North Korea’s First Lady Sports Dior Purse Despite Nationwide Food Shortages

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REUTERS / KCNA

North Korean First Lady Ri Sol Ju is spotted alongside her husband Kim Jong Un and the Dior bag in question

In a move reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, Ri Sol Ju, wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was spotted sporting a luxury Christian Dior purse on Tuesday. The bag, identified as a Lady Dior Clutch, retails for about $1,600 in South Korea, which is roughly the equivalent of an average North Korean worker’s annual salary.

The extravagances of Kim and his recently unveiled wife have come under intense scrutiny as North Korea continues to suffer from chronic food shortages. It’s a long-standing crisis only worsened by floods in June and July that destroyed many North Korean farms and is expected to have a significant effect on food supplies in the tightly closed-off country.

(PHOTOS: The Dictator’s Bride: Kim Jong Un Debuts His First Lady)

Not much else is known about Ri or about her marriage to Kim; pundits speculate that the two may have been married as far back as 2009. While Kim has been portrayed by international media outlets as a more open Supreme Leader than his father Kim Jong Il, many aspects of his governance still remain shrouded in mystery. North Korean leaders have long been examined under a close lens — as close as possible, that is — for their lavish tastes while their country starves. Kim Jong Il was reputed to have a full-time sushi chef, a 100,000-bottle wine cellar and a taste for Hennessy cognac to the tune of $800,000 a year.

But its people barely have enough money for even the basics. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter voiced his concern to the BBC when he visited North Korea last year, noting that many of the children he saw were malnourished and had inadequate access to proper or sufficient nutrition. He also mentioned that the country had rationed its food intake from 1,400 calories to 700 calories for the average citizen. (The average recommended caloric daily intake for a normal, healthy adult is at least 2,000 calories.)

(PHOTOS: Exposing North Korea)

In the mid-1990s, it was estimated that up to 3 million people died from famine in North Korea in what was known as the Arduous March. While it has been reported that the country is no longer in such dire straits as it once was, the Hermit Kingdom continues to rely on food aid from China, the U.S. and other countries.

In June, the U.N. warned that two-thirds of North Korea’s population would face critical challenges in staving off starvation. Claudia von Roehl, a representative for U.N. World Food Programme, told Reuters that “there is a very chronic and severe problem in the nutrition of the population and in particular the very monotonous diet [consisting of] maize and rice, carbohydrates, and lacking … in proteins and fats.”

The impoverished country continues to be one of the most closed and tightly controlled in the world. Though it seems it makes exceptions for Christian Dior imports.

Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

59 comments
Jeanlouisbolomey
Jeanlouisbolomey

I like her purse. Well done! North Korea is slowly moving into the west's penchant for fashion. In 1995/6 when the United States were ready to help North Korea with food aid...South Korea annuled the deal. So - who cares about the kids dying up north - as long as South Korea decides...  Oh, by the way...when the west helps out the dying of Darfour and of other African states...we never hear of their First Ladies' love of Dior purses. Strange, no? America lost nothing in Darfour. Do we hate the North Koreans because America pissed in its pants there...and lost? Most probably. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their homes thanks to the incompetence of American and international banks and the American government. Strangely no mention has been made of Mrs Bush's or Mrs. Obama's purse. Jesus wept ! Wake up America. Even North Korea is buying up Dior purses...and you are about to vote in Romney. No comment.

Mr1Man
Mr1Man

North Korea is a horrible place. Complete with concentration camps, secret assassinations/ executions, purges, and so much more. Yet you decide to write a story on a stupid purse. Wow...

Logictron
Logictron

Kind of a logical fallacy, Mit Romney was brought into the picture because of his huge amount of wealth which was a result of pure capitalism; yet opponents, who are in support of him distributing his wealth(indirectly through taxes or directly through charity) try to contrast him with a nation that  is the opposite of capitalism (communism/socialism - a philosophy of a distribution of wealth among everyone).

Igor Ginzburg
Igor Ginzburg

I wrote a comment defending the lady and it was censored out. Political censorship in North Korean traditions. 

Talendria
Talendria

It's a no-win situation.  If a woman doesn't dress nicely, she's accused of being frumpy and poorly representing her country.  If a woman does dress nicely, she's accused of being extravagant and obsessing over her appearance.  For all you know, the purse is a Hong Kong knock-off.

Pacific Vacuum
Pacific Vacuum

700 calories a day.  Try it for ... just one year. Then we'll revisit how you feel about the purse.

Talendria
Talendria

Please understand that I'm not defending North Korea. I'm disputing the logic that I have to despise anyone who indulges in luxuries that most people can't afford. I'm protesting media scrutiny of women's apparel and accessories, as if there were nothing more important to discuss. Don't you remember when Hilary Clinton ran for President and we had to listen to cries of "Oh my God that pantsuit makes her hips look big!" And last summer we had to listen to snark about how Princess Catherine was wearing the same shoes over and over again. The media is frivolous and insulting toward women.

