>>>Seoul, the fashion laboratory
Seoul Fashion Week is held in Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
Photo: Alex Finch

Seoul, the fashion laboratory

In Seoul, you can do all the usual activities, like visiting museums and going to a jjimjilbang. Or you can go native and get carried away by hallyu, the Korean new wave.

hina has had no choice but to submit. Fashion is being dictated by its eastern neighbour. There is even a name for the growing global influence of South Korean culture: hallyu. South Korea has become the Asian trendsetter, a leader in modernity and beauty. Impossible fringes, perfect skin and attention-grabbing accessories, for him and her. The country’s fascination with aesthetics—it has the most plastic surgery operations per capita in the world—has created a cosmetics industry worth billions of dollars.

This obsession has also reached the city. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is one of the clearest examples of this desire to be at the cutting edge. The building, designed by Zaha Hadid and Korean studio Samoo, was opened in 2014 as a multicultural complex. Art, fashion and the latest trends collide in this futuristic space. You can find it in Dongdaemun, the biggest shopping area in Korea, with more than 25 malls and 30,000 shops. That is where Seoul Fashion Week takes place twice a year, in March and October. The rest of the time, the catwalk is the street.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Shopping vs nightclubs: in the business district of Dongdaemun, many shops stay open until five in the morning.
Photo: Taesik Park / Shutterstock.com

The mothers of K-pop

The most interesting tour lets you discover cafés and restaurants run by the families of the stars. Italian restaurant Viva Polo, for instance, belongs to the mother of Chan Yeol, member of boy band EXO, and the entire restaurant is decorated with posters of the group.

A stroll through Sinsa-dong is all you need to understand why Koreans are the kings of street style. The most interesting spot of all is Garosu-gil, a short avenue, less than a kilometre long, flanked by ginkgo trees. It is bursting with cafés, boutiques, art galleries and fashionistas, in search of their latest object of desire, be it a photo for Instagram at a fashionable café or a vintage handbag. For the photo, you have to go to the Banana Tree, where the desserts are served in photogenic plant pots. For the bag, try Simone Handbag Museum, an original building, shaped like a handbag, which explores the history of this accessory going back to the year 1500.

The Sinsa-dong neighbourhood is part of the Gangnam district, the epicentre of Korean luxury, which shot to international fame through the catchy PSY song. “Gangnam Style” is still the most-viewed video in the history of YouTube, with more than 2.6 billion views. It has made him one of the most important international representatives of hallyu. The Korean wave is primarily based on K-pop (Korean pop music) and K-dramas (soap operas). Artists train almost as if they were elite athletes, before launching themselves to stardom, sometimes from as early as nine years old. Entertainment companies invest millions in manufacturing mass idols. They have to know how to sing, act, dance and even speak several languages, so they can triumph in other markets, like Japan and China.

The members of BIGBANG are considered the kings of K-Pop.
Photo: KOREA.NET via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

The Visit Seoul tourist office will suggest several hallyu routes, ranging from locations where they shoot the most successful series, to the beauty salons celebrities frequent. There is also a space for more classic tourist locations, like N Seoul Tower, where the stars of My Love from the Star go on a date. The successful series is based on a love story between an alien and a hallyu celebrity. Their first kiss takes place on the Hangang River ferry cruise.

Couple at N Seoul Tower
Just like the stars of K-drama My Love from the Star, couples go to N Seoul Tower to seal their love with a padlock.
Photo: Panom / Shutterstock.com

To really understand the K-pop phenomenon, you have to experience it. And, at K-live, you can do it in 4D. This unique experience includes a photograph with life-size images of South Korean idols and tickets to a concert, performed by holograms. As we said, always at the cutting edge.

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