The North Korean Refugee Who Crossed the Border for Vogue

She escaped North Korea at 20 yrs previous. Not simply because of hunger or to adhere to spouse and children who have now still left she risked her life and crossed the border to South Korea so she could wear regardless of what she desired. It’s a privilege that most choose for granted, but a dream for Yoon Mi-so. 

Yoon, now 31, liked makeup and outfits from a younger age. She grew up in Hyesan, Yanggang Province, a town close to the North Korean border with China, wherever several offered smuggled merchandise. Two a long time in the past, her mom would make a dwelling by sneaking in fabric from China and turned somewhat of a trendsetter. As a substitute of the small, permed hair common amongst North Korean gals at the time, she had the thick, wavy fashion popular in China. Most likely since of her mother’s influence, Yoon way too, is passionate about magnificence and trend. 

Now dwelling in Seoul, she performs as a “beauty consultant” to women of all ages. She’s like a stylist, dishing out tips on wardrobe and makeup that will greatest suit her shoppers. It’s her aspiration task, 1 she would have never ever reached experienced she not left North Korea, in which girls are told how to existing themselves and anticipated to glimpse just like all people else. In numerous ways, it is the finish reverse of South Korea, now acknowledged internationally for its avenue type and massive beauty marketplace.

VICE frequented Yoon’s office in Gimpo, a town close to Seoul, to speak about outfits, makeup, and how the definition of elegance differs across the border.

VICE: Why did you leave North Korea?
Yoon Mi-so:
In 2006, the so-identified as manner police or ‘gyuchaldae’ started out cracking down on clothing they considered inappropriate. A person working day, I was going for walks down the avenue and one of the regulators blocked me, all simply because I was putting on a yellow jacket with the English word “sports” on it. Seemingly, it produced me stand out. My hair is naturally dim brown, but the gyuchaldae also reprimanded me for that, contemplating I acquired it colored. After, I was summoned by a governing administration youth corporation for putting on tight trousers. They tried to just take me to the youth organization’s business office once more one more time but I ran absent. 

I eventually arrived throughout an acquaintance who health supplements her day position as a broker by serving to people today escape North Korea. It built me feel: I have to have to leave below now. For me, the wrestle that will come with not possessing the liberty to categorical myself was more painful than the trouble of making an attempt to make a living in a poor nation. 

I required to depart even extra immediately after my mom died. My moms and dads divorced when I was 2 several years old and my mom remarried when I was 10. My mother normally argued with my stage father because he was unfaithful and materialistic. My mother died 3 years soon after they got married. I feel my move dad was included in her dying — all since of income — but it was deemed a suicide. I was only 13 years previous then but I realized that it was unfair. I was very dissatisfied in my place, which pushed me to leave.

What does a natural beauty guide do?
A person’s impression is even a lot more important these times people treatment a ton about their appearances and expectations from others are also bigger. As a elegance marketing consultant, I coordinate my clients’ style, suggesting what colors and make-up fits them. In essence, my career is to handle a person’s bodily overall look.

I would have in no way imagined having a job in the beauty business in North Korea. Back then, I could not even design and style myself the way I needed. I hated it so much. I was now incredibly interested in vogue and natural beauty at the time, but I hardly ever even considered of studying how to place on makeup. Right after relocating to South Korea, I made the decision to go to higher education and majored in cosmetology in 2015. From there, I figured out skin treatment, make-up, hairstyling, and nail artwork. It was a new globe. Encouraging many others discover a fashion that suits them and observing them completely transform was so rewarding to me that is why I want to hold carrying out this. 

“Helping other individuals come across a type that fits them and viewing them rework was so worthwhile to me.”

Are the magnificence requirements in North Korea and South Korea different?
The elegance requirements in North Korea and South Korea are pretty unique. South Koreans like ladies who have a v-formed facial area, with skinny bodies and significant eyes. I assume North Koreans want women of all ages with round faces and eyes that are not much too large. If you are far too skinny, folks convey to you points like “You seem too weak,” “I really do not consider you can operate,” or “You appear bad.” If guys are skinny, people today say “You search like you go through from malnutrition” or “You really don’t look powerful sufficient to chop trees.” In contrast to in South Korea, North Koreans favor adult males who have darker pores and skin, which is viewed as manly. 

So was it uncommon for North Koreans to go on meal plans?
No, North Koreans go on eating plans too. I when took a laxative to lose bodyweight mainly because my sisters have been accomplishing it. You get sick all day and then lose fat. Persons wore underwear for physique shaping as well.

What was the most discouraging point about residing in North Korea?
It was the dresses. I would say the model in North Korea is like an outdated professor’s garments in South Korea. They address most of the human body, are static, classic, and with no colour. I preferred additional than that.

What have been the vogue developments when you were in North Korea?
Truly, it was a small distinct from area to location. In North Korea, a move is wanted when you go to other areas. In my hometown Hyesan, the army uniform worn by the border guards was popular amid gentlemen. When you eliminate epaulets from the uniform, they turn into everyday outfits. However these uniforms are very conventional, individuals are judged centered on the substance. You can tell when a man or woman has an upper class background based on the fabric of their uniform nylon was the very best content and cotton was the 2nd greatest.

