Textile Designer Chang Eungbok Reconstructs Tradition
Korea’s traditional culture, seen through the eyes of textile designer and founder of Mono Collection Chang Eungbok, is much more beautiful than we had thought.
At any given time period, there have been those who have a keen insight and sense of beauty regarding our culture. They are the ones who pursue the sustainable value of tradition and are deemed cultural forerunners today. For instance, in the 1930s, there were Korea’s first art historian, Ko Yu-seop who was known as his pen name Woohyun, and Han Chang-gi, founder of Korea Britannica Corp. and editor and publisher of legendary magazine "The Deep Rooted Tree". On the way back from meeting with designer Chang Eungbok, I added her name to the forerunner list in my mind without hesitation.
Chang is a textile designer. She launched Mono Collection in 1985, well before the concept of textile design took root in Korea, and marked a new era in the nation’s textile design industry with her uniquely Korean and sophisticated designs. She draws patterns after reinterpreting the beauty and sentiments of Korea, and those beautiful patterns depict our cultural symbols and significance. 
Currently, she’s actively working on a variety of projects using textile design for furniture and interior styling. She also annually holds solo and group exhibitions, proving she is still an artist at heart. By making an effort to combine a number of materials such as wood, glass, and aluminium, and technology, whether analogue, digital, or traditional, she aims at the sustainable value of tradition while promoting the practicality and versatility of tradition.

Exhibition “The House of Woon Kyung: First Story Borrowed Landscape,” with Chang Eungbok's beautiful shade © Photograph by YUL KIM

Q. How did you feel about the recent exhibition that has garnered much attention? Filling the space of an old house would have been a new try for you. How was it?
A. “The House of Woon Kyung: First Story Borrowed Landscape” with furniture designer Ha Ji-hoon was about blank space. It was about taking out, and about scale. Hanok, a traditional Korean house, has a downscaled building structure. When I think back to my childhood, my family had brought in large furniture that would fit into large Chinese houses from the Qing Dynasty to fill our Korean house. We had tossed the good ones like a mother-of-pearl cabinet. The House of Woon Kyung had that aspect as well. It was impressive that Ha Ji-hoon made a Korean traditional tray table to fill the space, instead of out-of-proportion furniture pieces.

Q. Is there a reason why you continue participating in exhibitions while working as a commercial designer?
A. It’s about influencing the public. Showing what’s possible in the future. I also prepare for my future path after observing the public’s response.

Q. Yet, you would prefer the title of designer, rather than artist. How are they different?
A. An artist can express her ideas in her creation without alteration, but a designer must consider the customer who will be using her creation. We have to think about the customer’s preference and the use of the product, its functions, versatility and even upkeeping. Sometimes even architecture regulations. They become obstacles to creativity. However, the work of a designer has its advantages in the fact that the maker and the public can relate to each other. When we are approved and praised by the public, it compensates for everything else.

Working board at Mono Collection's showroom studio

“The feeling must be generated from inside of you. Design is like that, too. Without that personal feeling, you can’t design.”
Chang Eungbok, Textile designer
Q. Many of your pattern works use ceramics as a motif.
A. It’s not been long since I first observed traditional pottery in person. Before, there were not many opportunities to appreciate Korean artefacts. Today’s museums didn’t exist in the past. Back then, I had to rely on art catalogues or photographs. Now there are tons of great resources.

Q. How did you plan to recreate ceramics into patterns?
A.  I wanted it to have originality. “What is the silhouette of a porcelain that I see?” In expressing the Korean traditional beauty, I don’t focus on the export factor or whether it will be popular among foreigners. I try to find a middle point that will both allow being practical in modern life and being inspirational.


