Shopping in Seoul: Instagrammable fashion stores in Gangnam worth a visit or ten
Does that age-old philosophy about the deception of appearances apply to retail? Likely not. A dusty storefront with a peeling moniker is to vintage treasures as a pink balcony nestled within the busy streets of Seoul's Myeongdong district is to the Stylenanda Pink Hotel. Fashion and beauty stores around the world are pulling out all the stops when it comes to, well, stopping shoppers in their tracks; once upon a time, merely to add to the brand milieu. For sh*ts and giggles basically. In 2018 going on 2019, visual merchandising has become a necessity — when brick-and-mortar is shutting down faster than a brand new MacBook, the hook, line and sinker of sales figures lie more heavily in its bells and whistles than ever. Even if that makes us the fishes. Fishes who shop.
Below, five stores we'll gladly sink our paycheck in, the next time we find ourselves in Seoul.
1. STRETCH ANGELS
Why visit: If not to shop, to marvel at the OTT decor. As of November 2018, Stretch Angels' two-storey space is both flight- and gym-themed. On the first floor, cash registers were dressed like check-in counters, jewellery was sprawled across and in trunks, and chairs were basically millennial-ised business class seats. The floor above was madness of a different kind. Right off the stairs is a colour-blocked playground. On its left, an inflatable pool with animal floaties, a boxing ring and a "bar for b*tches".
What to buy: Americana streetwear. Think: logomania bum bags, trendy sweat shirts and racing-inspired accessories.
Where they are: 14-gil Apgujeong-ro, Sinsa-dong
2. QUEENMAMA MARKET
Why visit: This is not your average store-in-store concept; Queenmama is more of an indoor garden which happens to feature goods for purchase, than a traditional pop-up style retail space. We got slightly lost in the calm maze on the first floor, but we didn't mind as we stumbled upon cool stuff on our way up to the OhBoy! eco-friendly selectshop, Parrk bookstore and Manufact coffee joint upstairs.
What to buy: Queenmama Market reminds us of Singapore's Public Garden and Boutiques Fair, only with the decor amped up to level 10 and the offerings streamlined to quirky trinkets and eclectic homeware, such as rattan jewellery boxes, tobacco incense, gluten free laundry soda, luxury teas and chic tumblers curated from all around the world.
Where they are: 50 Apgujeong-ro 46-gil, Sinsa-dong
Why visit: You won't find flashy decor here. There's no neon signs, no pink wall, no 'gram corner so to speak. Instead, Beaker is cleverly furnished with doors. Lots and lots of them. They make for rustic coromandel screens, display tables and centre pieces; they come together to barricade rooms and double as coat hangers. Refurbished sewing machine legs make an appearance as well, as bases for drawers from different fittings. This is a remix, we suspect, that works better than the original.
What to buy: Smiley carpets from Second Lab, margherita pizza plates from Bitossi, Velcro wallets from Have a Good Time, bags from Gu_de and a wide selection of ready-to-wear ranging from known names such as Helmut Lang and Adererror to emerging labels such as Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Nili Lotan.
Where they are: 78-6 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
Why visit: Part '90s gym, part laundromat, part horror house, we got the fright of our life when we walked into Raremarket. Slung across the main couch is a figure of a woman, face down, with her hair flopped over and extending past her outstretched arms. We tried to ask the store manager for its backstory, but our language barrier prevented us from uncovering the truth. Just as well.
What to buy: LVMH prize winner Marine Serre's latest collection, Swarovski's designer collaborations (we spotted Tabitha Simmons' robot key fobs among the elaborate earrings and necklaces), and Seoul's own We11Done's tribute to Von Dutch.
Where they are: 95-5 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu
5. GENTLE MONSTER
Why visit: Gentle Monster, quite possibly the OG of get-out-of-here visual merchandising in Seoul, unveiled its latest concept in the recently reopened Sinsa flagship store. Titled 'The White Crow', artist Lee Kyu Tae's narrative of a mysterious fowl is visualised by kinetic sculptures and art objects set amidst thematic foliage spanning five floors. So committed is Gentle Monster to their vision, not a single pair of eyewear is in sight upon entry, only artistic expression, its tale further forewarned in a graphic novel handed out to visitors. You know, like a museum.
What to buy: Sunglasses, whaddya think?
Where they are: 533-6, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu