Leehwa Wedding: Laura Park

Meet the hanbok maker

Words: Jiselle Liu @jiselle03

Photos: Henry Wu @hello.henry

Location: Leehwa Wedding @leehwawedding

Special thanks to Anna Lee @annaisaverage

From the outside, Leehwa Wedding feels like any other Los Angeles boutique store; however, once you step through their glass doors, you’ll find that beautiful hanboks line the displays, and the walls are filled with colorful fabrics.

This is the sight that welcomed Anna, a customer who had arranged for a hanbok fitting and photoshoot as a way to connect with her mom. “Being able to bring my mom into it just felt like a very heartwarming experience,” Anna tells Timid. “Leading up to it, I felt so nervous because I wanted to make the experience good for my mom and have her be comfortable.”

Her nerves were put to rest the moment she met Laura Park, the designer and owner of the boutique. “She was just so incredibly warm and inviting. She showed us all the different options she had, all the different choices we could make.” After being shown different generations of hanbok, it was decided that Anna would wear a more modern one to contrast her mom’s more traditional choice—but both would be cut from the same cloth. “I wanted the experience to feel as meaningful as possible,” Anna shares. “From letting us be present for each other’s fitting, to letting me put makeup on my mom before the photoshoot, Laura allowed all these little intimate moments that made the experience personal.”

In 1984, Park left Seoul for Los Angeles to pursue her studies. It wasn’t always the plan to leave her parents’ fabric business back in Korea, but after she got married, she decided to stay and open her first boutique studio. Park would continue her family tradition and work with fabrics through her new venture and pass it on to her daughter, Estella, who helped expand the business to online retail and established its social media presence.

Initially, she had no aspirations of becoming a designer. Park recalled the first hanbok that she had made and was surprised by the result. “At the time, I didn’t even go to fashion school or know how to sew. My mother didn’t help or teach me to make hanbok. She didn’t want me to become a hanbok maker at the time because of the rough future. So, I taught myself in the beginning by taking apart a hanbok that I had at home to recreate it.”

Over the years, Leehwa Wedding’s clientele has grown more diverse with the rising interest in Korean culture and fashion. This is due in part to the skyrocketing popularity of K-pop bands, especially those who have donned both modern and traditional variations of hanbok onstage. “Accessibility to my clothes is very important to me and that is how my process for creating each hanbok begins—the brainstorming of accessibility of wearing hanbok for all,” Park explains. “I draw inspiration from the basic traditional Korean dress and making clothes that many people can wear.” She continues, “There is no real technique, but sometimes I look at the way certain modern day clothing is designed. It could be a unique dress I found at the department store, and I just loved how comfortable and easy it is to wear. Then I’ll brainstorm ways to reinterpret that design with Korean hanbok elements.”

Park has found much success in her method, notably having created the highly sought out Korean fusion dress, which combines traditionally Eastern and Western styles. Her daughter continues this passion, bolstered by a shared connection with other Korean Americans looking to connect and reconnect with their heritage.

Leehwa’s designs provide a bridge between two identities, or rather, the two halves that make up an identity: Korean and American. For Anna, Leehwa provided a space where she and her mom could meet in the middle: one modern, one traditional—both from the same cloth.

When asked about what she hopes her customers will take away from wearing her pieces, Park answers, “Happiness. I want people who wear my clothes to be bestowed with good fortune (bok 복) and happiness (haengbok 행복).”