An interview with a modern craftsmen, RIU & VIU
In an old rustic shoe factory at Seongsu-dong that looks like a place that came straight out of a 90’s movie, the CEO of RIU & VIU Kim Ye Ji introduced her design with deep passion in her eyes, glimmering above the mask.
The brand RIU & VIU currently presents a reimagined version of traditional Korean footwear and aspires to become a total fashion brand in near future. “I realized there was no viable option for Korean traditional footwear when I was attending a wedding,” she went on, “In Korea’s wedding ceremony, mothers of bride and groom wear Hanbok, Korean traditional clothing, but the footwear is always low quality, extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes not even traditional at all.” Kim decided to make it affordable and comfortable so that everyone can enjoy the unique beauty of traditional shoes in their everyday life.
The most noticeable feature of the design is the pointed tip. The RIU & VIU CEO drew inspiration from Danghye, Korean traditional shoes mostly worn by nobility in the Joseon Dynasty. The sleek curve from the heightened toe cap to the sole is well represented in other traditional wear as well, including curved baerae (bottom line of the Jacket’s sleeves). The bulging upper part of the shoes gives little support to hold the feet, so the challenge was to make them more comfortable. By adding wrinkles and attaching straps, Kim Ye Ji successfully merged the beauty of traditional shoes with the comfort that modern life offers.
At first blush, #005 STELLA GLITTER seems far from a relic from the past, it rather feels futuristic. Surprisingly, three whimsical colors represented in glitter were indeed used frequently in the Choson Dynasty: magenta, celadon, navy blue. These daring colors were used to make expensive clothes since they required more dyes, which were very rare back then. (Note to self: we should never underestimate the edgy style of our ancestors.) “I only make shoes that I feel comfortable in,” the CEO said pointing at the shoes she was wearing (#005 STELLA WHITE). “There has been some demand on high heel shoes, but until I can figure out ways to make them comfortable enough to walk all day and not tire my feet out, I don’t think I will make them.”
As a Korean music major who wore Hanbok countless times whenever she performed on the stage, the RIU & VIU CEO recalls the Korean traditional outfit was something she held dear to her heart for long. “It’s not just about the clothes. What inspired me was in the process of wearing the outfit.” A finishing touch to wearing Hanbok, is tying up ‘go-reum’, which is similar to tying a bow. When go-reum was perfectly done, Kim felt a sense of completeness. She was ready to stand on the stage, face the audience, and start the show. RIU & VIU successfully incorporated the spirit in TE long trench coat that borrowed the form of Po (Korean outer robe). By tying up go-reum on the right side of the coat the person wearing it will be able to get in the right mindset.
Relevance is the key to understanding RIU & VIU. With the CEO’s profound knowledge of Korean traditional attire, she seeks what’s still relevant in the present and applies them in her design. For instance, the pomegranate, a symbol of fecundity, has appeared in various forms throughout Korean history but RIU & VIU stops and takes a moment before borrowing the beautiful symbol and asks if the meaning of the symbol still resonates with us living in the 21st century. If it does, Kim brings it to life – if it doesn’t, it stays intact in the past. Every detail counts. Therefore, irrelevance must go.
Kim Ye Ji says it takes a year to make an idea into a product: which explains RIU & VIU’s small number of items on the website. Each pair of shoes takes four days to make(over a 10 day span), created by the hands of experienced shoemakers. Just take a look at the process. Full video can be seen here.
‘RIU’ is the Chinese letter 流 meaning ‘flow’ and ‘VIU’ came from the English word ‘view’. “Our brand is about capturing beauty in the flow of time with our point of view.” the CEO said enthusiastically. RIU & VIU is preserving the traditions in the most stylish way: by studying the history, extracting the essence, and creating items from cherry-picking the best of things in the flow of time.