.
What some people new to Korea or under a certain age may not know is that Eun Hee was at one time a famous singer. She said she gave up everything, even her friends, in order to make her Galot design a success. Asked if she would ever teach her trade, she replied, “No, I don’t want to.” According to the designer, it requires absolute dedication, passion to the point of almost obsession, and in order for her to continue her work, that kind of time doesn’t exist.
Things disappear quickly because they are created quickly, she said. The success behind Galot is the wisdom behind it. Asian tradition is thousands of years old and Galot is a part of that history.
(Interpretation by Song Jung Hee)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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A selection of Eun Hee's Galot winter wear. Photo by Max Johnson
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