As the world races to fulfill the need of transforming the brick-and-mortar pilgrimage into more than just perusing and purchasing — an experience that the e-shop now overrides, evidenced by the downfall of Barneys New York — retail in Seoul is as ahead of its time as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Walk into the stores located in Seoul’s Garosu-gil neighbourhood and their often interactive, ‘grammable furnishings have one thing in common. They’re all concept-driven, perhaps designed to tackle modern retail’s tallest order of garnering warm bodies – like Gentle Monster’s admirable dedication to cavernous spaces that are one-part product and two-parts art installation, which have become landmarks of retail districts home and away. It seems to be working, and the city’s arguably coolest multi-label store is no exception.
Rare Market founded by Dami Kwon and Jessica Jung in 2014 serves up wares by the industry’s most talked about and underground names (“a counterpoint to established luxury brands,” Kwon describes), and has stellar merchandising on top of brand pull that makes it worth the physical visit. For example: The Marine Serre rack is ensconced in gym equipment, bringing a facet of the designer’s influence to life for the shopper. It also helps that the store is housed in a slate-grey low-rise in Cheongdam that reveals little from the outside; fashion’s equivalent of a nondescript speakeasy. Jung says, “One thing we’ve tried to do is make Rare Market its own brand. That means if it’s a label we select and place in the store, that distinction carries its own weight. It’s important for a store like ours to have its own point of view.”
The co-founders’ clothing label We11done, launched a year later in 2015, can then be said to be a pillar of this vision, along with the guiding principle of making clothing that they themselves would want to wear. Its design language — which Kwon terms as “wearable cool” — isn’t overly intellectual, complicated or hyped, but possesses a currency that any clued-in consumer will resonate with. SS’20’s is rich in leather and Margiela-esque deconstruction, finished off with unexpected styling that gives its nowness a palpable flavour. The label also deftly juggles well-thought out components of everyday pieces (by today’s sartorial codes, it’s tees and hoodies), and dressier garments. Despite being the brainchild of retailers, it’s a recipe that has copped virtual racks on the likes of Net-a-Porter, Browns Fashion and SSENSE.
Not tapping on their Korean culture or heritage for inspiration is a conscious decision that Kwon and Jung have made in a bid for We11done to take on more of a “global perspective”, and for them to “share their work without any preconceptions based on background.” Of late, architecture and furniture serve as creative fuel. Jung iterates, “We want to receive real feedback on who we are, what we’ve built and will continue to build with We11done.”
It’s a mindset that has also seen them go global with their runway debut at the most recent Paris Fashion Week Men’s instead of Seoul Fashion Week, an endeavour that left a notch on the collections presented. “It was our first runway show, and it felt like the right time to look back over the last five years and revisit our foundations while playing with new techniques. Key to this season was a press machine that we used to stamp versions of the We11done logo on vegan leather and denim pieces. It’s the idea of making impressions — both figuratively and literally — and the desire to leave one’s mark,” says Jung.
Like fashion’s most contemporary names that refrain from distinguishing themselves as designers (Virgil Abloh and Marcelo Burlon come to mind), Kwon and Jung are creative directors that head up a design team. While the former drills down more on internal affairs and management, and the latter, the collections, their “entire process is extremely collaborative” — a work flow that speaks of their almost 15-year friendship. In the wake of the path that Abloh has blazed, minting himself as an undefined creative that turns out clothes to sneakers and scents to art exhibitions, it’s hard not to regard the multi-faceted possibilities that lie ahead for the five-year-old label. Addressing We11done’s growth, Kwon says, “Rather than chasing specific markets and fussing over sales or growth strategies, our expansion plan is one that’s very natural. We will keep doing more of the work that we love, and doing it better.”
We11done is available in at SURRENDER store located at 268 Orchard Rd, #01-03, Singapore 238856.