Fashion retail at its most creative in Seoul
South Korea and its inhabitants love fashion, making the country Asia's fourth-largest ready-to-wear market, worth an estimated $40 billion (€36 billion). The capital, Seoul, teems with mono and multibrand fashion stores, among them some of the most creatively designed on the planet. From the latest, newly opened Louis Vuitton boutique to directional Korean monobrand and concept stores like Boon The Shop, Ader Error, Wooyoungmi and many others, FashionNetwork.com has visited Seoul’s signature addresses.
The world’s leading luxury labels are all concentrated in the Gangnam district in the eastern part of Seoul, on either side of the uber-popular Cheongdam-dong. Along this avenue, luxury stores occupy entire six or seven-floor buildings, whose façades battle it out for creativity. This month, Louis Vuitton was in the limelight with its newest store, the recently inaugurated Louis Vuitton Maison Seoul. A majestic building, whose architecture, curated by star architects Frank Gehry and Peter Marino, subtly echoes the style of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and whose top floor hosts an exhibition of Giacometti sculptures.
Dior, Chanel and Hermès
Another spectacular presence in Gangnam is the sublimely architectural Maison Dior, a grand six-storey building designed by Christian de Portzamparc, the 11 white sails of its façade paying tribute to the French couturier’s work. The building’s centrepiece is the single, ribbon-like mirrored staircase taking visitors to the various floors.
The Chanel store is housed in a seven-storey building with a black mat front and a terrace used for the label's private events, while the façade of Swiss watch brand Omega’s store is straight out of a sci-fi film, and the Miu Miu boutique is nestled inside a gold-flecked cube covered with an array of giant screens.
The Hermès store, located just outside Gangnam, is also worth a peek for its spectacular bamboo-stalk casing.
Boon The Shop
Located on the fringes of Seoul’s luxury district, Boon The Shop, a concept store operating seven branches in South Korea, of which six inside Shinsegae department stores, has a white front with a few looks displayed in the shop window. The luxury/designer concept store was opened in 2014, another creation by architect Peter Marino, and extends over four generously sized floors. It is almost museum-like, with concrete walls and white marble steps, impossibly high ceilings and windows overlooking the city, and it affords first-rate visibility to the hundred or so brands it showcases, a mixture of established international labels like Marni, Dries van Noten and Vêtements, alongside emerging ones like Uniforme Paris.
Boon The Shop has floors dedicated to leather goods, beauty and ready-to-wear, while the basement is home to a fully fledged concept store featuring sportswear, sneakers, books and design objects. It is also renowned for its art installations - like the ‘sneaker deconstruction’ sculptures made by South Korean artist Rudy with old sneakers, or the robotic works by Nemen - and for the uber-directional looks of its clientèle.
Sacai and 10 Corso Como
Seoul’s only Sacai store, presenting the collections by Japanese designer Chitose Abe, is located opposite Boon The Shop. Abe, who enjoyed stints at Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe, has created a more discreet ambience than its neighbours, the interiors characterised by quirky settings with fully reconstructed vintage furniture.
A stone’s throw from Sacai, 10 Corso Como features hypnotic, extravagant interiors, including a ground-floor café-restaurant with luminous circles, while the store proper is designed like a labyrinth with walkways, staircases and display areas brimming with international luxury labels and emerging designer brands.
The same neighbourhood is home to the flagship store of Wooyoungmi, the only independent label in South Korea and one of the iconic names in Korean fashion. Based in Seoul since 2004, close to Dosan Park, the label now designed by Katie Chung decided in 2012 to transform its headquarters into a multi-purpose building with boutiques and a café.
The latter is called Manmade, a huge open-plan lounge with velvet chairs where coffee and pastries are served. Upstairs, the Wooyoungmi collections are showcased on racks like pictures, together with over 150 items by Solid Homme, the label’s other menswear brand, attracting Seoul’s most directional clientèle.
The first, striking Juun J. flagship conceived by designer Jung Wook Jun (whose label is owned by Samsung) opened in Seoul’s Gangnam district last June. The trip across town is well worth making to see this amazing architectural feat by Korean architecture studio WGNB, a sort of two-level cloister with a timelessly futuristic look. The bold geometric shapes of its black and anthracite façade hide interiors featuring Zen gardens and a décor in black and white, Juun J.’s fetish colours.
Among the Korean contingent, Gentle Monster is worth all the hype. The Korean eyewear label has a penchant for premises where art plays a dominant role, and operates three stores and 10 department store concessions in Seoul. Besides the shops in the Sinsa and Hongdae neighbourhoods, Gentle Monster’s most interesting venue lies close to the temple district, across the Han river, in Bukchon: the store is almost invisible from the street, housed inside an old bathhouse which still preserves its former décor.
Korean label Ader Error has opened an iconic shop in Hongdae, the Seoul neighbourhood where young people come to party. The label, whose name is a crasis of the words ‘Aesthetic Drawing’ and ‘error’, signifying imperfection, was founded in 2014 by a collective of artists and designers. Its Seoul store has the feel of a private residence, each room looking like a contemporary art museum. Among the various quirky installations, a monstrously shaped film strip at the entrance, a sculpture made of cinder blocks and neon, TV screens with screaming owls and even a private screening room, the ideal settings for the label’s streetwear collections and its collaborations with Puma and Maison Kitsuné.
The French-Japanese label is very popular in South Korea, and crowds of people swarm every week-end to its concept store/café in the Sinsa-dong district. The store opened in October 2018, and sits at the end of an alley leading to a large paved court, where a few tables are set out in front of a series of black fox figures. Shaded by trees, the building hosts a café on the ground floor and showcases the collections upstairs. Maison Kitsuné is also present at the Lotte Department Store, one of Seoul’s most popular shopping malls.
The last address worth visiting is the Beaker concept store, owned by Korean group Cheil Industries, located on the outskirts of the Cheongdam-dong luxury district. It extends across a huge area that includes a café, a bookshop and sections showcasing sportswear and workwear labels. Several Korean brands are available exclusively at Beaker, like womenswear label Recto, the sportswear collections by Ader Error and the concept store’s own label Beaker Newtro, a nod to Seoul’s booming ‘Newtro’ trend, featuring a contemporary take on traditional clothes.
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