If South Korea is the new Japan, UK brands should target these indies in Seoul’s Gangnam district.
Proud as they are of their 5,000-year history, South Koreans are not averse to raiding western culture for reference points. Rainbow Stitch, a his and hers retro-inspired emporium, is a good example of how US and European icons are readily adapted. The shop itself could sit on South Beach in Miami, or Santa Monica or Laguna Beaches in California. Seoul is about 90 minutes drive from the Yellow Sea, but surfboards outside give the right vibe, as do the scooters, while the tiny lawn offers a rare glimpse of greenery in the city. The store is a great example of the individualistic approach of Seoul’s indies.
According to the website of its local retailers, Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California, is “the coolest block in America”. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? But this reputation probably explains why a small shop in Seoul’s Gangnam district has adopted the name. The neat and stylish look of the boutique is typical of many independent stores in this busy and crowded area. It accentuates its corner location with a curved monochrome shop front, large open windows and, most curiously, very little in the way of identification. The product offer is clean, spare casualwear. The sort of thing that might look good in Venice, California…
San Francisco Market
This menswear store has heritage-inspired outerwear on the ground floor and more formal tailored collections on the first floor (above). It pulls together such varied brands as Gurkha bags from the US, Lardini tailoring from Italy, scarves from the UK’s Alan Paine and Alden shoes from the US. During Drapers’ visit, San Francisco Market was promoting its Fair Isle-style knitwear with a 1930s image of Edward, Prince of Wales. Nostalgia is alive and well in Seoul.
Even the individualistic South Koreans sometimes present a store with a conventional appearance. En Org is a contemporary boutique aimed at the metropolitan consumer. It goes for an austere dark frontage and large plain windows that allow passers-by to see inside.
A small and neat shop window at street level indicates what lies within at Project Rue. This boutique, which specialises in directional labels, is housed in a slightly spartan space in the lower ground floor of its building. A Japanese tendency to have fashion stores ‘not on the high street’ has made its way to South Korea; having the time and curiosity to go into a basement or climb to the second floor can often pay dividends. The interior is simple and clean, allowing the clothes to speak for themselves.
Jay Kang (pictured) is owner of Unipair , a footwear store selling British, European and US brands such as Tricker’s, Paraboot and Alden, plus premium accessories like Begg & Co scarves and Drake’s ties. Set back from a Gangnam side street, it has no windows and little signage. Its antique wooden fittings would not look out of place in a London gentlemen’s club. Unipair has a good international reputation; on the day Drapers visited, Japanese denim brand The Real McCoy’s dropped in.
It is not entirely clear which store this window belongs to, but it is a good example of the sophisticated and slightly offbeat approach Seoul indies take to visual merchandising. A boutique might be in a basement or two floors up and, typically, the window is an intriguing taster of what customers will find within. This one is significant as it combines a traditional artisan’s workbench with that modern symbol of Korean technological expertise, the flatscreen TV. A good example of how not to over-stuff a window.