South Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster is slated to design the luxury hall space of the Chengdu branch of SKP, China’s top department store and a subsidiary of the country's largest retailer Hualian Group. This marks the first time a Korean company will twice design a luxury hall in the global department store industry as the project follows the Korean brand’s early 2019 design of SKP Beijing, of which annual sales amount to 3.5 trillion won ($3 billion).Launched as a startup in 2011, Gentle Monster has rapidly grown up to become a K-fashion leader with its unique avant-garde design for retail stores and products. For the past several years, it has collaborated with global luxury fashion brands such as Fendi, Alexander Wang and 10 Corso Como while its designs have been worn by celebrities including Madonna, Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid. Today, Gentle Monster's fans are calling the brand Korea's Warby Parker, a famous eyewear designer in the US.In 2017, global luxury group Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s (LVMH) private equity arm L Catterton Asia reportedly invested 60 billion won in Gentle Monster to become the second-biggest shareholder of II Combined, the owner of the eyewear brand, after its two founders. L Catterton Asia chairman Ravi Thakran said Gentle Monster is an emerging company that is redefining the sunglass-design space with the potential to become an iconic brand of our time. In September of this year, the Korean eyewear startup rolled out a new product line in collaboration with Italian outdoor brand Moncler.UNIQUE DISPLAYS AND STORE DESIGNThe Korean brand’s strength lies in that is both luxurious and hip, Gentle Monster CEO Hankook Kim said. Based on a philosophy of “high-end experimentation,” Kim noted that the brand’s unusual design captures overseas consumers’ eyes.In 2017, the then-eyewear maker expanded by founding design group Gentle Monster Lab after the acquisition of robotics company Wizard and started creating its exceptional department store designs including moving sculptures and animal objects symbolizing the history and future of mankind. In line with Kim’s principle that “brands must look expensive and contain the spirit of the times," this created strong brand awareness among global consumers."One of our missions is to move customers' emotions through exceptional displays. We spent two years discussing how to display eyewear products, which are small fashion items, in a big space. We have focused on growing our brand power -- without unnecessary meetings -- for the past four to five years," Kim said.GLOBAL EXPANSION BASED ON SUCCESS IN CHINAFrom the beginning, Gentle Monster targeted the global market as it saw the domestic eyewear market as limited. It opened its first international stores in New York and Beijing in 2016 and currently operates 23 overseas stores in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, the US, UK and UAE. The brand’s annual sales jumped from 57.2 billion won in 2015 to 209.6 billion won last year, of which 75% came from overseas. The Korean brand will in 2023 open another flagship store in Shenzhen, which will boast an area of us to 106,800 square feet, even bigger than its 35,600-square-feet and four-story store in Shanghai.Kim said China has become a fiercely competitive market for global luxury brands as the country's rich, the largest luxury goods consumers, haven’t been able to travel abroad during COVID-19.Based on its success in China, Gentle Monster aims to become the world's top space and eyewear design brand. “We believe all the existing brands in the world have only two choices: to be the top brand or someday disappear,” Kim said.Dong-Hui Park and Jeong-Cheol Bae at firstname.lastname@example.org Jihyun Kim edited this article.
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