“I went to see a pottery exhibition at Gana Art Center, and there it was. A treasure sitting in the middle of the exhibition hall without a glass box. Like a still frame in a movie, I froze. My heart began pounding. A piece of white porcelain had the patterns of lotus, peony, and rinceau, looking harmonious together. The sculptural beauty was unlike any other I’ve seen in art, and I had a hunch that if the patterns can be recreated on the fabric, it will render a classy and sophisticated creation.”
From her book “Mooni,” introducing the pattern called ‘cheonghwayeonmodangjun’
Q. What do you mean by inspirational?
A. You can easily spot a replica of the famous “Portrait of a Beauty” in the street. But it doesn’t inspire you. Inspiration occurs when you instantly feel mesmerized by something. It’s possible when you can find a perspective in a work that has significance and energy. That’s the role of designer. Scanning and printing do not produce a pattern or design.


Fabrics by Mono Collection

Q. I heard you use both analogue and digital methods for your work.
A. There are projects that can be more efficient with digital methods and those that come out better hand-printed. Results all vary. Time is an issue too. When I first worked on textile design, I had to use poster paints to draw. If the client wanted to change the color of the order or make it brighter, it took a week because I had to repaint. For a rough texture, I had to find a special film just for that. Since I’ve experienced all that, my application of digital technology will likely be a bit different from the way other designers use.

Q. Is it because you’ve already experienced the best end product?
A. I think so. You can now easily search for the background with the rough texture effect. Of course it’s beneficial in some way, but it’s hard to inspire people with an easy method.

Q. You seem confident using digital technology?
A. I’m good at it. It’s been 10 years. Granted, belonging to the 386 generation, I’m not super fast. But I have all the necessary skills to work on my projects. I started handling it on my own out of frustration. Before, my operator often said it’s impossible to implement my demands. He probably didn’t want to bother. So I got private lessons every weekend for three years from a friend of mine who was a computer geek. Without a program, when I wanted to find a function while working on a project, he would find it for me. That’s how I’ve gained the knowhow.

Q. How long does it take for you to complete one pattern?
A. It depends. I tend to keep trying until I can safely say “This is it!” and sometimes I put it on the back burner if I can’t get it right for some time. I would hang it on the wall and keep staring at it for a year or so. Then the right idea would come to me at a random moment. My porcelain pattern took just an hour after two years of watching pottery without realizing I could make a pattern out of it. The actual designing took an hour, but I’ve internalized it for two years. You can’t just go at a design. After spending much time seeing beautiful things and thinking about them, one day you will get an idea that is worth working on.


“Working on pattern design using a subject, you sometimes find it better to keep the original as is, or you create a new image by making the most of its features. By closely watching it, you could come up with a good idea. Sometimes sitting on it gives you a fresh perspective. You also get inspiration from a scenery you run across randomly.”
From her book “Mooni,” introducing the rose pattern
Q. What motivates you to continue working on new projects?
A. A pattern is created by capturing something that’s free, wild, and raw in the frame of continuity. Repetition results in continuity. Without continuity, my work is impossible. I try to make a blank space within that limitation. Expressing freedom within the frame is more fun.

Q. You borrow ideas from what’s traditionally Korean. How would you define Korean beauty?
A. I often talk about imbalance, spontaneity, ruggedness, and simplicity. Let’s say there’s a misshapen white porcelain with a dragon drawn on it. Its flaw happened in a kiln. Now the flaw actually makes the dragon pop out as if it’s alive.
Also, imagine 'hanok'. Koreans know how to maintain a blank space and enjoy it, instead of owning the space. That’s why our ancestors did not need a big house and fill the garden with trees. It would have blocked the view of a mountain in the distance. Such a landscape, space, food, and life attitude all relate to Korean beauty in large.

Q. Did you learn them through experience?
A. Through collaborations with craftsmen. When I became curious about the process of fermentation in pottery, I went to their studio and spent days to get the answer to my questions. That’s how I understood the process. I didn’t learn it from just books.


“I think the designer’s task is more than just drawing well. She has to understand the property of the material to be used, where it will be used, and how it interacts with light, to create a good design. Similarly, the size of the material must be adapted to fit the space in question.”
From her book “Mooni,” introducing the chrysanthemum pattern
Q. It’s seemingly not directly related to textile, but understanding tradition precedes a good design, is that correct?
A. Yes. We’re too conceptualized. A trend or marketing directs us to feel if something is good. Simply put, it’s like this. Seochon is popular. Why is Seochon popular? Because they say it’s popular. I don’t think that’s the right way. You have to like what you like. The feeling must be generated from inside of you. Design is like that, too. Without that personal feeling, you can’t design.