Nicola Perry
Nicola Perry

This article should be in the National Enquirer, not Time! This isn't news! Shame on you for such a pointless, petty, biased article. 

The World is full of greedy leaders, elected or otherwise, who feather their nests and live like Gods while the people of their country live in poverty. Most of Africa, large parts of Asia, too many countries in Europe, the US certainly ... South America is famous for it!

dalkijs
dalkijs

I think she made a clear point. I agree with her. 

Hyunji Hailey Park
Hyunji Hailey Park

I absolutely agree with erica ho' idea

and I just worry about Ri Sol Ju's future after collapse of Kim's regime

Hyunji Hailey Park
Hyunji Hailey Park

Ri Sol Ju is second "Marie Antoinette"

what a great compare phrase!

I totally agree with Erica Ho.

And I just worry about Ri Sol Ju's fututre after Kim's regime collapse

Michael Ryan
Michael Ryan

Yes I am sure she is absolutely madly in love with that man sitting next to her. Or maybe she is not and is just greatful to not be one of the millions of NK people starving and wallowing in their misery. she is probably putting on a good acting job and playing the game because hey having to hump that guy and bear his kid is a decent price to pay for the luxury...until the revolution or that country implodes on itself. Don't cry for me North Korea....

Collider
Collider

The purse is probably a Chinese 3$ counterfeit copy..

Little_2Note
Little_2Note

I'd f0ck that fat slob too, if he treated me sweet like that!

ReDQLulz
ReDQLulz

So what!

Ron and Nancy Reagan twiddled their thumbs and bought lavish dinnerware for their White House parties in the middle of the AIDS and crack epidemics that swept through America's poor.

Even America's poorest people put on all sorts of inane finery to make a good impression in church...all the while overlooking the blatant hypocrisy of such displays!

Hypocrisy...it's the breakfast dish for all Americans, not just the North Korean 'nobility.'

C_Darrow
C_Darrow

No, not so what. Ron and Nancy Reagan didn't preside over an absurdly repressed population a few pieces of tree bark away from starvation. Making a good impression using 'inane finery' in Church is not at all comparable to using state money to buy a luxury purse while your country faces famine.

Stop trying to make everything seem equivalent  to/ excuse North Korea's psyopathic leadership, it makes you leftists as annoying as republican hacks.

And in case you were wondering, it IS state money. The Kim family hasn't gained a cent through its own labour.   

moore1944
moore1944

Not just Ann Romney, our First Lady flies to vacations and dines for thousands of dollars while american kids are homeless and hungry. And what about our grossly overpaid athletes and actresses. Why is this news???

Pacific Vacuum
Pacific Vacuum

Live on 700 calories for a month, let's see how you like being perpetually hungry/starving.  The entire country bub, not a handful of kids or homeless.  EVERYONE.  The fact you compare an entire country of millions of starving people to "overpriced atheletes and actresses" simply shows how little you understand the issue. It's called empathy kid, learn it.

Charles Obryan
Charles Obryan

this is stupid news, how about Obama and the elite in our Government? How they are in bed with China, selling this country out for the here and now. many unemployed and what are they doing? well they have free health care for life, perks that total most peoples income in a life. I dont want to hear about it.

Phoenix31756
Phoenix31756

Cant wait until we start seeing North Korea has their own Wall Street Protest up in arms there !

Edible Essentials
Edible Essentials

Everytime you go to Wal-mart or buy clothes brand new from the mall, you are supporting cheap labor from some 3rd world country. Everytime the middle and upper middle class waste food, buy new cars, get brand new houses, they are ignoring what goes on in the inner cities of this country. Americans are no better than her... in fact, we're worse because we choose to ignore the problems happening both right next door to where we live and in the global community that we are a part of.

Sonny Zheng
Sonny Zheng

it's all Will'n Kate North Korean style!!! look what new "princess" of North Korea is wearing. I bet the purse will sell out in stores around the world.

Imre Bártfai
Imre Bártfai

congrats China for supporting such a nice, fashion-lover country!

Hidayah Ahmad Surasa
Hidayah Ahmad Surasa

Since she's a part of the elite North Koreans, I don't mind that she uses the money she has to buy luxury items. We all know they violate human rights and extort a nation to get their power and money...  it's the nature of the regime. But Dior, doesn't that scream capitalism?! Their hypocrisy, yet reluctancy for reform is immensely annoying.

Edible Essentials
Edible Essentials

 We violate human rights indirectly by buying cheap stuff that's Made in China and other places where they can pay people 50 cents an hour. Yet I'm sure no one in America has a problem doing it. Why start complaining now?

O_Pinion
O_Pinion

She may have picked it up from Asma al-Assad's garage sale.

meoluoi202
meoluoi202

I don't mind if she pick it up in someone's garage. Actually, she looks hot ;)

Little_2Note
Little_2Note

I know! They're gonna have to start calling her hubby Kim Junk Up

Tammiendw
Tammiendw

Marilyn answered I'm startled that any one able to profit $4945 in 4 weeks on the network. did you look this(Click on menu Home)

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

the guy is a ruler ...  on what planet do you live dudes?

