The Korean eyewear brand that embraces ‘weird beauty’ is becoming as celebrated for its store installations as the products it produces.
Strolling through The Dubai Mall one lazy afternoon last summer, and suddenly, as I skirted a group of gleeful tweens emerging from the Apple Store, and passed a Twinings Tea pop-up shop, a hulking spider-robot lurched forward from a storefront, as if from some big-budget sci-fi flick. Sat atop the mechanical arachnid was what appeared to be a small Korean woman, eyes closed, in a hazmat suit of sorts.
The reassuring word ‘Gentle’ eased me from its peripheral position, and I walked closer to this strange installation. My first wonder was whether or not the Korean woman was indeed a woman, sat on this contraption like Asian Marina Abramović-ish performance art. It took mere seconds to discern that she was in fact artificial, but nevertheless the whole scene was transfixing – a flat, illuminated moon orbited what I now understand to be one of various ‘gentle monsters’. I took my phone from my pocket and posted the scene on Instagram, and a small collection of other social-media-savvy bystanders did the same. And although I was familiar with the brand in a vague ‘I think I saw that Fendi x Gentle Monster collab on hypebeast.com’ kind of way, this was like a brand new introduction. I sought spokespeople, and found Jisun Nowh, Spatial team/Project manager of the Dubai flagship, and Jaeyeon Lee, of Global Project Development.
Q: The most successful eyewear brands have historically been driven by brand power/licensing and slick fashion ad campaigns with top models, but Gentle Monster has built brand awareness more with spatial design. Why?
A: There is no reason why we need to follow an existing mold in order to be successful. We consider the brand to be a provider of experience, not just a manufacturer of goods, and so we wanted our customers to truly experience the space while shopping.
Q: How did the evolution from eyewear brand to spatial design hub happen?
A: From the beginning we wanted to be a brand that provides an experience. A unique space was what we were planning to do from the get-go, and as soon as we had the ability to do so, there was no stopping us.
Q: Who was behind the initial concept?
A: The Season concept was initiated by our director and CEO Hankook Kim. From this starting point, designers regularly come up with extended narratives and ideas. We group into our own specialties and contribute new ideas to create something that pushes boundaries.It really affected me and I spoke with one of the founders, Precious about it that night; we began corresponding.
Q: How has the team grown to reflect the importance placed on installations?
A: At Gentle Monster, we work as installation artists, so it is always of importance from the moment each of us joins the company.
Q: “Weird beauty” is how the installations have been described. Is that a core brand concept?
A: Weird Beauty is the core aesthetic value we have had since the launch of this company. The idea of conformity and beauty standards don’t excite us, so we had to look for an alternative language to express what we find interesting. We think a lot about how what we do will come across as weird but beautiful.
Q: Why is weirdness so important?
A: It’s more of what we like rather than it being important. That is where we find beauty. Run-of-the- mill beauty is not what people remember. What’s memorable instead is anything out of the box, different, and weird. It creates an impact and is inclusive to everyone.
Q: How is that achieved?
A: Keeping with our core brand concept, our weirdness is achieved first by our amazing team coming up with ideas that push boundaries. This is then translated into out-of-the-box installation art.
Q: Are your designers’ concepts ever too weird?
A: No, we truly believe that there are no limits. Every weird idea, thought and concept is all listened to and definitely put forward to hopefully be actioned as either in-store fit out or sunglasses and optics designs as well as accessories.
Q: What are some of the go-to tropes you draw from?
A: We certainly take inspiration from a lot of different things, but it never comes from one source. It’s always different and we are always evolving our futuristic thought process.
Q: What backgrounds do your spatial team have? artists/engineers/robotics/etc.?
A: Fine art, product design, architecture, kinetics, robotics, fashion, movie art and a lot more! We are a very unique and diverse team that bounce off of each other and also have differences which bring us stronger together to create a strong team mold.us, so we had to look for an alternative language to express what we find interesting. We think a lot about how what we do will come across as weird but beautiful.
Q: Gentle Monster doesn’t inherently trade off fashion in the same way as most eyewear brands, but collaborations, such as the one with Fendi, do align you that way. How important is that?
A: At our core, we are an eyewear brand. Our products are our purpose and drive our goals. That being said, collaborations, installations, and digital campaigns, such as the Fendi pop-up are a huge part of curating who we are. They allow us to explore untouched territories, in terms of design and styling, while still giving consumers a stellar product as the takeaway.
Q: How important is Korean culture to the brand, and how is that referenced?
A: Korean culture is where Gentle Monster all began – we listened to our market and realised that what they were seeking was for the coolest eyewear designs to become lifestyle products. We catered to a Korean core demographic that is extremely trendy and tech savvy and not afraid to look different and stand out from other countries and cultures.
Q: What are some of the most successful spatial projects so far and what was the process?
A: Quantum project was one of the most talked about spaces, which was a space at our Hongdae [Seoul] flagship store. This space was completely renovated every three weeks, generating hype. With a dedicated team working on it around the clock – industry leaders, competitors, and consumers all looked forward to seeing what would happen next. It even had an influence on what Korean retail design looks like today.
Q: What have been some of the most challenging and why?
A: We like to think that nothing is too challenging for us. We enjoy the risk factor and this has proven to be a major success for us. We look at ‘challenges’ differently, more as inspiration and ways in which we can succeed and be not one, but many steps ahead of other brands.
Q: Are the same installations installed in all stores globally each season?
A: Every store has its own unique story and installations, making each one a separate experience for visitors to take away with them. Installations are not commonly reused in other spaces, which makes Gentle Monster memorable. This makes Gentle Monster that much more personal and localized to every market. We also want our Gentle Monsters to dive into a different experience at every single store.
Q: Why do you think your installations resonate across all those different cultures?
A: We think the weirdness and uniqueness of it helps, and we do our best to do something that hasn’t been seen elsewhere. It’s all about the experience, and that’s what resonates with people.
Q: Beyond campaigns and store installations, do you see the spatial design arm of the company moving into non-eyewear-related projects?
A: We are never not open to new territories. Our recent venture into directing a department store space (SKP-S Beijing) gave us a new perspective for retail design and creative consultation. Thank you!
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