A Korean brand stands out in London with a little help from some alien friends

London – Seoul-based eyewear brand Gentle Monster already had physical stores in retail hotspots like Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and diaspora-friendly Los Angeles and New York, but their website analytics kept showing some rather odd activity for a brand that had concentrated its promotional efforts on the Asian consumer. ‘A lot of the traffic originated from places where we didn’t even expect any traffic, and we realized that it’s not just Koreans and the Korean population overseas that was forming a market base,’ explained the brand’s global project development team.

So they followed the trail of data, which pointed to the European continent, and ventured out to set shop on this side of the world. And for a relatively niche brand, they didn’t go gentle or shyly into that good market – quite the contrary. They recently disembarked on Argyll Street in London’s Soho, surrounded by the likes of Aquascutum, Nike and a couple of Hennes & Mauritz properties. And how does a new arrival stand out on a high street crowded with well-known competition? With the help of some maladroit aliens.

Founded in the South Korean capital in 2011, Hankook Kim’s brand has attracted the eyeballs of sophisticated young customers located in the Venn Diagram of the mid-price and design-aware market – the brand’s sunglasses are in the 200-euro range. They’ve made their in-store installations, sensorial to an extreme and on the right side of kooky, a part of their image – as proof of that, their in-house design staff is reaching 100 members.

For their London store, the team escalated the blobs and ruffles and petrous elements of their previous displays into a kinetic setup that features recently-landed aliens in the midst of becoming Bruce Lee. ‘What if aliens had to learn kung fu? What would it look like?’ the brand asked its kinetic designers with childlike curiosity. The answer came in the shapeless shape of large extra-terrestrial beings that look built out of pencil shavings, making iron fists into terracotta containers filled with sand and lifting their arms to balance plates on both hands. In the background, the video waterfalls of Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa play on an infinite loop. And although it’s an optical accessory store, there’s something for the other senses: a deceptively elegant sculpture reveals its purpose every few minutes – it’s a startling gong – and the air is impregnated with a custom-made fragrance, based on the smell of incense burning in temples.

For some, it’s hard to understand why a retail store would need this kind of installation

Gentle Monster quickly figured out that, in the current experience-hungry retail environment, the location, location, location maxim had to be updated to location, location, installation. ‘For some, it is hard to understand why a retail store would need this kind of installation,’ the project development team said. ‘But for others, it’s just purely exciting and new.’ The bet, so far, has paid off in terms of foot traffic – within its first opening weeks, the Instagram trail showed the two-floor venue greeting avid crowds regularly. Everybody was kung fu fighting, indeed.


Location 28-29 Argyll Street, Soho, London W1F 7LA

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