My travel itinerary is not complete without a particular segment for window shopping/wallet-damaging session. In Seoul everything looks particularly expensive (not just clothes necessarily), especially the usual international fast fashion chains like H&M or Uniqlo. My tips is to go to the high streets of Myeongdong or Shinsadong (in Gangnam area) rife with Korean high-street brands (still a tad expensive but they have the quintessential K-Pop sleekness if that's what you're after), and needless to say cosmetics/skincare retailers like Nature Republic, Innisfree, The Face Shop, Skin Food, Missha are in abundance and priced better compared to the Malaysian counterparts. But for those who incline towards 'rarer' designer items, head on to the Dongdaemun area for cool and relatively affordable young Korean designer labels all housed in one modern complex called Doota. And certain neighbourhood like Itaewon boasts a slew of indie shops offering interesting curiosities that might not be available back home.
My first window shopping session started off with Itaewon, where the shop in particular was just stone's throw from our guest house. NNN is a gift shop on the ground floor with a space for furniture located upstairs. I didn't get that much opportunity to roam Seoul's rapidly progressive indie shops so it's difficult to compare NNN to the others. All I can say is they provide well-designed items like daily houseware, bathroomware potted plants and prints at quite an affordable price.
This kind of wine surely doesn't stain the carpet
Nicely potted succulents and cacti next to home-related paraphernelia
Colourful hanging rack
Swedish bar soaps. The vintage looking packaging and typeface lured me into buying one of them (but I didn't)
Posters in cute prints
Marble-print iPhone case which is all the rage now
Next is Myeongdong area, a haven for high-street shop lovers and facial care enthusiasts. Here I spotted at least three large Nature Republic stores (a proudly Korean skincare brand that is rather pricey in Malaysia), and rows of other unknown to Malaysians skincare labels. Interestingly there were shops selling highly specialised items like this one face mask-only shop. Imagine shelves of face masks in all sorts of shapes, indications and ingredients? I say yes!
Typical shop facade in Asian high streets - layers of neon shop signs stacked until the end of street
One of many Nature Republics' gigantic facades lining the streets of Myeongdong
Promotional items on display - buy ten masks to get another ten F.O.C
Shoes in a bundle 10,000 Korean Won for each!
One of the shops specialising in face masks
Samsung apparently has its own fashion line
And there are also occasional stalls selling streetware items like these embellished caps...
...and large super hero keychains
There is also two departmental stores nearby Myeongdong shopping street (Lotte Department Store and Shinsegae, the latter being a luxury hall branch of one of Seoul's prominent retailers). Therefore if you're tired of the hustling and bustling of Myeongdong middle class touristy street you could flea the madness with a short walk towards Shinsegae, like I did. Needless to say the ambience there is a 360 degree from all the crowdedness at Myeongdong.
Just a quick peek at Myeongdong's Lotte Department Stores which are numerous in Korea. Nothing much I saw at one of the lfoors, except uninteresting knick knacks and mundane women's clothes
Shinsegae Department Store is indeed a magnificient and the oldest department stores in Korea. The one that you see harks back from the 1930's as it was a part of a Japanese Department Store. Now it stands as the luxury hall branch.
The colonial facade of Shinsegae Luxury Hall
Marble surfaces only in this building
Saint Laurent and all the luxury brands that you could think of. Here they also house Boon the Shop (women's), a Korean multilabel store with edgy and cult labels like Raf Simons, Alexander Wang and the like. Boon menswear was on another level of the same building, albeit a little smaller. I was told to go to the branch in Cheongdam for flagshop Boon The Shop menswear.
Vote for Coco Chanel on the window display
Namdaemun market is located at a corner very near to Myeongdong (I stumbled into it even without a map), selling mostly souvenirs and other kitcschy items. If you want to have a good bargaining expereince, this could be the place for you. There are also mini shopping malls specialising in shoes / children ware/ accessories / brooches and so on. Unfortunately it was not a very good experience to us as we came there when it was raining, everyone was taking shelter and seemed grumpy (both us and the sellers) to partake in the haggling game.
Rainy situation at Namdaemun market
Dongdaemun is another great shopping area either you're looking for a wholesale or retail. Besides the prolonged opening hours (some operate until 5 am!), the shops are congregated in complexes and efficiently classified accordingly. Pyounghwa Clothing Market is a rectangular building that seems to have neverending rows and rows of shops selling accessories on the ground floor, and womenswear on the cheap on first and second floor ( I did not dare to venture higher as I was time pressed). If you're looking to replenish your shop with new stocks this is the place to be (albeit the items are cheaper looking and some, dare I say are grandmother-ly in design).
Dongdaemun Shopping Town, located opposite Pyounghwa Shopping Market is touted to be the best place to purchase Korean fabrics (I didn't manage to enter as it was closed during my visit)
Neon lit shop facade that photographs well
Escaping the wholesale scene that is not particularly my cup of tea, I entered a newer and shinier complex called the Doota Mall. This is the place where the creative and progressive Seoulites display and sell their latest creations. The floors are efficiently (like other thing in Seoul) categorised. The First Floor is where all the latest and more current trends reside. Don't be surprised to see fashion inspired by the European runways, but at a much cheaper price. There was even a store selling clothes that is all neoprene (very structured and sleek) and a leatherware shop almost made me want to purchase yet another small leather goods to add to my small collection. The interior of Doota is stylish and contemporary, the vie is young and progressive - the energy of which is something that reminds me of Siam Center in Bangkok.
The interior of Doota differs according to floor. This one is a sandy beach-like floor encased in glass
The menswear floor (yass!) is filled with pseudo dandy-ism, preppiness and loads of streetwear. But there was one store that attracts me for its affordable designs and super friendly shop assistant. I got meself a subtly camouflaged jacket and a tapered sportswear-ish pants with free alteration :)
Shopping cand tax refund is much more convenient with the presence of a tax-free kiosk on the menswear floor (B2 floor). During my visit Mainland Chinese tourist came in packs and crowd the tax refund counter.
Hongik University Street (Hongdae) is the default place for arts, music, streetwear and nightlife due to the surrounding Hongik University famed in its arts programme. The best thing about this place is the cheaper clothing and more energetic vibe you're getting from the sellers (mostly maybe are students themselves). I got my self a neoprene-ish boxy shirt for quite a bargain at 35,000 KRW at Sympa, but along the way my friend got a much cheaper option at 15,000 but with a slightly less structured fabric.) . This proves the possibility of pricing variety which is all an added fun in street shopping adventures. All in all, this is a fun place for Korean made streetwear at a bargain.
It is not surprising to see design forward items like these sandals sold on the streets
On shopping streets like this it is more convenient to identify bargains on the products displayed outside
During our last day in Seoul I spent my time wandering alone in Shinsa-dong. I serendipitously bumped into ILMO, an off-season outlet for the famous 10 Corso Como's Seoul outpost. Tucked in a leafy street lined with cool cafés and trendy shops, the outlet building resembles the Damir Doma shop in Paris at Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré. There was a lot of last year Spring/Summer items on sale, but mostly too big or still too expensive for me (despite the half-price tag). I picked a discounted Eytys shoes (very skater boy luxe) and the lady was so nice to help me reinsert the shoelace mess that I perpetually do not understand how to do.
Words and images by Hafidzudin Zainal