By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
What do actress Han Ga-in
, the daughter of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the wife of star baseball player Lee Seung-yeop have in common? All these women got married wearing exquisite wedding gowns made by couture designer Hwang Jae-bock.
Hwang, one of the most sought after designers in the country, is known for creating gowns that can turn any woman into a princess on her wedding day.
In an interview with The Korea Times at her shop in Gangnam, Hwang cannot help getting excited when talking about designing dream wedding gowns. "A woman wears a wedding dress only once in a lifetime. For that day, you have to feel really beautiful. Since it's an important day in your life, it's important to find a designer that will give you your dream dress", she said.
Hwang has a keen sense of what a Korean bride, or any bride for that matter, wants to wear. After all, she has been designing wedding gowns for Korea's elite for over 18 years.
An English Literature graduate from Ewha Womans University, Hwang was always interested in fashion, and received a master's degree in fashion design. But before she could start a career in fashion, she got married and had two children.
With the decision to be a wife and mother, it took her some time before she could pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. It was only when her children started school that she decided to start a business.
It wasn't easy at first, as she faced opposition from her own family and her designs went against the trends. Hwang designed simple, stylish wedding dresses, at a time when puffy wedding gowns were in vogue.
"During the 1990s, big wedding gowns like the ones worn by Princess Diana were in style. It was all big with puffed sleeves and everything was the same. There was no variety. ... It was difficult, but I had one goal, to retain my own color and style. I wanted to make wedding gowns that were unique", she said.
Eventually, her designs caught the eye of fashionable young brides, who wanted something classic. Hwang said she strives to design dresses that are undeniably classic yet still reflect current trends, but the most important thing is to make the bride feel extra special.
"I want to make something unique for the bride. I want to create timeless classic designs. Twenty years from now, I want to look at the gown and still say it's beautiful and not dated. … A wedding dress is meant to show off a woman's beauty. I can show off a woman's best qualities and hide her flaws. I want to make her feel unique and special on her wedding day", she said.
With the entry of high-profile wedding gown designers like Vera Wang in Korea, Hwang still believes her designs have an edge in Korea. "It's important to know what Koreans like. The skin color, the body and style is different… There are also cultural differences. Vera Wang may be Asian American, but her designs are more suited for Americans than Koreans", she said.
Hwang's clientele are mainly professionals, expatriates, celebrities and those from upper-class families.
In celebrity circles, wearing a Hwang Jae-bock dress is a "lucky charm" for the couple. "They say, my gowns give luck to celebrity couples. The bride usually gets pregnant easily, and it's always a son. I also noticed the celebrity couples have happy marriages. There are no break-ups", she said.
Star power certainly helps her business. After actress Han Ga-in
donned an elegant strapless gown during her wedding to actor Yeon Jung-hoon
in 2005, Hwang's shop was flooded with requests for the same gown. "It's one of the most popular dresses. Women always request the `Han Ga-in
' gown", she said.
Her couture wedding gowns cost upwards from 15 million won, but some gowns are available for rent starting at 4 million won. It may seem quite steep, but for any bride, looking beautiful on her wedding day it is priceless.