March 6, 2016

Rise of the Miniskirt: Nora Noh: Dressed for Success

Many major questions remain unanswered at the end of the "fashion icon" documentary Rise of the Miniskirt: Nora Noh. How could the young dressmaker afford to go to the U.S. to study, following her divorce at age 19? Whatever happened to her Japanese ex-husband? Were there other loves in her life? How did she get to be the first Korean designer to take over the ground-floor windows at Macy's flagship in NYC and what was the reaction from the American press at that time? (Same for her covers on Vogue and Harper's Bazaar!) Who are her fashion progeny? What stores carry her clothes today? Whose wearing her today? But even with these omissions, Rise of the Miniskirt is a pretty informative portrait of the groundbreaking ready-to-wear clothing designer, who lived through the Japanese occupation and the military coup in Korea; a symbol of female liberation who was bringing Western ideas about stylish and pragmatic women's wear to a culture and workplace that was redefining itself after WWII and the Korean War.

Rich with archival footage of and contemporary interviews with longtime clients such as pop singer Yoon Bok-hee and movie stars Eom Aeng-ran and Choi Ji-hee — all wearing Noh's designs both then and now, the film makes you ache to see more from Korea's mid-century culture, like the movies Horse-Year Bride and A Sister's Garden (which used Noh's shop as one of its locations). Some of the clothes are still quite stylish — a long sliced coat in white; pretty much anything Noh wears now in her 80s! Other outfits look dated, even clumpy. (Well, who doesn't have misfires in their past?) But Noh, ever-confident, curious, and questioning, always feels worthy of investigation and celebration. It's easy to see why the stylist Suh Eun-young was inspired to organize a retrospective of Noh's work and why that would, in turn, inspire this documentary. She lives up to her Ibsen namesake well.

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