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.
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.)
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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.