SEOUL, No Longer Asia’s Wild Card


In Hae Yeo | August 12, 2010

According to In Hae Yeo, contributing writer for the Korean edition of Harper’s Bazaar...

Tory Burch store in Seoul

According to In Hae Yeo, contributing writer for the Korean edition of Harper’s Bazaar…

I’m often asked when and if Korea’s buying power will ever be in the league of Japan’s or China’s. While I’m not really in a position to forecast something as all-encompassing as that, what I can say is that momentum in Seoul is still very high. If expansion of luxury retail on the ground is anything to go by, Korea is definitely still a high priority for the industry. And you only need to look around to see that the market is fast segmenting and diversifying too.

A woman in her mid 40s raving about her new Tory Burch bag at the opening of the brand’s flagship boutique in Korea’s capital city this summer summed up the evolving consumer mood here. “We love the bags – they are good quality, well made, just about trendy enough and, most importantly, good value for money,” she said. One important factor for success in this market, it seems, is to offer an extensive experience to the consumers, be it the extravagant boutique atmosphere or the large variation of merchandise, evidenced by Tory Burch boutique who boldly dedicated the entire first floor of the brand’s biggest store worldwide (at 396m2) to replicate Tory’s own apartment in New York and have no merchandise on display. It is at the same time the only store out of ten in Korea where the full collection is available to view.

The Tory Burch flagship opening comes after Ralph Lauren’s and Jimmy Choo’s retail renewal and Rick Owen’s flagship launch earlier this year in the luxuriously revamped Dosan Park area, first ventured into by Hermès which opened the brand’s second flagship boutique in Asia, Maison Dosan Hermès in 2006. In a few months time, Comme des Garçons will open its first Korean flagship on the other side of the river, in Hannam-dong, hoping to kick-start a new luxury zone there and emulate what Hermès successfully accomplished in the Dosan Park region.

Behind many of the most ambitious plans in the industry at the moment is the daughter of Kun-Hee Lee, ex-Chairman of Samsung, Ms. Seo-Hyun Lee, SVP of Cheil Industries (commonly referred to as the Samsung Fashion division) who happens to be the exclusive distributor of Tory Burch, Rick Owens and Comme des Garçons, and is trying to expand her fashion influence in Korea.

As elsewhere, opportunities abound for trendy celebrities who are now often on a par with bona fide fashion experts contributing to the promotion of luxury brands. But perhaps more unique to this cross-over between luxury and celebrity is that Korea’s 50 million-strong population are as enthusiastic about following the styles and tastes of stars of TV series as they are of the country’s film industry. It’s also worth mentioning that many of our actors, musicians and sports stars are fast gaining popular appeal across much of Asia so luxury brands would be wise to tap into their international appeal when considering them for brand ambassadors and product endorsements.