'I love seeing the quiet power that she really exudes in these pictures.'

American stylist analyzes the fashion of North Korea’s ‘Respected Daughter’
By Park Jaewoo for RFA Korean
'I love seeing the quiet power that she really exudes in these pictures.' At left, Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae inspect a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Nov. 18, 2022, ahead of its launch at Pyongyang International Airport. Middle: Un and his daughter take a photo with the scientists, engineers and military officials before the test-fire of the country's new Hwasong-17 ICBM in this undated photo. At right, Kim Jong Un and Ju Ae tour the newly built Gwangcheon Poultry Factory Jan. 7, 2024.
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via AFP and Reuters

UPDATED on Feb. 13, 2024 at 6:27 p.m. ET

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un uses force and missile launches to demonstrate his control. His pre-teen daughter and presumed heir Kim Ju Ae exudes “quiet power” – through the way she dresses.  

That’s according to Lauren A. Rothman, a Washington-based stylist who offers fashion advice to celebrities, politicians and business executives.

At Radio Free Asia’s request, she analyzed 10 pictures of Kim Ju Ae and shared her impressions of what North Korea is trying to communicate both at home and abroad about the girl – thought to be around 11 years old – who may one day rule one of the world’s most isolated countries. 

At her first public event – a missile launch in November 2022 – Kim Ju Ae was wearing a white designer coat topped with a white fur cloak, black pants and red leather dress shoes with bows.

In subsequent appearances, she was spotted wearing designer sunglasses, fur-collared overcoats, a pantsuit with a bow and fancy blouses made by European luxury brands. She has carried luxury handbags and always sports a carefully primped hairstyle. 

Rothman, who specializes advising people who run for office, said the way Kim Ju Ae dresses is a calculated effort to make her appear young and innocent but also to command respect.

 “I love seeing the quiet power that she really exudes in these pictures,” Rothman told RFA. “And what I mean by that is that we see everything from the young girl she could be, or was, in a fur or fleece hoodie into the woman she's going to be with a belted blazer or coat.”

North Korea experts have speculated that Kim Ju Ae’s public appearances are part of a propaganda effort to soften her father’s image by portraying him as a family man. The appearances could also be positioning her to one day rule after her father over a hereditary communist regime, they say.

The effect, however, has not always been positive among her people.

The state media barrage of images of her plump face and wearing nice clothing has aroused widespread, if secret, resentment among the public, sources have told RFA, in a country plagued by chronic food shortages and widespread poverty.

Inherited authority

Rothman said she observed what she calls “legacy dressing,” which is meant not only to confer Kim Ju Ae’s father’s power onto her, but also to help her to step into her own power. 

“It is really interesting to think about [Kim Jong Un’s] daughter's ability to communicate politics at her age, which appears to be timeless in these photos,” she said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae at the civil defense military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Pyongyang, Sept. 9, 2023. (Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via Reuters)

In one photo, Kim Ju Ae is wearing designer sunglasses, a leather jacket and a fur collar – all of which conveys a sense of power and makes her look more mature than in earlier photos, Rothman said. 

There was also a sense of timelessness to her style, she said, so that could be important politically.

In earlier appearances, the girl appeared primarily in white, she noted. 

“Not only do I think that it's really powerful that in the first picture that was released, we're seeing her in white, but that's a very soft color, that's a very innocent color. And so, there's some real youthfulness,” Rothman said. 

“So here when she's wearing a blazer, she has a pin and when she wears the white down jacket, she does not. And [for] most folks in politics …, darker colors stand the test of time.”

She said that for politicians and others who frequently appear in public, white clothing is difficult to keep clean, so it’s used mainly to emphasize youth, softness and purity.

In a photo that shows Kim Ju Ae wearing a white jacket and gold buttons to visit the naval command alongside her father, the purpose was to connect her style with that of the military, Rothman said. 

Like her father

Kim Ju Ae often borrows elements of her father’s fashion, Rothman observed.

Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae commemorate the launch of a reconnaissance satellite, during a visit to the General Administration of Aerospace Technology, in this picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 24, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)

We're seeing a likeness. We're seeing a similarity and we're being trained already through nonverbal communication that they are one and the same.” Rothman said. 

“We are being trained to think that ‘When I see her in this look, I'm also seeing him in this look,’ and there's something very subtle being communicated in the power of fashion.” 

“When we see what I call this legacy dressing type of look, I definitely think it has some intention attached to it,” she said.

Rothman said that even if the fashion choices are not part of an intentional strategy, the Kim family may have chosen clothes that could communicate their inherent power unconsciously.

Kim Jong Un and his daughter make an official visit to the Naval Command of the Korean People's Army to celebrate Navy Day in North Korea, in this picture from August, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)

Rothman said that Kim Ju Ae appears to be trying to present a soft family appearance to the rest of the world, but to North Koreans she may convey a strong force symbolizing the country’s leadership and power.

“Endless power is what these photos show me that the power doesn't end,” she said. “That the power doesn't rest, that the power is eternal and outer wear is a great way to communicate that power.”

Family fashion

Rothman also analyzed the fashion of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, First Lady Ri Sol Ju and his sister Kim Yo Jong, who is a high ranking and influential government official.

Kim Jong Un’s tailored clothing, such as his double-breasted coat, jacket and Mao-style jacket, appears to be an intentional choice reminiscent of a dynasty, she said. This choice of clothing itself symbolizes strong power to his people.

His wife, meanwhile, mimics the fashion of first ladies of other countries. Rothman said that in some pictures she even looks as if she’s trying to channel a little Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was first lady when her first husband John F. Kennedy was U.S. president. 

“There is such a pronounced difference between first lady dressing and executive presence dressing and that’s communicated here with the wife’s style, really looking tailored, looking traditional,” she said. 

Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju wave to China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan upon their departure at the airport in Pyongyang June 21, 2019. (KCNA via AFP)

“There’s even a sweetness to that tailoring. We’ll see both playful touches, whether she’s got high boots on and is, you know, playing in the snow or, or at a creek here, you’ll see really tailored sleeves and collars that probably would make her a style icon in North Korea”

This is in sharp contrast to Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s sister, who needs to communicate capability and competence.

“So what we're seeing in his sister’s ensembles is that she really loves her blazers, which really communicates a great sense of executive presence,” said Rothman.

Rothman said that unlike Ri Sol Ju’s clutch bag, Kim Yo Jong prefers practical fashion by carrying a tote or shoulder bag with plenty of space and often wearing clothes with pockets. 

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, at the Metropole hotel during a North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam Feb. 28, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Kim Yo Jong, who dresses simply, has only one accessory that she likes to wear: a headband. According to Rothman, headbands are called “half up, half down” in fashion terms, because half of the hair is decorated and fixed, and the other half is left down freely.

Although she also has been shown with her hair down and with the headband, I think the headband is a little bit of fun.” said Rothman. “It's something unexpected and perhaps authentic, to her love of fashion which is not often communicated in these more severe serious suits.”

Translated by Claire S. Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

Update moves context closer to the beginning of the report.


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