Preen's AW18/19 Collection Celebrates Korea's Fearless
Matriarchy of Deep Sea Divers.
In amongst a slew of shows celebrating post-humanism,
Preen drew inspiration from a very different source:
the haenyeo, a tribe of free-divers with an iron will.
Images: © Hyung S Kim
At the peak of London Fashion Week, Thornton and Bregazzi showed their supremely executed Preen AW18/19 collection, stirring their signature ethereal silhouettes with a subaqueous edge in reference to the female strength of the Haenyeo women. The fragile floral elements of the collection are juxtaposed with darker palettes, scuba sleeves and detailed fishnet tights, emulating the mysterious aquatic abyss. Shoes are modelled upon seaweed, constructed with mohair to create texture and ocean-like movement. Inspired by Hyung S Kim’s photographic series "Haenyeo: Women of The Sea", the Preen by Thornton Bregazzi AW18/19 collection is like peering through a prism of female empowerment. But who are the women Haenyeo tribe, repeatedly referenced by media outlets? And what relevance does this seaward sisterhood have to the female empowerment movement unfolding today?
Images: © Hyung S Kim
Throughout history, mainstream media outlets have failed to provide a suitable amount of coverage exploring the matriarchal communities that exist in the crevices of the globe, mostly throughout the Asian continent. Positioned in the South Korean Island Province of Jeju, the haenyeo are one such community. Haenyeo women continue a long held tradition of harvesting sea life from the ocean floor to sell in order to sustain themselves and their families. The strength and resilience of these women cannot cannot fail as they plummet to the depths of the tempestuous ocean for up to two minutes at a time without breathing equipment. Their garments are pragmatic, with lead weights laced onto their waists to hasten their journey to the seabed, their vision aided by charmingly antique scuba masks. The neoprene wetsuits that pepper the shore like seals are accessorised with brightly coloured tops and bold prints to offset the stretch of deep, dark ocean ahead. These divers, mostly between the ages of sixty and ninety, daringly oscillate between life and death, demanding great psychological and physical strength. They claim the ocean invigorates them and stimulates their psyche — a far cry from the cultural construct of "retirement" that is specific to modern western society.
Images: © Preen Thornton Bregazzi
The matriarchal structure of this Korean coastal community is effectively captured in an essay written by Korean writer Kil-un Hyun. He writes, “Historically, the people of Jeju saw the sea as fearful, dangerous, and fraught – something that made life difficult. Men were reluctant to take on any work that involved interaction with the raging sea. But for women, in particular for those who lived in coastal villages, this fear had to be overcome: they were expected to dive into those treacherous waters for a living.”Not only does this matriarchy tantalise feminist tendencies, the sea women of Haenyeo also embody a much deeper connection with the environment they inhabit, something that is predominantly lacking amongst western circles. Thea Bregazzi herself commented, “They meet in the morning and sing songs about celebrating the sea and the earth [...] They’re eco feminist”. In a nod to the community’s propinquity to nature, Thornton confirmed that seemingly plastic textiles featured in the collection were actually made with metal thread, a more sustainable alternative, and all fur was a by-product. Promoting environmentalism on the catwalk is a refreshing alternative to the climate of excess illustrated by Chanel’s SS18 show that was littered with plastic, and most recently, Calvin Klein’s popcorn covered runways. Nothing preaches environmental detachment like a carpet comprised of 6.2 tonnes of popcorn to cushion your every step. Having derived inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel "The Handmaid’s Tale" for last season's show, the design duo continues to solidify their politically charged position on the fashion week schedule, promising to bring more than beautiful garments to the catwalk.
Images: © Preen Thorton Bregazzi
Fusing the delicate with the strong, the Preen AW18/19 collection captured the multi-faceted nature of femininity: the traditional beauty and delicacy of the female form, but also the strength and resilience of womanhood. The mainstream feminist movement suffers from an inability to accept that women can portray beauty without forgoing their strength. This misconception was brought to light with their collection that manifests the dynamic nature of womanhood. Thornton and Bregazzi’s choice to reference this group of women living the other side of the world also gestures to how parochial female solidarity can be. Whilst famous personalities take to social media to divulge their personal experiences of sexual harassment under #metoo and exchange their normal glittering garb for all black in name of Time’s Up, the female divers of Jeju are harvesting seaweed whilst their husbands wander aimlessly on the shore awaiting their return. They harvest and collect shellfish for up to seven hours a day, ninety days of the year, and the majority of them have been doing this upwards of sixty years, continuing the tradition passed from generation to generation. Despite their contextual contrast, both of these narratives must coexist alongside each other to quilt together a more cohesive rhetoric of female empowerment. In a world where imagery is the primary currency of communication, influential brands have a responsibility to use their platform to educate and inspire in order to promote social change. In the wake of political instability and widespread disenchantment with global leaders, fashion can no longer exist in a vacuum as an apolitical entity.