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The Rose of GyeongBok Palace

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For our first project, we looked to the rich history of the west and the east to create a collection in line with BESFREN’s perspective. It all began from our random idea of what it would like if we rearrange the roses of the Versailles Palace in France to the GyeongBok Palace in Korea. Wild because of how patently different the cultures are, yet a breathtaking image we could not let go, we put our Sherlock hats to the test.

As it turns out, the history surrounding Versailles Palace and GyeongBok Palace are not as radically different as we thought. The major tie lies in the owners of the two palaces: Marie-Antoinette & Empress MyeongSeong.

Marie-Antoinette lived during the peak of the French Revolution, amidst the Rococo Era or the 18th-century artistic movement known for lush extravagance and the more-is-more aesthetic. MyeongSeong lived through the end of Joseon Dynasty which gave her a deep appreciation for tradition, as well as the drive to move the nation forward.

But wait, didn’t we just say the two women were similar?

Just as with our desserts, the love is in the details–as is the answer in this case—and that takes time.

Meanwhile, please know that we plan to honor this Valentine’s Day with an ode to the magnificent roses of the west and the east, and to the lovely harmony that comes from merging two cultures.

Now, without further ado, the sweet details.

The Rose of Versailles, Marie-Antoinette hands her rose to the Empress MyeongSeong

We realized that the last queen of France, Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) and the last Empress of Korea, MyeongSeong (1851-1895), who are both one of the most fascinating figures in the history, resemble each other in their beauty, lifestyle and tragic endings. Numerous books and plays that portray the two queens show how they both lived such dramatic lives.

The Rose of Versailles, Marie-Antoinette hands her rose to the Empress MyeongSeong

Marie-Antoinette became the queen consort of the Emperor Louis XVI by the political marriage of France in 1770. Numerous portraits of her holding a rose illustrate her charm and glamour that made her renowned as the ‘rose’ of Versailles. However, the French disliked her for her extravagant lifestyle and attitude of harboring sympathy for France’s enemies, especially Austria, which was her country of origin. The rumors about her famous quote “Let them eat cake” and the diamond necklace incident damaged her reputation further, even though she was completely innocent in these affairs. She later became known as ‘Madame Déficit’ due to the monarch’s lavish expenditure during a financial crisis.

Living through a time in which Korea has been isolated from the foreign nations and slowly losing its strength, the Empress MyeongSeong rose to power to develop her country. She grew up in a noble family, married the young King Gojong in 1866 and quickly established herself as an intelligent and determined empress to develop Korea. Politically ambitious, she strove to modernize and Westernize Korea by opening its doors to the foreign nations and starting to trade with them. Korea, however, was not fully ready for an open trade due to the effect of the closed-economy policies that had been maintained for several hundred years and thus the opposing forces criticized her for excessive intellectuality and political involvement.

Unfortunately as all things must come to an end, both women were destined for tragic endings at the last stage of the 18th Century and Joseon dynasty

When France declared war against Austria, the revolutionaries began to argue that the most insidious enemies of the state were the monarchs and many blamed on the Austria-born queen, resulting in a massacre of many royalists, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette was criticized as the personification of the evils of the monarchy, but she was dignified as a figure who represent the pinnacle of French fashion and beauty.

MyeongSeong’s great concern for the nation and her charisma hidden in her tiny body were considered as threats to the Japan’s planned invasion of Korea and eventually led them to send military agents to assassinate the queen at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. She caused great many tongues from both conservatives and progressives to express deep dissatisfaction with her ambition and interest in the affairs of state. However, as her balancing act was maintained, Empress Myeongseong is remembered as a powerful figure who greatly contributed in both modernizing Korea and preventing the growing threat of Japan.

The two historical women’s glamorous yet complicated and dramatic lives show such resonance. Their charms may have been put in the shade of the end of the century. However, the two queens who were somewhat controversial figures should be honored. As we face the lives of the two queens, we would like to present this rose to the female victims who are still suffering from various historical incidents.

Korean jewelry cabinet inlaid with Maehwa (apricot flower) by mother-of-pearl, filled with rose-inspirited chocolate ganache truffles.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Maehwa (apricot flower) was popularly used as a decorative material as it signified purity. Folkcraft technique was used to cut Mother-of-pearl in its pattern and pasted onto the lacquer wares.

As an inspiration of this Valentines Special, we envisioned an image of the simple yet magnificent lacquer ware and a rose, which is the major symbol of Western beauty, to incorporate the two visually stunning objects containing an essence of the Western and the Eastern beauty

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