When it comes to beauty shopping, Seoul is the swoon-worthy epicenter. Now a go-to destination for Beauty tourism, people flock from all over the world to buy facemasks in bulk, get their hands on the newest skincare innovations, and even to get dermatological treatments during their stay. In fact, stand alone beauty stores, a particularity of the Korean market (opposed to the Sephora multi-brand model in the States and Europe), is just as ubiquitous as coffee shops or convenience stores in Korea. Nonetheless, there are some locations that really stand out from the pack. From flagships, boutiques, to even a “Makeup Pub”, we’ve curated a list of the shops that are more than just a little extra:
When it comes to storytelling-marketing, Sulwhasoo has mastered the art with their flagship store located in the Apgujeong area of Seoul. A stand alone design masterpiece that has already won over international design blogs and magazines, the Sulwhasoo flagship takes you on a user-friendly brand journey the moment you step inside. The store not only includes the typical sales floor but also 2 spas: one for more basic spa rituals and another more swanky spa offering medicinal anti-aging skin rituals. There is also a VIP section where clients can get custom-tailored holistic advice for their skin. The location also includes a few museum-like rooms that give a friendly explanation of the origin of the brand, the benefits of the ingredients and the natural process they use to create their skincare. Perhaps a little higher on the price tag, Sulwhasoo offers Korean beauty luxury at its best.
Etude House Color Factory Sinsa
Not to be out-shined by some of it’s more daring competitors, Etude House has joined the DIY game and has opened a couple of “Color Factory” stores. Upon arriving at the small Sinsa location, you know that you aren’t entering your regular Etude House as you are greeted by a shiny rainbow mirror hallway (an Instagram fave) that leads you down to a basement level shop where you can custom create your own lipsticks based on your skin tone. Analog and digital collide as you are analyzed with an app that then determines what colors suit you best. The lipstick is mixed right there and the tube can even be engraved. This is the ultimate experience for the K-Beauty fanatic.
3CE Pink Hotel Myeongdong
Before there was 3CE, there was Stylenanda. What started out as an online retailer (kind of the Korean equivalent of Topshop), has now exploded into a multinational chain complete with its own cult beauty brand. Stylenanda has always pushed the envelope when it comes to their brand experience and the Stylenanda Pink Hotel is no exception. Located in Myeongdong, this tall narrow building houses the clothing line, the 3CE makeup range, and a café and rooftop to lounge in. Carrying out the hotel theme present throughout the building; the makeup is served up buffet style. Of course, you can buy the 3CE brand in many other locations, but if you want more insta-moment bang for your buck, this is the spot.
Dr. Jart Sinsa
A big trend in skincare as of late has been creating products that serve as barriers against different kinds of pollution. This idea combined with the brand philosophy of medical skin care is carried out in Dr. Jart’s flagship store located in Sinsa. A design lover’s dream, the space allows the visitor to experience the cleanest of water, air and light. Industrial interiors are connected by air filtration ducts and guests can sample purified water at the water bar while they browse products. Natural lighting shines through the futuristic space making guests feel at ease and relaxed in the middle of Seoul. It is also a good place to see the entire line, as well as some in shop exclusives if you are a Dr. Jart geek.
Laneige is one of those Korean skincare and makeup classics that almost every Seoul-dwelling girl has in their makeup artillery whether it be a toner or a powder. But a few years ago, thanks to the cameo of their two-tone lipsticks in popular K-Drama, “Descendants of the Sun”, the brand started selling more makeup worldwide. What resulted was a two-tone lip bar in their Myeongdong flagship. Perhaps not as tech geeky as the Etude House Color Factory, guests can choose from a predetermined assortment of colors and mix and match their perfect two-tone lipstick. It comes with cute custom packaging and would make a perfect gift for even the K-Beauty blasé. The flagship also offers the entire range of lipsticks as often only parts of the collection can be found at Aritaum shops around Korea.
When it comes to fragrance, Korea doesn’t really have a place at the table compared to its beauty counterpart: France. Nonetheless, one brave woman is trying to change this idea with her humble yet gorgeous brand, Granhand. Located near Anguk station as you head up to Bukchon village, Granhand’s shop is tucked away in a beautiful Hanok and offers a multi-sensory experience. A wide variety of scents cater to many different noses, and while they may be accessible and not overbearing, they aren’t lacking complexity. This could possibly be explained by the fact the creator was trained in the perfume capital of the world, Grasse, France. When one enters the Hanok, you are also tempted to purchase one of their candles or aromatherapy scents as the entire place smells like a dream. Prices are crazy reasonable (around 30,000 won for a bottle) and you can even have your bottle custom-stamped after purchase!
Espoir Makeup Pub Hongdae
One of the lesser known K-Beauty brands outside of Korea, Espoir caters to the makeup geeks as their focus is on color cosmetics rather than skincare. The brand is also quite inventive when it comes to new formulas and tools, as well as often providing their version of trending western makeup that is sometimes harder to find in Korea. On a mission to grab the Internet’s attention, Espoir has just opened a “makeup pub” which allows customers some DIY magic and the ability to get up close and personal with their makeup. Kitted out like a craft beer counter (complete with makeup artists wearing aprons), the Makeup Pub gives guests the opportunity to mix and match foundations to find their exact shade, as well as brew up some lipstick. The service comes at a price but well worth it if you want that oh-so-perfect foundation.
Korean Brands are experts when it comes to innovative retail experiences. So next time you think all beauty stores are cookie-cutter copies, check out these spaces that are really pushing the envelope when it comes to brand experience and marketing.
Written by Guest Contributor Joie Reinstein.