designer Nora Noh is widely credited with popularizing the mini-skirt in South
Korea. Obviously, she deserves the thanks of a grateful nation, if not the
entire world. Yet many younger Korean fashionistas were unaware of her
trailblazing work until the opening of a special retrospective commemorating her
sixty years in the business. Kim Sung-hee surveys Noh’s life and couture while chronicling
the mounting of the designer’s special exhibition in Nora Noh (trailer
screens for free this coming Tuesday in New York, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service.
could be considered the Korean Coco Chanel and Edith Head combined. She was a
pioneer designing sleek, elegant “western style” business and casual wear for professional
Korean women. A shrewd businesswoman, Noh launched a successful ready-to-wear
line before her European colleagues. Yet, she also became the personally
designer for many of Korea’s top stars, including pop idol Yoon Bok-hee, who
made Korean cultural history sporting Noh’s minis.
viewers with little fashion sense will pick out interesting nuggets from Kim’s profile.
Noh very definitely lived a feminist Horatio Alger life. Her challenges
continued when she refused to kowtow to the arrogant press (likely explaining
her under-representation in Korean cultural history). She had her run-ins with
the secret police, yet ironically, the film indirectly suggests the liberated
simplicity of Noh’s designs was rather compatible with the militarist
government’s drive to industrialize (a potentially provocative point that could
have been explored at greater length).
the film’s greatest assets are the extensive clips from vintage Korean movies illustrating
Noh’s image-making power, which will intrigue cineastes as much or perhaps more
than clothes horses. While not exactly chatty, she remains a strong figure of
individual stick-to-itiveness and a mostly likable screen presence.
Noh is not the most dramatic film ever lensed, even
though Noh’s early life was quite tumultuous. Frankly, the sentimental soundtrack
does not sound very Nora Noh. Nevertheless, Kim and editor Lee Hyuk-sang keep
it moving along nicely. Recommended for students of fashion as well as those
fascinated by the phenomenon of global cultural modernization, Nora Noh screens (free of charge) this
Tuesday (4/29) at the Tribeca Cinemas as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s
regular Korean Movie Night series.
Labels: Documentary, Korean Cinema, Korean Cultural Service, Nora Noh