I heard that Ri Sol Ju, Kim Jong Un’s wife, is a trendsetter in North Korea.
When I was in North Korea, I did not know about her. But if I had been continue to there now, I would likely follow her model. Males wore Mao fits like the previous leader Kim Jong Il did more mature males favor
ed that design and style. In 2010, suitable in advance of I left North Korea, “flight jackets” were in vogue. They had been typically green, blue, or red. They had been high priced, but so preferred that men and women bought them on credit history. A jacket was about $2.65 to $3.5 at that time a person kilogram of rice that was great for one day was significantly less than a dollar, whilst a pair of pants was $1.6 — the selling price of a jacket was double that. 

Was there a style road in North Korea, like Sinsa-dong in Seoul?
There was no extravagant style road in Hyesan, but there was a road the place “young individuals who know how to have on clothes” gathered. It was essentially a smaller secondhand industry. Garments from South Korea, China, and Japan ended up smuggled and sold on that avenue. 

If the clothing had been thought of problematic, they couldn’t be offered in the marketplace overtly promoting them could get you in difficulties. These integrated flared trousers, entire body-hugging and skimpy garments, and parts of apparel with English words on them, and have been normally sold secretly in people’s households. When folks locate out that a specified home sells these apparel, they go there with other mates who are intrigued in fashion. If you want to don what you shopped, you have to sneak about side streets the place there are no regulators. 

Why did they regulate people’s appearances and had been there any other constraints?
They say that people who comply with traits are “immersed in bourgeois thoughts” and check with “Why do you use apparel with American words?” Each and every Saturday, students are advised to consider about what they’ve completed mistaken in the earlier 7 days and level out what the misdeed was in public — they’re also produced to criticize their classmates. It occurs in workplaces way too. It’s one of the methods the federal government brainwashes citizens. 

I could not put on vibrant lipsticks. Not since they controlled it, but mainly because I was too shy to use vivid purple kinds. No one particular else wore lipsticks like that in North Korea it is just unusual to stand out. Vibrant makeup was also a really bizarre factor. If you place on colored make-up, persons will say you are crazy. Or folks could say, “Why do you paint your eyelids so blue? Did anyone defeat you up?”

How did you do your makeup in North Korea?
People used eyeliner and mascara but it was unimaginable and bizarre to add colour to your deal with. In South Korea, there are so a lot of options, like warm and awesome tones, but in North Korea, it was constantly just about having white skin, which was regarded as quite for women of all ages. 

Bomhyanggi, which signifies “spring fragrance,” a model made by Sinuiju Cosmetics, was popular. My mom applied Chinese cosmetics extra typically than North Korean types. She also secretly used products and solutions from South Korea, which were being normally sold by persons and not in general public markets. You only get all those via connections and just cannot explain to anybody about it, in scenario authorities come across out. I experienced to cover my South Korean cosmetics when my close friends frequented me. Some marketplaces have them but they’re hidden beneath display screen stands and offered secretly. Ah, these have been this sort of annoying occasions (laughs).

How exact is the Korean drama Crash Landing on You in depicting daily life in North Korea?
The environment in the drama was much too rural it’s not really that previous-fashioned in North Korea. But the way of life is really equivalent. For instance, it is genuine that families with a armed service officer are privileged and that most persons envy their wealth. A high-position soldier’s spouse has genuine electric power in the city.

If you have been to choose a colour to explain North Korea, what would it be?
Folks usually believe it is red but I believe it is considerably from crimson. Crimson symbolizes enthusiasm and drive, but North Korea does not permit persons do what they want to do. I believe North Korea is extra black. There was a tunnel I utilised to go to in my hometown and from there you’d see Changbai County in Jilin Province, China. It is a neighborhood where many ethnic Koreans reside, so you’d often hear Korean songs. I went to that tunnel when I acquired frustrated or missed my mom, imagining about how a great deal I needed to get out of my place. Perhaps that is why the coloration of North Korea reminds me of the dark colour of the tunnel.

“Red symbolizes enthusiasm and need, but North Korea does not let individuals do what they want to do. I feel North Korea is far more black.”

What is your strategy for the potential?
Up right up until previous calendar year, I by no means said that I was from North Korea. I hid it like a guilty individual. When selecting out my outfits, I was constantly mindful about how other folks would see me, worrying that I may well look like a North Korean woman. But then I uncovered out that a great deal of men and women, together with global and South Korean companies, are interested in the tales of North Koreans and North Korean refugees. That’s when I understood I have been hiding and only concentrating on myself. Now, I want to proudly say that I’m from North Korea and present that I’m living a fruitful life. I want to be an inspiration for North Korean refugees. Sometime, I hope to assistance them as a elegance consultant far too. 

Interview has been edited for size and clarity. 

This report originally appeared on VICE Korea.