Seoul is a vast and sprawling metropolis, that much the whole world knows by now. But what not everyone takes into account is that the burgeoning fashion capital boasts the most epic of brick-and-mortar shopping experiences.
Of course, it says a lot that Western counterparts are sitting up and paying attention to South Korea’s fashion scene: Chanel tapping on G-Dragon’s magnitude, homegrown labels the likes of Hyein Seo and Juun.J building major rapport with leading international stockists Nordstrom and Ssense, or Gentle Monster being nominated as the ‘It’ eyewear label of the moment. Online, we can trace and be witnesses — or even participants — to the massive K-wave trend, but these brands’ incredible Seoul base camps are worth taking a closer look at.
“I wanted the products to look as if they were being exhibited,” said Gentle Monster founder Hankook Kim in an interview with Business of Fashion. Kim was explaining the idea behind his label’s experimental spaces. Museum or boutique? With Gentle Monster’s art-meets-retail notion, we’ll never know. But whatever the business model is meant to be, it’s working splendidly.
The transatlantic triumph of Gentle Monster sparked a shift. Young, fresh labels such as Ader Error and SJYP, as well as retailers like Rare Market and Queenmama, are creating their own worlds through conceptually designed spaces; helping buyers to have a palpable understanding of what the brand is all about.
Immersive experiences? Check. Intriguing product curation? Most definitely. If you ever find yourself in Seoul, Here’s a shopping guide to the best concept stores you need to include in your travel itinerary.
(Main and featured images: Acne Studios)
Known for: Going extra on exhibiting its experimental sunglasses.
Why it’s worth your visit: Dotted around the city’s central area, Gentle Monster stores are quite hard to miss. The brand’s immersive retail space is regularly transformed with each outlet (and also each level of the outlet) having entirely different themes playing as habitats to its equally outlandish eyewear.
For other Gentle Monster outlets in the city, click here
Why it’s worth your visit: Rare Market is a regular stop on the international fashion circuit for street style stars (think: Miroslava Duma) and celebs (think: Rihanna) alike. It houses the newest, coolest brands — whether that’s Jacquemus and Marques’Almeida, or Korea’s own Hyein Seo and Kye — side by side with eye candy artworks. Word of advice: Keep a lookout for its in-house streetwear label, too.
Known for: Offering chic brutalist interior inspo.
Why it’s worth your visit: Every Acne Studios store in the world is almost always a must-visit, what with the label’s impeccably designed boutiques and covetable fashion pieces. Seoul’s flagship, though, is outstandingly magnificent. Located in the Gangnam district, the standalone store is spread over two levels. Pared back and unabashedly minimalist, the space is a beautiful splendour of concrete and steel housed within its translucent shell. But if that’s not enough to lure you in, its Seoul-exclusive kids selection should be.
Known for: Bringing a slice of Los Angeles to Seoul.
Why it’s worth your visit: Korean designers Kang Jin-Young and Yoon Han-Hee, who both have lived in LA, made Queenmama’s laid-back, leafy ambience akin to the West Coast’s. The four-level space blurs the line between nature and shopping: Clothes (mostly Korean labels, and sometimes Kang’s own high-end label, Gene Kei) hung in the midst of suspended greenery, or houseware nestled among potted plants. Growing in a pulse of its own, the items on the shop floor are changed every three months with new products hailing from all corners of the globe. On its highest level sits Manufact, a sun-drenched rooftop café that makes a heavenly spot to sip a mean cup of joe.
Known for: G-Dragon’s rumoured go-to shop.
Why it’s worth your visit: A multi-brand high-end boutique designed by one of the world’s most sought-after architects, Peter Marino, Boon the Shop is a mecca for fashion acolytes looking for an all-round retail experience. It showcases an eclectic array featuring fashion’s vanguards (Céline, Rochas, Martin Margiela, Vetements, Balenciaga among others) alongside local emerging labels (Kye and Kiok).
Known for: Getting dubbed as the Korean Vetements.
Why it’s worth your visit: The founders — an anonymous group of Seoulites who have studied at Central Saint Martins, the Fashion Institute of Technology and ESMOD — cleverly devised the phonetic Korean pronunciation of the word ‘other’ as their brand name. The brand’s foundation focuses on reconstructing the “near-missed things (all the daily objects in our lives that can be easily unnoticed)” by way of louche wardrobes and quirky exhibitions. Trust us, you’ll leave with at least one cobalt blue shopping bag and a craving for more creative spaces like this.
Known for: Exporting the country’s best denim offerings.
Why it’s worth your visit: There’s no doubt that husband-and-wife team, Steve J and Yoni P, are stalwarts of Seoul Fashion Week. The pair met in London at Central Saint Martins and founded their label there in 2006 before returning to Seoul for an expansion. For edgy denim and utilitarian staples with price tags don’t break the bank, look no further than SJYP.
Known for: Operating as the unofficial arbiter of cool.
Why it’s worth your visit: This multi-brand shop is part of Samsung’s Cheil Industries and stocks a wide range of contemporary labels such as Ami, Astrid Andersen, GCDS, Opening Ceremony and Maison Kitsune. It also hosts shop-in-shops for local labels.
Known for: Looking like an extraterrestrial spaceship.
Why it’s worth your visit: Nestled in the city’s upscale Apgujeong district, Worksout is a three-storey futuristic edifice bringing in over 40 different menswear brands such as Carharrt and Obey, as well as Korean newcomers like Corner Deli. If you’re a true-blue streetwear fan, you won’t want to leave.
Known for: Being slow and steady.
Why it’s worth your visit: This intimate concept store is founded by the mastermind behind Seoul label Blankof. Dedicated to the values of “slow and steady”, the store specialises in apron dresses, pullovers, simple coats, and other pared-down basics built to stand the test of time — pegging in brands such as Champion, Common Projects, and Still by Hand. It also boasts a café brewing Insta-worthy lattes, and a gallery dedicated to special art ventures of the store.