North Korea

Kim Ju Ae’s fancy outfits and frequent TV appearances are generating resentment


Initial glowing reception of Kim Jong Un’s daughter has worn thin amid economic hardship

Kim Ju Ae’s fancy outfits and frequent TV appearances are generating resentment

In this Feb. 9, 2023 photo, images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter presumed to be named Ju Ae are seen on a television screen in Seoul.

Donning ever-fancier clothing at each new public appearance, 10-year-old Kim Ju Ae is starting to become an object of resentment in the eyes of many North Koreans, sources in the country say.

When she first appeared in public in November next to her father, supreme leader Kim Jong Un, people were enthralled, partly because people almost never got a glimpse of previous leaders’ children when they were young.

People were delighted to see the girl with the round face who looked so much like her father, down to his friendly smile, according to a resident of Hyesan, near the Chinese border, on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

“The first time, when she appeared in relatively modest attire, the people welcomed it because they were comparing it to [previous leader] Kim Jong Il, who did not reveal his children at all,” the source said.

These days, Kim Ju Ae has become a fixture on state TV, accompanying her father to various public events, in what experts think may be a charm offensive to make her father appear like a family man, or perhaps to prepare the populace for a future female leader.

But her charm appears to be wearing thin, sources say. 

At each new event, it seems that her clothing has gotten more glamorous than the last – while most people can barely make ends meet, the source said.

“Now they have changed her clothes to these fancy aristocratic outfits that ordinary girls would never be able to wear,” he said. “She appears on the podium at major events and she gets treated like she’s higher than the gray-haired officials.” 

“It feels like Kim Jong Un’s daughter is saying ‘I’m better than you,’” he said.“Now people hope that Kim Jong Un’s daughter will not appear on TV anymore.”

‘Dressed up more than an adult’

Other girls her age now hate seeing Ju Ae in the news, he said.

“My daughter, who is in elementary school, gets upset whenever Kim Jong Un’s daughter appears on TV,” he said. “She says things like, ‘Is she really a student?’ and ‘I wish she would stop showing up on TV.’”

Adults also feel uneasy whenever Ju Ae is shown in fancier clothes than anything they have ever worn, a resident in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told Radio Free Asia on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“Now, I find it uncomfortable to see Kim Jong Un’s daughter dressed up more than an adult and getting special treatment, like when she walks the red carpet side beside Kim Jong Un and they pass in front of cheering crowds,” he said. “[She] appears in newspapers and broadcasts so much that it feels like there’s only Kim Jong Un and his daughter in the country.”

But no one dares express such thoughts publicly, he said.

What is she wearing?

Some say Kim Ju Ae’s fashionable clothing are expensive designer outfits, but an analysis of some of the clothes she has worn in public reveals that by the standards of most developed countries, they are relatively inexpensive.

On April 18, she wore a beige blouse when making a public appearance with her father at the  National Aerospace Development Administration.

Using Google Lens, RFA was able to determine that the blouse, or one very similar to it, can be found in online shopping websites based in Hong Kong and China. At the Hong Kong website YESSTYLE, the blouse sells for U.S.$21.10.

“It looks similar to the photo,” Gladys B., a representative of YesStyle.com, told RFA. “We regret that we do not have information regarding the source of the blouse …, and we cannot guarantee that it is the exact item in terms of quality and material. However, based on the photos alone, it is similar.”

The YESSTYLE representative said that the company does not ship to North Korea, and it sources products from several suppliers, who may have sold the blouse to other retailers.

KoHuiJoo, a Chinese company that sells the same item, said they had no information about how the blouse might have ended up on Kim Ju Ae. 

The same item is also sold by China’s Alibaba group and can be shipped to Europe and elsewhere through ALIEXPRESS.

On the other end of the spectrum, RFA determined that a black coat made by French luxury brand Christian Dior, that Kim Ju Ae wore to a missile launches last month and earlier this month, costs $1,900 on the company’s website.

If North Korean authorities are making an effort to tone down how Kim Ju Ae is dressed, it may be an indication that they are aware of the negative reactions to her flashy attire, Jonathan Corrado, a Director of Policy for the U.S.-based Korea Society, told RFA.

“As ordinary North Koreans struggle, opulent spending by the ruling class can rub people the wrong way,” he said. “This problem is further compounded because the United Nations banned North Korea from buying luxury goods and by the fact that the authorities have cast certain Western fashions as signifiers of decadent capitalism.”

 Lee Seo Hyun, a North Korean escapee from Pyongyang who settled in the United States, told RFA, that Kim Ju Ae’s fashion is off-putting to most North Koreans.

“The recent food crisis in North Korea is serious enough that some people are starving to death,” she said. “The public appearance of the Kim family living a luxurious life, like when they dress up in luxury goods, may have had an impact.”

Lee said that few in North Korea would know of Christian Dior or how much the maker’s clothing costs, so rather than bad public opinion from within causing authorities to tone down her image, Pyongyang may be reacting to international news outlets that reported on Kim Ju Ae’s lavish lifestyle.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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