The Sulwha Cultural Exhibition: Where beauty is an art form
Korea is a land of contrasts. You've got shiny glass and metal high-rises dotting the cityscape and right next door, a traditional Korean palace sits among the hustle and bustle. Similarly, the people reflect this blend of tradition and modernity, where youths rocking out-there streetstyle trends mingle with the more senior generations in conservative dress. It's a cultural juxtaposition that is increasingly captivating the world's attention — not counting the hallyu fever epidemic — if the staggering gaggle of tourists coming through the airport is any indication.
And backing this culture collocation is none other than Sulwhasoo, the definitive Korean brand that reps not only K-beauty but also its traditions. Going back over a decade, the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition traces its origins to 2003 when culture and the arts first came together on a prominent platform to promote the heritage and value of traditional Korean culture. Since then, it has evolved into a grand, annual affair themed to an aspect of Korean tradition, with 2016's exhibition putting forward the tale of 'The Two Love Stars, the Altair and Vega'. This year, Sulwhasoo stages 'A Fairy and A Woodcutter', another beloved folklore and one with a footprint that weaves throughout Asia, sharing in the region's rich mythology. Telling a tale that spans heaven and earth, the story upholds the values of rewarding good deeds, parental bonding and compassion between a couple — elements that can be easily identified across several Asian countries.
With the fable re-imagined through interpretations from 12 artists that come from both traditional and contemporary backgrounds, presented at the Sulwhasoo flagship store and at Dosan Park, the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition is the medium that communications a cross-cultural dialogue that connects us all. Besides sharing in an intangible bond, the exhibition also ties into Sulwhasoo's corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign, 'Beauty From Your Culture', with limited edition products directly inspired from it. And the final feather in Sulwhasoo's cultural cap? This year's exhibition has gone global, with the brand concentrating its efforts not only in Korea, but in Singapore, Malaysia and China too.
Having toured the entirety of the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition and the visually arresting art installations — cue the awe, the sage nodding, and numerous photo ops — we just had to further explore this beauty-meets-culture-meets-art tangent, what with our contribution to the cause in the form of Jeanette Aw, Aiwei Foo and Bella Koh exploring the Botanic Gardens in the name of reconnecting with nature.
And brand manager and vice president of marketing, Jin Soo Jeon, was all too delighted to share. Sitting down with her in the beautifully appointed lounge at the Sulwhasoo flagship store, we talk what it means to bridge tradition with modernity, and beauty with philosophy.
Why is the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition a cornerstone of the brand?
Sulwhasoo pursues a harmony of human and nature, and also the harmony of human and culture. We believe that traditional culture carries on through our modern day culture as well, and for us it's very important that we emphasise the value of traditional culture. We believe we can communicate these values through the Sulwha Cultural Exhibition, and that is why it's very dear to our brand.
How does Sulwhasoo's beauty philosophy tie into cultural heritage, particularly for this year's 'Beauty From Your Culture' theme?
As Sulwhasoo originated in Korea, and we really want to grow it into a great brand that is able to present Korean culture and embody the beauty of Korea. Just as we feel Korean culture is precious to us, we also feel that the cultural heritage in each country is just as valuable and precious as well. In line with that thought, we felt that traditional culture should be carried on, preserved, and re-interpreted through modern culture as well. And just last week, Sulwhasoo launched in France, so we are expanding our global footprint through the years. But we first want to start this campaign in China, Singapore and Malaysia because these are the countries we've been communicating with and doing business in for a longer period of time. But we will gradually expand to other countries as well.
And how will this year's global activation across four different countries elevate the face of Korean beauty?
As you know, last year's Sulwha Cultural Exhibition was limited to Korea but in celebration of its 11th anniversary, we wanted to build more resonance globally, out of respect for our emphasis on the values of culture. And that's why we took the theme of this year's exhibition from folktales, which we feel many people can relate to in Asia. Especially for this year, we've launched a campaign called 'Beauty From Your Culture' — we believe that beauty starts from the precious culture that each country has. So we are expanding our campaign beyond Korea and into China, Singapore, and Malaysia. We've also enabled it so that people in these countries can participate in this cultural donation, because the proceeds from the limited edition sets launched through this campaign will be used to support the cultural heritage in these respective countries. We believe that through this campaign, we will be able to build more resonance amongst our customers in China, Malaysia and Singapore.
To that end, the Singapore Botanic Gardens has been chosen as the beneficiary of the 'Beauty From Your Culture' CSR campaign. Can you share with us why?
We've always supported the cultural heritage of the respective countries and as we continue our CSR activities, this will also help us enhance the brand awareness of Sulwhasoo across the region. We chose the Singapore Botanic Gardens as one of our major beneficiaries, and the reason is because the Botanic Gardens is part of the Singapore's cultural heritage and it's held dear by Singaporeans. We believe that the beauty of our brand actually originates from the beauty of the culture that we have, so we wanted to find a beneficiary that would be able to link with our brand ethos. By doing so, we want to be able to engage in a very prolonged dialogue with the consumers in that country.
Why is it important for Sulwhasoo to continually promote the values of traditional culture? And for this year's exhibition, which art installation or artist resonated most strongly with you?
For us, it's not just carrying on the traditions that we have. In our products, our philosophy and our packaging, they all reflect the values of Asian beauty. However, we didn't just want to stop at carrying on tradition. We also wanted to create a greater resonance with contemporary generations, and with other countries as well. That's why we've re-interpreted that in a contemporary setting with the exhibition. Yes, we have these beautiful, traditional values and they're very precious, and as a luxury brand it's very important to us that we carry that out, but at the same time we need to be able to make that relatable with the current generation.
With respect to the artwork that resonated with me, I felt that the fairy robe that was created by the master Hye-ja Koo was very beautiful, and that it was re-interpretation of the robe from the folklore. She is the actually master that creates lavish robes for the Palace, thus she re-created this fairy robe based on her needlework experience and expertise. There is also an artwork called 'Ithaca' that is installed at Dosan Park, and it's meant to be a small sailing boat that represents the woodcutter's voyage to find the fairy, as well as his workshop, which I thought was very interesting too.
How do you define 'true beauty'? To you, when is a woman at her most beautiful?
I think all women are beautiful. Our definitions of beauty may differ, but for Sulwhasoo, beauty is not only just about what's outside. It's about outer beauty being in genuine harmony with inner beauty — and when there is that harmony, I feel that is when women are the most beautiful.
The Sulwha Cultural Exhibition runs from 15 September to 29 October. The 'Beauty From Your Culture' Limited Edition sets are available at the Sulwhasoo boutique and counters. To discover more on the exhibition, click here.