THERE SEEMS TO BE NO STOPPING THE RELENTLESS ONSLAUGHT OF KOREAN LIFESTYLE influences that have been sweeping the world since the late 1990s. Coined the “Korean Wave” in mid-1999 to describe the burgeoning appetite for Korean cultural exports, this global phenomenon is a veritable capital of its own. an immensely powerful form of soft power that is subtly impacting global lifestyles. Having reached as far as Latin America. North Africa, and the Middle East, the Korean Wave is influencing everyone from avid K-pop fans to Hallyu drama-chasers, putting increasing spotlight on cosmetic surgery and the re-writing of fashion and beauty ideals, and proliferating the growing taste for everything Korean, from traditional garb to regional cuisine.
On the cusp of everything cool and with the power to influence international trends, Seoul Fashion Week has increasingly become more scrutinised in the global fashion scene. Although previously rather insular in nature, and in fact often denying digital reporters and “bloggers” on scene for most of the shows, the event is slowly opening up to the international media, with ambitions to join the ranks of New York and Milan Fashion Weeks as global trend-setters. Particularly gaining traction are street style snaps that flood social media accounts during fashion weeks.
Some Korean designers that are slowly but surely garnering more international attention include pushBUTTON by Park Seunggun. a hot favourite to look out for especially with its multiple collaborations with international and beauty brands such as Puma and Laneige. Steve J & Yoni P’s British street style-inspired pieces feature witty and exotic twists to delight even the most jaded of fashionistas – and it certainly helps that it has a strong supporting of A-list Korean Stars like Lee Hyo- ri to help elevate the label to international cult status. Kye by Central Saint Martins alumni Kathleen Kye will strike a particular chord amongst K-pop fans with its collection of funky outerwear, loud prints, and urban streetwear aesthetic.
The main shopping and tourist districts of Seoul can be split into two categories – North of the Han River, and South. Widely considered as the unofficial “heart” of Seoul, the City Centre is situated in the Jung district to the north, and holds some of the few remaining European-style government buildings in the country, vestiges of its Japanese imperial colonialist past. Travelling couples can enjoy a starry-eyed stroll along the picturesque Deoksugung’s Stone Wall Path, or indulge in a romantic date at the famed Namsan “love locks” bridge and N Seoul Tower (otherwise commonly referred to as Namsan Tower); marking the highest point in Seoul, this lofty peak offers panoramic views of the glittering nightscape below and houses the N Grill, a revolving restaurant that serves up western-style cuisine in a luxurious atmosphere
Every shopping fanatic who arrives at Seoul w ill hear of Myeong-dong. The prestigious locale of many international flagship stores to the country, this extensive network of main streets and small alleys is a good mix of upscale labels and underground boutiques that are packed during weekends. Big names to be found here include Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, and Nike, whereas the sprawling floors of the famous Lotte Department Store offers a comprehensive array of duty free shopping that you can pay for and collect at the airport before your departure – very handy if you intend to do some intensive shopping and need to keep your arms free for other purchases.
Myeong-dong also offers a great selection of local specialty labels, such as Beanpole. Codes Combine, and Banila B. all of which offer the iconic urban casual style so easily spotted on the streets of Seoul. Cosmetics fans will have no shortage of standalone and flagship K-beauty boutiques such as Nature Republic, Etude House. The Face Shop, and Too Cool For School.
Literally translated to mean “south gate”, Namdaemun Market is located on the main southern gate of the old city wall, and is Korea’s oldest traditional market, originating as early as the 14th century under the reign of King Taejong (1367 – 1422). Commonly- referred to as the “even has kitchen sink market”, its mind-boggling plethora of small vendors offers up a cornucopia of clothing, fresh vegetables and flowers, household goods, and other assorted knick-knacks all in one massive congregation. Many tourists and wholesale retailers alike seek out this market for its hustle and bustle – especially at night, when the soul of Seoul comes alive and the city thrives with pop-up tent-and- table eateries hawking local snacks and street food.
Made infamous by the popular PSY hit. the Gangnam district south of the Han river is all the glitz and glamour of modern Seoul. This major commercial and nightlife centre epitomises the futuristic luxury lifestyle of the current generation, and is the prestigious locale of some of the most expensive real estate in Korea. In addition to high-end luxury shopping, unique restaurants and boutique cafes, it also offers beautiful sights such as the Bongeunsa Temple and Banpo M<x>nlight Rainbow Fountain, the longest bridge fountain in the world.
Surrounded by a teem of high-rises, restaurants, upscale bars, and thousands of neon lights, Gangnam Station is the perfect example of Seoul’s underground shopping scene – literally, underground. The huge range of stalls offers a great selection of accessories, bags, and jewellery that aim to help you fit in to the Gangnam Style aesthetic at wallet-friendly prices. Linked via underground passage from Gangnam Station is COEX Mall, an enormous basement shopping and entertainment complex, boasting an aquarium, movie theatre, and a Hyundai Department Store.