 ¿ ಠ_ಠ
¿ ಠ_ಠ

You can't eat a bag. Where did you learn how to hate the rich pinko? 

Igor Ginzburg
Igor Ginzburg

And who knows how much she paid for it?  Maybe it's not from Dior, just imitation; it could cost less than $100. Are you expecting her to be dressed in rugs?

ZeD
ZeD

Just another example of the "do as I say, don't do as I do" paradigm so evident amongst the ruling elite of most nations, although particularly acute in the case of North Korea. They should be ashamed to call themselves Communists, and don't even get me started on their "Socialism" proclamations.

Sardonic_Soul
Sardonic_Soul

North Korea is in Tribal Warfare mode.  The people in charge are starving their competition for what the Germans call "Living room."  The tribe on top eats very well.  Everyone else eats nothing.    All kids get drafted into the army -- the competition's kids don't survive the experience.  Lovely, lovely place, North Korea.  

Emile Shen
Emile Shen

This isn't surprising anyways. Heads of state are generally MUCH wealthier than the common citizen. 

Pacific Vacuum
Pacific Vacuum

Screw those billion people that get 700 calories a day, this isn't news. "Meh", says Emile Shen.

Go tell one of those starving families that to their face, see how smart you feel then.

almchrl
almchrl

Well at least he's gettin' 'some'.

Less likely to make war to prove his manhood.

almchrl
almchrl

Maybe it's a knock off she bought on Canal Street.

Steelsil
Steelsil

Ann Romney wears (hideous) $1000 blouses, while many American kids are homeless and hungry.  I am not defending N. Korea - I'm lamenting the heartlessness and greed of Republicans.

Pacific Vacuum
Pacific Vacuum

 700 calories.  Until any person you mention forces you to down to 700 calories a day, WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR POINT.  There is no equal here in America, I'm sorry.  Do you actually know what it's like to eat 700 calories a day?  Your entire life?  No one here does.   NO ONE.

h1223
h1223

Michelle Obama wore a $6800 dress, so your rant should be directed to her and the Democrats.

whatsuppeople
whatsuppeople

is it wrong to be successful and spend HER OWN MONEY?

really? are you THAT EXTREME communist? wooow Kim Jong-un on TIME! and well, then even if you earn money you MUST buy only BASIC stuff for your trash life,  though I don't think you would be able to earn much money with your damn trash brain,

whatsuppeople
whatsuppeople

Who made the poverty? Obama, USA was much better off before Obama came to us as "president" and is being wealthy crime? is being successful crime?

why do you blame your poor miserable trash life on that? just kill yourself, that's the best way to save world, according to your logic, you're 100% inferior poor person, really,

Randy Robinson
Randy Robinson

Actually, the poverty was made by banks and their stupid, risky investments. It was made by politicians who scaled back industry regulations and gutted our public coffers. Y'know, those rich folks you enjoy jacking off so much.

wfraser11
wfraser11

We have been in  a recession since the year 2000, which has been getting worse ever since. The current Presidnet stepped into a huge mortgage and bank crisis and the automobile industry collapsing.

The budget deficit was shrinking until the Bush tax cuts of 200, it immediately turned sharply upward as has been climbing ever since.

    You need some actual logic about what this President has done to

damage this economy. Since the House is dominated by GOP budget cutters who have fought against repeal of the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy since 2008, I'd say you might need to reconsider your opinions.

Just sayin' friend.  Will

Michael Ryan
Michael Ryan

THE USA WAS BETTER BEFORE OBAMA? Well you are certainly entitled to your view and opinion. In my humble opinion the USA is fairing decently IN SPITE of the presidency before Obama...

whatsuppeople
whatsuppeople

Who made the poverty? Obama, his retarded policies have led us to that poverty, and well, is being wealthy crime? is being successful crime?

IN  USA?  seems that you're from North Korea? 

whatsuppeople
whatsuppeople

who made the poverty? Obama, and well, is it wrong to be successful?

why don't you just go to North Korea? being successful and having money is crime there lol,

Tim R Alcoser JR
Tim R Alcoser JR

Ouch.  Someone a little envious, huh?  Get off the welfare and work your way up into a good job.

ZeD
ZeD

Ouch, you're a Conservative moron, huh? Yeah, thought so.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

 It's her money she can do whatever she wants.  If she spends US tax payers' money for it, then it would be another story!  As for the North Korean lady, she is probably using State's money.

vstillwell
vstillwell

Besides, they don't serve in the military. They make obscene amounts of money. They own businesses that get tax credits. They don't serve in any capacity other than serving themselves. 

vstillwell
vstillwell

Well, if they're not paying taxes...

WTF
WTF

Probably is not a certainty....

Lucile T. Owen
Lucile T. Owen

Get off the welfare and work your way up into a good job...OnlineMayorMony.blogspot.com