We were in Seoul, where the future is today, and experience is a ritual

A unique mix of culture, art, and style. According to Wallpaper Magazine Seoul is the Top City in 2024. We’ve been there to find out what makes it so attractive. So indispensable to all brands. So unique in its commercial, creative paradigms and contrasts that it has become the outpost of a new lifestyle dimension


You enter in groups of three, leaving behind a queue of at least 40 people that will increase significantly over the course of the day (it is late morning on a Saturday in April). You are in Seoul, in the Seongsu district, and you think you have entered the store of one of Korea’s trendiest streetwear brands. Instead, you find yourself walking through a completely empty reception room were it not for the presence of a screen projecting some images rotated by 90° and, in the middle of the room, something you never imagined you would find in front of you.

A startling impact crater. You overcome your astonishment and, crossing the next threshold, begin to suspect that you are walking through an art installation. There is an astronaut hanging from the ceiling as if he were floating in space from his spacecraft. He is headless: ferns and flowers are coming out of his neck. His helmet is on the ground amidst a heap of space dust. All around, other relics of a space shipwreck.

Turn left, and in the middle of a pool of water carved out of a concrete floor – as rough as most of the entire interior structure – a small spaceship is suspended. Opposite, one of the rehearsal rooms opens up, set up like an astronaut’s night capsule. You move to the centre and, finally (or maybe not), t-shirts, sweatshirts, trousers, shoes, and small leather accessories appear. You have just entered the Ader Error store. But – you don’t know it yet – you have actually just entered a metaphor for Seoul, a metropolis where the future is now, and experience is a ritual. 

Where the future is today

According to Wallpaper Magazine – one of the most authoritative publishing platforms specialising in ‘contemporary lifestyle’ – Seoul is the Top City of 2024. Supremacy achieved, we read online, thanks to “a unique mix of culture, art, and style, which is going global thanks to a new wave of dynamic creatives” who are nominating it “to become one of the most influential centres of style and culture on the planet”. We have been there, and despite all its contrasts, contradictions, and a particular model of social conservatism, we can say that yes, it is.

‘South Korea,’ explains Orietta Pelizzari, global fashion consultant at Lineapelle, ‘has raised and educated the generation of the contemporary future. Respect, curiosity, and the desire to understand and learn. Sharing work as a true passion. Precision, organisation. All without being ashamed of being frivolous too’. In all this, ‘culture is the primary word, so much so that it becomes the ritual that allows one to know, understand and appreciate an experience and a product’.

Care, experience, time

Time is luxury‘, says the top manager of one of Seoul’s most important high-end retailers. ‘Time’ thus becomes the word that guides every path we take through some of the metropolis’ many souls. Starting with the more traditional one, immersed in the traditional hanok houses of the Bukchon district, where ‘silence officers‘ in yellow bibs invite people to lower their voices so as not to disturb the residents.

To arrive at the more luxuriously fashionable one, which stands out among the essential and rigorous displays of clothes, footwear, and accessories in one of Seoul’s top malls, Boontheshop, where the concept of ‘knowing how to choose for you’ is translated into the sublimation of the concept of ‘service care‘. The same, one would think, applies to the way the sport of golf translates at the retail level.

Golf in Korea has become an (almost) mass discipline, the growth of which has gone hand in hand with the economic emancipation of the country and the imposing of some of its athletes at an international level (the women’s Olympic gold medallist in Rio de Janeiro 2016, Park In-bee, for example, is Korean). It is no coincidence, therefore, that some department stores in Seoul have entire floors that house boutiques of global brands dedicated (exclusively) to their golf collections.

Lifestyle destination

“Seoul and South Korea,” Pelizzari continues, “have based their entire development on the concept of creating to renew and be avant-garde, respecting and revaluing traditions, trying to be western, but without compromising with their own beliefs. The result of this path is, for those who have to analyse and understand the market, the desire on the part of Korean culture to show itself to be perfect, respecting – as if everything were a matter of design as if everything were ritual – every detail, every rule, every request for order.

The approach to the world of beauty is the best expression of this will. It takes time to go through a shopping experience in the flagship store of Sulwhasoo, Korea’s leading beauty brand, whose design – as Wallpaper recalls when interviewing the architect who designed it, Choi Wook (One O One Architects) – reflects “the Korean tradition of juxtaposing images with a structured logic to express ideas, as seen in the Hangul alphabet“. Tradition, modernity, and avant-garde are added together (or rather, “juxtaposed”) in an equation that achieves results difficult to define while enjoying a dessert at Cafe Onion in Seongsu.

Greeted by the opening of This Is Water by writer David Foster Wallace, you find yourself in an old abandoned industrial workshop on the street level, near the city district that once teemed with shoe factories. Very little has been refurbished here, creating a location that is difficult to put into words, where the modern overlaps with the dilapidated, creating a unique avant-garde mix. Very Korean and very cosy and very oriented towards defining a new way of understanding fashion, design, art, architecture, beauty, and everything: lifestyle.

A new vision

To conclude our journey, we return to the beginning, to Ader Error’s store. Its story is perfect for summarising the reasons for the hype surrounding Seoul today. The brand was born in 2014. It was founded by four partners who remain anonymous. It involves a multidisciplinary creative staff and presents itself as a sort of made-in-Korea subculture based on very precise rules (look at that…) starting from the limited design production. ‘For us, fashion and clothing,’ one of the brand’s founders told WWD a few years ago, ‘are a means of communication. What? The brand as an immersive experience, even before the product. To get it right, you need a well-defined project. And you need time to take it as far as you want it to go: ‘It is a new vision for fashion’.

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