Apgujeong-dong & Chcongdam dong
Shopping in Seoul doesn’t get any more luxurious than on the streets of Apgujeong- dong and Cheongdam-dong – these are the stomping grounds of the famous, so lucky visitors might even get a chance to glimpse their favorite Hallyu stars The Galleria
Department Store at Apgujeong-dong is the largest single luxury complex in Korea, and houses prestigious names like Goyard, Staint Laurent. Chanel, and Valentino. High-end fashionistas will love the boutique-lined streets of Cheongdam-dong, locally referred to as the Champs Elysees of Korea, home to international brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci. Cartier. Burberry, and Prada Also known as Celebrity Street because of its collection of entertainment companies such as SM. JYP, and Cube, Hallyu fans can do some idol-spotting around the neighbourhood at various cafes and salons. The Horim Art Centre is also a great place to do some art shopping, with a number of well-stocked galleries offering Korean ceramics, paintings, and sculptural pieces.
The new “it” neighbourhood in town, Sinsa- dong is a beautiful promenade in the middle of the city that is adorned with golden ginko trees (hence “garosu-gil” meaning ‘tree- lined street”) and is a quaint collection of art galleries, interior design boutiques, and fashion-forward labels in a unique bohemian atmosphere. An amazing juxtaposition of old world and new school sensibilities, its chic Soho-like facade is home to a dazzling array of avant-garde international designers, such as Ann Demeulemeester, Maison Martin Margiela, and the Andre Kim Design Atelier. Go hipster spotting as you sip a cup of cold brew at any of the kitschy alfresco cafes that dot the streets.
Termed the mecca of domestic Korean fashion, the Dongdaemun area (located slightly northeast of the City Centre) consists of over 40 different commercial and traditional markets, each offering a wide variety of fashion and accessories at amazing wholesale prices. One of these is the famed Dongdaemun Market, the retail attraction that never sleeps; many stores and food vendors usually start operation around 9pm to cater to the night market crowd, and the famous Mukja Golmok food alley is essential to anyone looking for a taste of the latest trends in Korean cuisine. If you’re in the mood for a bit of alternative shopping, Yangnyeong Market is one of the most famous oriental medicine markets in the country, and is worth a quick jaunt for its curious curation of medicinal wares.
Several large fashion complexes in Dongdaemun. like Doota and Migilore, are dedicated to Korean-made apparel, and together constitute a shopper’s paradise of shoes, toys, leather goods, pet products, and other lifestyle accessories. Doota even has a huge outdoor concert stage, and regularly hosts events such as fashion shows, concerts, modelling contests, and classical Korean music performances. The newest kid of the block is Dongdaemun Design Plaza, also called the DDR a major urban landmark with its distinctively neo-futuristic facade of exhibition spaces, rooftop parks, and a housing of restored parts of the Seoul fortress.
Slightly south of the palace complex is the Bukchon area, which houses over 900 traditional Korean hanoks that have been converted into numerous galleries, craftsmen’s workshops, and guesthouses that offer an authentic “old school” Korean experience. Adjacent to Bukchon is Insa-dong. a labyrinthine network of side and back streets that fan out to form a large area specialising in antique wares and local artist boutiques. Widely recognised as the cultural and artistic heart of the city, Insa-dong is a shopper’s paradise of old books, historical furniture, and handmade traditional crafts. Ssamziegil is particularly wonderful to browse, its spiral- shaped space filled with quirky stores hawking a variety of unique knick knacks, including handmade soaps and scents, traditional pottery and tea sets, cat-themed merchandise, and a multitude of exotic and charming terrariums to delight any green thumb. Peppered throughout the area are a wide selection of traditional Korean cafeterias and pushcarts offering local snacks and desserts; an outstanding favourite is hotteok. a sweet dessert pancake that is a comforting concoction of hot fried dough, honey, nuts, and cinnamon. There’s even an adorable stall near the entrance of Ssamziegil that sells a poop-shaped version! Insa-dong is also famed for the fact that most, if not all. of its shop signs are written in hangul (Korean script), even Starbucks, the most perpetuated of Western exports.
For those looking to chase down the latest fashion trends (but also desire for them to come with supremely affordable price tags) the university towns of Hongdae and Sinchon are the perfect answers to your prayers. Hongdae, famed for lx-ing the centre of Seoul’s underground arts and indie scene, is a chic collection of independent label stores, street fashion, and graffiti culture, often dotted by impromptu street performances by local indie rock bands and performers. Many attribute this colourful street scene to nearby Hongik Univerisity, renowned nationwide for its an programs. In fact, the Hongdae Free Market is a weekend flea that is a popular ground for student artists to showcase their talents, with stalls offering a unique range of handmade crafts, art, and vintage items at a steal.
The nearby area surrounding Ehwa Women’s University is famously known for its fashion street, catering to young women in their early 20s and offering an exciting crawl of shop-line streets peddling a good mix of designer and street wear. Recently erected Yes apM is easily accessible from the subway station and offers a one-stop shopping opportunity. Another popular option for visitors to the Ehwa Women’s University Fashion Street is to get their hair done – the huge concentration of salons keep prices competitive, with many impeccable options to try out new trends and hairstyles.
Just a short hour away from Seoul is Yeoju Premium Outlets, a shopaholic’s wonderland of luxury labels at 25-65% off retail price all year round. Housing 144 brands, including big names like Giorgio Armani. Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Dior. Fendi, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Yves Saint Laurent, this retail village is a plethora of shoes, bags, accessories, and housewares ripe for the picking. Visit the outlet’s website (www. premiumoutlets.co.kr/yeoju) before heading down to snag some coupons for added discounts and special offers that you can excahange for at the outlet’s Information Centre.