ALL POSTS Interviews POP-IN@Nordstrom

Offline Experiences: Stories Behind Three Gentle Monster Stores | Pop-In@Nordstrom x Gentle Monster

The 2017 series of Pop-Ins at Nordstrom begins with three shops featuring the exciting cultures of Korean fashion and style, curated by Olivia Kim. To start: Gentle Monster, the youthful Korean sunglasses company with a penchant for artistic storytelling.


We love the bold, fun designs of Gentle Monster sunglasses, but one thing that’s really intriguing to us is how the Gentle Monster stores—which started five years ago in Seoul and spread through Asia before coming to the U.S.—are basically standalone modern art exhibits. Whether or not you purchase anything, you leave feeling enriched like you went to a museum.

We spoke with Anthony Bae, Gentle Monster head interior designer, to ask one main question about two especially interesting spaces in Seoul and one in Shanghai: What’s the story behind these stores?

SHOP: Pop-In@Nordstrom x Gentle Monster



POP-IN: What was your visual concept for this store?

ANTHONY BAE: Basically it was Shanghai, the historical city and symbol of China’s prosperity, reimagined as a flagship atelier of a master artisan. It’s designed with a contrast of steel and wood, along with the harmony of tangible material and sound.


POP-IN: Did Gentle Monster give you any guidelines before you began your design?

BAE: Developments like these are usually led by internal visual team members, six of us guided by our founder, Mr. Hankook Kim. Before deciding on the concept, our visual team members traveled around diverse parts of the world to pick up aesthetics we could use. We visited various art studios in Europe and were inspired when we saw the loose art materials, raw materials next to fine materials—all part of the same mess.

POP-IN: What kinds of reactions has your store gotten from customers?

BAE: People are amused. Most customers try to intake the space and create an impression of it, creating memories when they walk out—whether they buy something or not.


Nonhyeon-Dong, Seoul

POP-IN: What was your visual concept for this store?

BAE: This store uses the same concept as our Pop-In Shops for Nordstrom: a requiem. Here we expressed that through wood, fabric, charcoal and several rooms—each conveying a different story—which creates an unforgettable journey as you walk around the space. Being in this store is an emotional experience.

POP-IN: Did Gentle Monster give you any guidelines before you began your design?

BAE: Our direction was clear: We were to use traditional elements of a Korean requiem ceremony, reinterpreted with modernism and careful use of materials, compositions and layouts.

POP-IN: What materials did you use to express your concept?

BAE: Threads, yarns, linen, charcoal, wood and stone.


POP-IN: Could you please explain the role of circles in your design? That shape is referenced in the curve of the red fans, the archways between rooms and the bronze discs in the charcoal.

BAE: Circles mean luck, wealth and eternity. We did not intend to directly reflect those exact feng shui values, but wanted to create repetitious balance across the journey

POP-IN: How did you decide on your concept?

BAE: Requiem itself possesses darkness and gothic connotations in a stereotypical way. However, a Korean requiem is almost a celebration of life, and the traditional ceremony has very unique details about objects and clothing. We were inspired by that particular interpretation.


Bukchon, Seoul

POP-IN: What was your visual concept for the store you designed?

BAE: The past and present coexist in this flagship, our “bathhouse.” We chose that coexistence as a means of remembering things we personally don’t want to forget, but will be largely forgotten. The bathhouse is that kind of institution, and this is something of a preservation effort.

POP-IN: Did Gentle Monster give you any guidelines before you began your design?

BAE: This store is in the streets of the oldest preserved neighborhood in Seoul, on the site of a ruined bathhouse that was abandoned for decades. We wanted to preserve the history.

POP-IN: What materials did you use to express your concept?

BAE: We built a self-generating steam machine in the center of the space, used soft white walls around the preexisting brick and covered the outside of the space with bronze metal. The bronze, we feel, depicts a certain simplicity and indicates our desire to preserve the space.

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POP-IN: What is the common design of bathhouses in Korea? Do they look similar to the store you designed?

BAE: This particular bathhouse we built on was one of the earliest common designs: a simple, large, tiled bathtub in the center of the space and a room reserved for small lockers and a cashier stand.

POP-IN: How did you decide on this concept?

BAE: Korea is constantly changing and becoming more advanced through rapid economic growth. Through this intervention, we notice the origins and traditional foundations of our country are lost, becoming rare in the modern market. For Mr. Kim, it was important to take over this space so that he could show the world how a phenomenal modern consumer experience could be created while preserving historical buildings.

POP-IN: What kinds of reactions has your store gotten from customers?

BAE: Most Koreans who are aware of this store take pride in it simply because it expresses our standards of beauty and makes history valuable in the present day. Especially when you have a personal understanding of the space and installation, it’s quite impactful.