An insight into South Korea with The Conran Shop

A priority market for many British brands, the potential for luxury in South Korea cannot be underestimated. Last year, sales of luxury goods in its capital Seoul reached $7.6 billion, with the market set to grow by 6% annually. With this in mind, Walpole member The Conran Shop chose South Korea for its latest international location, with the emporium – built on the site of a former multi-storey car park – opening its doors in Seoul’s exclusive Gangnam district last week.

Reflecting on the development, we spoke to Hugh Wahla, CEO of Conran Retail and Brand Holdings, and Stephen Briars, Creative Director at The Conran Shop to discover more about the new opening, and why South Korea is leading the way for luxury and design in Asia.

Hugh Wahla, Chief Executive Officer, Conran Retail and Brand Holdings

What made you choose South Korea as the location for your latest international launch?

Korean design tends to have simplicity and harmony with nature that very much suits our aesthetic. There is a level of creative energy in Korea right now that reminds me of Japan 20  years ago. The market is growing exponentially in importance and sophistication across many  areas, including tech, fashion, music, architecture and design. Along with that comes an understanding and demand for sophisticated design around furniture and living that is currently untapped. The time is right for us to partner with Lotte and enter the Korean market – we’re looking forward to ideas flowing both ways.

Are there any tips or hints you would give other Walpole member’s thinking about starting their journey to international expansion in South Korea?

As I’ve said, it’s an incredibly exciting market so get out there and take a look to understand the landscape first of all. There is a select number of ways to enter the market and a select number of partners if that’s the preferred route. We found the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea to be an invaluable support.

Stephen Briars, Creative Director, The Conran Shop

What were you looking to achieve with the design of the store and do you have any favourite sections/area of the shop?

The store is spread over two expansive floors in a standalone space connected to Gangnam’s Lotte Department Store, rivalling The Conran Shop’s London Chelsea flagship in terms of size, with 24,000 square feet of retail space.

The goal was to create a retail space which evoked an element of Britishness – an international rather than local environment with Korean design and craft represented through an ever-changing product offer. We designed the space with a modern and chic aesthetic in mind, while at the same time making sure we retained Sir Terence Conran’s signature design philosophy. The result is a retail environment for the modern age, and definitely the best Conran Shop in the world.

There is a strong contrast between the two floors – the first floor houses an extensive collection of lifestyle products, with a white, bright and minimal laboratory-like aesthetic. Reached by an enclosed escalator dressed in Conran’s signature ultramarine blue, the darker and more richly textured second floor is devoted to furniture, lighting and textile products – as well as The Conran Shop’s library. I like how this creates a yin and yang-like balance in the store, appealing to different consumer tastes and needs.

 Unsurprisingly the store is beautifully designed, but can you tell us a bit about the practicalities of launching the Conran brand in South Korea? 

Entering an entirely new market is incredibly exciting, but also comes with its own set of challenges. I’d say that, for us, working together with Lotte has been key in tackling some of these issues as they hold such invaluable knowledge and insight about the Korean marketplace. Identifying strengths and weaknesses in terms of your knowledge about the market, social and political issues, any language barriers etc. at an early stage is essential as this will determine where external or local help might be needed.

 Can you tell us a bit about the retail experience in South Korea and how you have adapted or presented the brand to appeal to Seoul locals as well as international visitors shopping there? 

It’s an incredibly dynamic market with many different and interesting customer profiles. The idea behind the yin and yang store design was to create a balanced and complementary retail environment which would capture Seoul’s affluent and discerning audience of global design enthusiasts, as well as the city’s ever-growing demographic of dynamic young creatives.

Initially, we are focusing on an International product edit within the store, but will be looking to introduce more local designs in the near future.

The Conran Shop in Seoul opened on Tuesday 14 November at Lotte Department Store. South Korea, Seoul, 1F Lotte, Gangnam-gu, Dogok-ro, 401.