Earlier this month I visited Seoul, to see some of the tailors I had been intrigued by but mostly seen from afar, and to visit some of the shops and brands.
My impression was of a dynamic city – new development, new retail, every shop with a distinctive concept and branding. There seemed to be an independent coffee spot on every block, each with a fully-fledged identity, complete with period furniture and branded stickers.
Comparisons with Japan are probably inevitable – especially for a westerner – and Seoul felt newer, more tech-savvy, more open. It’s said Tokyo feels like the city of the future, in 1990; Seoul feels like the future now.
This is not necessarily good. I like tradition and I like old buildings. In many ways Seoul is not my kind of city. But there are some more neighbourly areas and the longer I stayed (we were there a week) the more I liked it.
The retail was also exceptional. Just like the coffee shops, every block of Seoul has multiple fashion start-ups alongside the normal big-brand flagships. They’re fast changing and (another difference from Japan) fuelled by social media.
I was told retail has matured in the past 10 years though.
The criticism of Korea used to be that it was all hype; that it adopted fashions quicker than anyone else but dropped them quicker too. Speaking to those that have lived there – and either worked in menswear or been consumers – that seems to be changing.
Classic menswear was a big trend for perhaps 10 years (a big thing in a place where, unlike Japan, few people wear suits). That has started to fade in recent years, but there still seems to be enough makers and customers for it to be sustainable. Vintage was also a big thing, but even though it’s not as popular as it once was, there are still some really great stores (in fact, perhaps my favourites anywhere). There’s a little less hype these days, and a little more diversity.
Tailoring has been on its own journey too, and I’ll cover that in a separate article. Today I’m just going to mention the best shops we went too – something a few readers have already asked for.
The list is by no means comprehensive, as it was our first visit and we spent a lot of time seeing tailors. But I think it’s a great set of places for any Permanent Style reader to visit, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to flesh it out in the future.
Thank you Sam, Matt and everyone who was so generous to myself and Alex during our time in Seoul. Hopefully this and future coverage will do some kind of justice to your city.
San Francisco Market was the first real menswear multibrand store in Korea, though that only makes it 30 years old. It’s an interesting mix today, with brands like Nepenthes and Engineered Garments alongside Alden and Andersen-Andersen. Upstairs there’s Liverano and Jacob Cohen jeans.
Unipair is the second generation of menswear in Seoul, tracing its history back to the start of PS and so much else, in 2008. It began as a shoe space inside San Francisco Market and is now a large, traditional shop with an impressive entrance, stocking the widest range of classic shoes in Seoul. They’re planning on launching a bespoke service next year. Joe’s Garage (below) and the Drake’s shop are operated by the same group.
A good shop for Japanese repro brands, with a particular emphasis on Toys McCoy and Boncoura, which we don’t see so much of in the UK. There are also the more standard brands such as Full Count and Warehouse, plus Korean brands Demil and Eastlogue. The latter is a good example of what Korea has become increasingly known for abroad: down-filled and other outdoor clothing, also seen at FrizmWorks for example.
I have to say, being in Seoul makes you miss good multibrand (‘select’) stores. There are so few in London, and they always give you a fresh perspective on the brands they choose. They also (in Seoul as in Tokyo) often have European brands that are hardly available in Europe. Barbershop is one of the best, with highlights when we visited being a long long row of Harley shetlands and a selection of Owen Barry shearling.
A shoe store that’s part of the same group as Barber Shop, Parlour (above) also has some smarter clothing – they’ve just introduced a ready-to-wear selection designed by Sartoria Jun, the first foreign-trained tailor in Seoul. The shoes included exclusive make-ups of Alden (such as a rather nice kidskin) and my first look at La Botte Gardiane.
The third, most recent generation. Random Walk has a mix of smart and casual, with JM Weston shoes alongside Coherence and Scottish knitwear brand Esk. Also Filmelange, which Manish highlighted in a recent article, and the American brand Crescent Down Works. Next door they also have a pop-up space which when we were there was led by Rocky Mountain Featherbed, Anatomica and Big Yank.
Omnipeople (above) is two vintage shops, one in the north and one in the south of Seoul (Gangnam). The one in the north is the better and certainly larger. It’s the biggest I’ve visited anywhere in fact, with full size runs of American military clothing and an impressive range of periods, including a lot of 1960s-1980s outerwear, from Eddie Bauer and the like. The rarer stuff is in a small space upstairs.
A smaller vintage shop (below) but just as impressive. In fact I found more things here to try on than anywhere else, including old American flannels, American-made Rocky Mountain, and a range of chambrays. As with all the vintage shops we visited, each owner was behind the counter and keen to explain the history or interesting aspects of any piece.
A slightly more personal, quirky vintage shop, but really worth a visit. The collection is eclectic, with great clothes but also Sony tape players, a little collection of Cartier watches and great books like the Margiela: The Hermes Years. The kind of place I’d like to go back to if I ever wanted to find something really different. They also make some of their own pieces, including a nice range of belts.
A small vintage place selling (you guessed it) Ivy clothing. Cheaper and more modern, it was notable for selling not just Ralph Lauren but the Japanese line of J Press, and a lot of Van Jacket. I picked up a varsity jacket that Van had made for a Japanese prep school.
Just across the road from Take Ivy (which is why I’m placing it here), Tannery has a mix of smart and casual just like most of Seoul’s menswear. That includes Boogie Holiday (also a brand worth checking out separately), East Harbor Surplus and Kenneth Field. It’ the shop in Korea stocking Fortela.
A little space around the corner from the Assisi bespoke shop. Jack is a trained tailor who takes apart vintage clothing that can’t be sold otherwise and remakes it into new pieces (above). That might be M65s remodelled as a double-breasted jacket, or his own design of a field jacket made with deadstock cloth and backed with new alpaca.
There were many other shops we would have liked to check out, including Korean brands that are doing things adjacent to more classic menswear – such as Document, Niftydo, Havati, Ourselves, Rinostore, Calico and others. As I said, hopefully next time.