Q. Is there a Korean motif you’re interested in these days?
A. Nature. Specifically, moss. People tend to think a pattern must come from a physical motif, but texture can be patternized too. Moss or the surface of stone can be made into a pattern. The same goes for natural textures, tree rings, a grassy field or a rice paddy.

Color palette made of photos taken by Chang Eungboks' cell phone

Q. What do you do with this color palette?
A. I have tons of fabric. Some are 20 years old. They come out differently depending on the style of editing. Storing them this way helps me greatly. The contrast between materials is clear too. When I begin a project, I take a look at this palette. Even when I’m simply making a cushion, it is useful.

Q. The color palette tells me you are affected by nature.
A. I live in Munsan right now. During my 30-minute running in the morning, I saw frosted plants, sesame chaff, and a deserted blue nylon tape. The combination of them created a pretty image. Inspiration can come from a beautiful landscape, but sometimes it can be found in everyday surroundings. Beauty can be found in ugly, deserted objects.

Collaboration tile with kienho


Fabrics by Mono Collection

Q. Do you remember the hundreds of patterns you’ve designed so far?
A. No. That’s why I go to my storage often. I forget what some of my fabric looks like. A common mistake that designers make is to think they have to create a brand-new design, hit the jackpot with it, and prove that they are still capable and talented. It’s dangerous to think so. You have to edit yourself to be successful, and such thinking can stop you from detecting what you really are capable of. In a way through this project, I’m reexamining my archive.

Q. Most of Mono Collection products are made to order, so it was a pleasant surprise to see your recent gift package. How did you think of putting a cushion cover and a keychain together?
A. A cushion is an accessory to furniture, but it can function as a furniture itself as well. Koreans’ sedentary living style means cushions or seat cushions can be categorized as furniture. I like that aspect. People seem happy when they get cushion covers for a present. This small item can remind us of who we are, while just sitting in the living room. I design fabric for the cushion, but usually do not promote my products. This time, I made room for more cushions in the showroom so that customers can freely choose what they like from the display. The cover goes into a box packaging. For overseas trips, we give a fabric pouch to put it in. A simple instruction including our brand history and how the pattern was designed is also included. The fish keychain used the leftover fabric bits. It’s piecing by Chang Eungbok, since it’s all handmade.

Mono Collection's gift package


“Mooni,” a 2017 book of patterns by Chang Eungbok. 'Mooni' means patterns in Korean.

Q. What is your future goal?
A. I thought of what I would do for the next 30 years if I live long enough. I would open a workshop. I’d like to show Korean beauty my way by mixing contemporary designs and traditional dyeing which is a way of showing texture, other than through patterns. I’d like to express a deeper sensibility. Patterns are visually noticeable. I want to get closer to portraying a more natural texture and colors. That’s why I’m learning how to do traditional weaving, dyeing and even lacquering. I take time out of my busy schedule to learn these techniques. It’s been about five years. Other than having the skill set, there’s also the matter of using them to advance my work by fully understanding them.

Chang Eungbok at Mono Collections showroom/studio

Q. Do you have a sense of duty to preserve Korean tradition?
A. No. I don’t feel that way. I just love Korean contents as a designer and continue using them. They need to be used to avoid disappearing over time. I hope that priceless tradition will remain intact for a long time.

Q. You have an upcoming exhibition in September?
A. It’s a duo exhibition with photographer Kim Yul at JJ Joong Jung Gallery. He’s an old friend of mine who takes pictures of mountains, and his photographs are unique. I like his detachedness. It’s from Sept. 3 to Sept. 24. It will be a fun exhibition.

Mono Collection
Address 2F, 17 Jahamun-ro 10-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Inquiry +82-2-517-5170
September 2019 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Park Sungyoung

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  • September 2019
  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
  • Photographer: Park Sungyoung
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