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Gucci’s show at palace a testimony to perseverance

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The Gyeongbok Palace's Geunjeongjeon courtyard gets lit up for the Gucci Cruise 2024 collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]
The Gyeongbok Palace’s Geunjeongjeon courtyard gets lit up for the Gucci Cruise 2024 collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]

It was like the stars decided to appear not in the sky on the night of May 16, but on the sacred grounds of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul. The splendid light show installed on the grounds of the royal palace’s courtyard signaled the start of the long-awaited Gucci Cruise 2024 collection show that evening, as a star-studded list of guests like K-pop girl group NewJeans’ member Hanni, who was newly named Gucci’s brand ambassador, “Squid Game” star Lee Jung-jae and Hollywood actor Elizabeth Olsen walked in to enjoy the unprecedented show inside the 15th-century palace.

The Italian luxury fashion house’s latest cruise collection, which is all about holidaying, did not clash with the elegantly subdued atmosphere of Gyeongbok Palace, even if some had to walk down the runway carrying a real surfboard, a bag that’s designed exactly like a life-sized skateboard, or even in a wet suit. In fact, Gucci’s collection made obvious references in honor of both traditional and modern culture.

The hanbok ribbon, or goreum, was a key element used to decorate the outerwear in the latest collection. [GUCCI]
The hanbok ribbon, or goreum, was a key element used to decorate the outerwear in the latest collection. [GUCCI]

Korean model Sora Choi started the runway with a billowing bomber reminiscent of a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) silhouette. Gucci’s latest collection included a number of pieces that featured a goreum (a ribbon used to tie a hanbok). Gucci said it referred to the windsurfers and jet skiers who have been rising in number on the Han River to come up with the scuba-inspired looks in its latest collection. It also included sporty streetwear that took its motif from Korean digital artist Ram Han, known for her fantasy paintings. The show also featured the soundtrack of “Parasite” during the finale, written by Korean composer Jung Jae-Il. Gucci said such efforts expressed the interaction between the 102 years of heritage of the Italian fashion house, which evolved through different exchanges of traditions, and Korean culture.

Gucci Cruise 2024 collection's invitation was designed by Korean digital artist Ram Han. [GUCCI]
Gucci Cruise 2024 collection’s invitation was designed by Korean digital artist Ram Han. [GUCCI]

When Gucci knocked on the door of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA)’s door in February to ask for approval to turn a part of the palace into a runway, it said that it wanted to hold the show in front of the palace’s main hall Geunjeongjeon to introduce Gucci’s new cruise collection inspired by the history and contemporary beauty of Gyeongbok Palace. It emphasized to the CHA that it wanted to take a new approach not only in presenting its new collection but also in bringing global attention to Korea’s precious cultural heritage.

The CHA pondered the idea. It eventually gave the green light — no small thing, given how rarely it permits the commercial use of the palace grounds. Officials said they were particularly impressed with Gucci’s novel idea of using Geunjeongjeon’s haenggak, the roofed corridors surrounding the courtyard, as a runway. The CHA added that since Geunjeongjeon is where the Joseon (1392-1910) kings officially met their subjects and welcomed foreign envoys, there was no better spot, both symbolically and historically, for Gucci to hold the event.

Gucci tends to organize runways for its cruise collections at locations other than the world’s four major fashion capitals — Paris, Milan, London and New York — where it holds its regular S/S and F/W shows. Gucci has been drawing particular attention for using historically significant sites for its cruise collections, including Westminster Abbey Cloisters in London, the Palatine Gallery at Pitti Palace in Florence, the Promenade Des Alyscamps in Arles and the Capitoline Museums in Rome. Its Cruise 2023 show “Cosmogonie” was organized last year in May at the Castel del Monte in Andria in the Apulia region of southeast Italy. The 13th-century palace is also on the Unesco World Heritage list.

A model walks down Geunjeongjeon's haenggak, a roofed corridor, carrying a surf board for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on May 16. [GUCCI]
A model walks down Geunjeongjeon’s haenggak, a roofed corridor, carrying a surf board for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on May 16. [GUCCI]
A model walks down Geunjeongjeon's haenggak, a roofed corridor, for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]
A model walks down Geunjeongjeon’s haenggak, a roofed corridor, for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]
A model walks down Geunjeongjeon's haenggak, a roofed corridor, carrying a handbag that looks like a skateboard, for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]
A model walks down Geunjeongjeon’s haenggak, a roofed corridor, carrying a handbag that looks like a skateboard, for the latest Gucci 2024 Cruise collection show on Tuesday. [GUCCI]

One might think Gucci gets easy access to stunning venues to hold shows given its track record of such shows. In Korea, however, access to the palace didn’t come easy.

In fact, it almost didn’t happen.

Gucci’s fashion show at Gyeongbok Palace had been on everyone’s lips since it was announced early last year. Gucci initially wanted to introduce its “Cosmogonie” collection in November 2022.

Cosmogonie, or cosmogony in English, is the study of the evolutionary behavior of the universe.

The designer explained they wanted to hold the show at Gyeongbok Palace as it was not only appealing for its historical symbolism but also because it was a hotbed of astronomical research during the Joseon Dynasty. Equipped with a royal observatory and astronomical instruments, the royals and scholars of Joseon made headway in the field of astronomy at the palace from the late 14th century.

A 14th-century Korean circular star chart known as the “Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido” was also created at Gyeongbok Palace, becoming a testament to ancient Korea’s dedication to astronomy. The Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido is the second oldest constellation chart in the world that includes nearly all the stars visible from the Northern hemisphere. The stele chart was erected during the fourth year of King Taejo’s (1335-1408) rule.

Gucci wanted to incorporate Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido into its Seoul fashion show as well.

The CHA said it accepted the proposal on the condition that the event be presented less commercially but focus more on the cultural and historical value of the palace.

However, when a commercial photoshoot inside the Blue House received strong backlash from the public in August, the CHA began to have second thoughts and announced that the Gucci show at Gyeongbok Palace had been canceled, fearing public backlash to its decision to authorize a commercial event inside Korea’s important cultural heritage site.

But Gucci managed to convince the Korean government and was finally ready to hold the show on Nov. 1. Everything was taking shape without a glitch — invitations were sent out across the globe, models were flying in and the courtyard of the Geunjeongjeon was being decorated to feature the ancient stele chart.

Then on Oct. 29, 2022, just three days before the show, a tragic crowd crush occurred in Seoul’s Itaewon-dong in central Seoul, killing 159 people who came to enjoy the Halloween weekend. The country declared a month-long mourning period and urged all cultural events organized during the time to be called off.

Gucci announced that it was canceling the show the following day, saying it respects Korea’s national period of mourning, and sent its deepest condolences to the victims of the disaster.

Nevertheless, two rounds of frustrations seemed to do little to dampen Gucci’s enthusiasm towards Gyeongbok Palace.

It tried once again for the 2024 Cruise collection and even announced it would work with the CHA and support the conservation and restoration of Gyeongbok Palace for the next three years.

“Gucci opened its first store in Seoul in 1998 and has since cultivated a great affinity with its Korean community,” the house said in a press statement. “From fashion and beauty to music and art, the worldwide impact of contemporary Korean culture is a shining example of the global connectivity that drives Gucci every day. The collection pays homage to this impact, and on a broader scale, to the way, our wardrobes interact across continents today.”

Choi Eung-chon, the head of the CHA, said it is happy to have Gucci present its show at Gyeongbok Palace and “have the international audience experience the true beauty of Gyeongbok Palace, where the past and the present coexist.”

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE, HONG JI-YU [yim.seunghye@joongang.co.kr]