LONDON — Gentle Monster is a rather aggressive retail beast, despite what its name suggests. The South Korean eyewear brand has been expanding rapidly and, on Friday, planted its first European flagship store in London.
The 4,145-square-foot space on Argyll Street near Oxford Circus deploys a one-of-a-kind concept and an elaborate backstory, similar to its other flagships.
“In the Seoul headquarters, movies are always playing in the background, that’s where all our creative ideas come from,” said Gary Bott, managing director of Gentle Monster, during an exclusive walk-through on Thursday, ahead of Friday’s grand opening.
Founded in 2011, Gentle Monster is known for experimental designs and an artful approach to retail bordering on the surreal. The brand skyrocketed after actress Jun Ji-hyun wore a pair of the brand’s sunglasses in the hit Korean series, “My Love From the Star.”
The London store interiors tell the tale of aliens who have visited Earth, discovered Kung Fu and taken the martial arts techniques back to their home planet. It does so via moving installations and audiovisual displays that guide and immerse the customer into the otherworldly concept.
On Thursday, the store was still under construction and Bott himself was amazed at the displays being built in front of his eyes. One was designed to look like a battleground. In the middle are two rubbery, cuddly “aliens” wearing robotic suits. They “fight” each other with controls: One punches while the other one defends. The battle takes place in a bamboo forest, inspired by a scene from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The bamboo props were handmade and crafted in-house.
Other aliens were seated on display benches to watch the match — some in matte white, others covered with a pink-purple iridescent sheen. Some hold pom-poms. Products will also be displayed on the first and second row of the display arena.
“The whole customer journey brings you down to this floor where we have the cash desk area, too. We do bespoke fittings so we’re leaving this area open — one queue will be for purchasing and another is for fittings,” Bott said.
The walls are made from a pumice-like texture in a burnt clay-red color reminiscent of Mars’ surface. One side of the wall is built to resemble a mini hall of fame, with the champions of previous alien battles on display.
“We weren’t inspired by a particular planet, moreso old Hong Kong movies and creating a sense of wonder. We’ll have an ambient soundscape to go with the theme as well,” Bott said.
Walls on the basement floor are lined with plinths where new products, core pieces and concept collections are on display. The popular and conceptual Peekaboo — an armless sunglass style — will also be there, too. The majority of products will be stocked on the lower level while the ground floor is meant to draw the customer downstairs.
The ground floor is where the story actually begins. A plush cactus display is situated near the back, built as if to power the giant gong, which is located in the middle of the floor. The gong will ring every eight minutes and it will set off a digital waterfall display presented on number of large screens. It will also set off two other kinetic installations.
On the right, 3-D aliens wearing suits made from sewn-together straw-mats swing metallic arms with open-palm strikes — a Kung Fu technique — into a pot of black sand. On the left, other aliens perform a balancing act, inspired by the Jackie Chan movie “Drunken Master.” These are decked in feathered, leaflike attire. Bott described this as the “conditioning and strengthening” area.
“There will be a whole sensory experience on this floor. You get all of this kinetic element with visuals and sounds. We also have a specific fragrance for this store. We have our own lab that develops unique smells for each of our flagship stores,” Bott said.
Even the flooring and lighting is set to draw the consumer into another dimension. Lit under bright fluorescent lights, some parts of the floor have a sponge-y texture while others feel rough and rocklike. Others still are covered in tiny pebbles.
The multifaceted concept may be transporting, but it’s also temporary and slated to change later next year. The new interiors concept will follow the launch of an exclusive style called Voyager and a collaboration with Alexander Wang, which will launch around London Fashion Week in September.
The London opening follows a second Los Angeles store, a pop-up space in New York’s Dover Street Market, one in Selfridges, and a shop in SKP in Xi’an, China, which all opened over the past 12 months.