The best shops in Hongdae
The modern concrete and glass structure that houses SangSang Madang rises up from the middle of the Hongdae hustle and bustle like a watchtower. Owned by Korean conglomerate KT&G, SangSang Madang is a culture complex with an art cinema in the basement that shows independent and foreign films, a café and restaurant on the upper floors, and a gift shop on the first floor featuring the work of Korean artists and designers. It’s a great place to pick up small gifts for friends, or else treat yourself to a cleverly-designed product. You really needed that tissue box cover, you know? Jokes aside, there are loads of useful and eye-appealing treasures so leave plenty of time to peruse their shelves.
Former magazine editor Kim Hye-mi and her partner, artist Yu Seung-bo, opened this tiny bookshop mid-2014 with little fanfare. Tucked back amongst the low, red brick buildings south of Hongdae, Veronica Effect is filled with art books, graphic novels, children’s books, and zines. Half the store is dedicated to local artists and half is international. There’s even a shelf with vintage children’s books, like X-men comics and the Dover sticker books (yes, dear ones, our childhood is now vintage).
If you’re looking for a gift and want to support local artists (double the karma!), stop in at Key. Run by the Living & Art Creative Center, the same group that runs the Hongdae Free Market, Key displays a variety of objects at a variety of price points and sizes, from cards to ceramics, jewelry to framed prints. The aesthetic is more crafty than elegant—everything has a distinctly handmade feel—but sometimes, that’s exactly what you want.
There’s no elevator. Keep walking up those stairs, until you see a small flower pot on the windowsill. You’re almost there, so don’t give up. Those who know, know to find this unconventional, 21st century bookstore on the very top floor of the building. How can a 21st century bookstore exist in a building with no elevator? We'd say it’s because there are a surprisingly large number of things you can do in this small shop. They sellindependent books that are hard to find even at large bookstores, design books, and also stationary and music albums by independent producers. It also hosts a long list of various event and fairs. Besides, there's no better way to fight our 21st century lethargy than getting a little exercise, eh? Tip: don’t expect to find best sellers, or very many English books, here.
It’s not easy describing Object in a single sentence. The slogan that hangs on their wall, “The beginning to wise consumption,” begins to describe who they are. After one quick glance of the shop, you might think it’s a normal living concept store, but upon further observation, you’ll soon notice its unique points. In one area, you can barter your gently-used items for ready-made goods like basic style clothing, hand-made accessories, shopping bags made from recycled products, and even other vintage goods. So bring along items that you have lying around at home—they'll find a new home, and you'll go home with some exciting new goodies.
One of the few remaining record shops in Seoul, Gimbab is a relative newcomer, having opened in mid-2012. Its owner, who has worked in the music industry for years, meticulously curates the shop’s inventory. If you are a sucker for old music and LPs, the international collection of CDs, LPs, and artist merchandise will melt your dear vinyl hearts. Keep an eye out for their SNS feed to be the first to grab a hold of rare collections and items, and plan your visit ahead by checking in with their online inventory on the official blog.
If every creative, adorable, and beautiful thing in the world were to go hurtling into one space under the influence of some strange magic spell, this would totally be it. Samgak relation is a shop that sells by consignment the art of designers and artists, the products of small-scale studios, and books from cutting-edge independent publishers. This shop acts as the third point of a happy "triangular" relationship (literally a "samgak" relationship), connecting 100-odd brands with consumers that want something new. The place is full of various items such as bags, accessories, soaps, scented candles, pictures, and postcards. The most beautiful product of all is the wood hunting trophy created for the express purpose of supporting opposition to wildlife poaching. This befits the gentle hearts of the creators, the couple that own the shop: they are socially-minded people who have the goal of sharing beauty with others.
You’d certainly be hard-pressed to find an object as feel-good and, well, as clean as soap. The nice dry texture of soap just before making contact with water, the soft smoothness of soap after it’s wet... all of this is enough to melt the cockles of your heart and turn you into a comforted, mushy mess. If this is you, take note: Be New opened shop in Yeonnam-dong recently. The shop not only sells natural organic soaps, but also hosts regular classes where you can actually make your own soap. Pearls, cinder, mother’s milk, Spanish organic extra virgin olive oil, chlorella, squash pumpkins—just hearing the names of these ingredients seems almost enough to erase every skin concern ever. The shop also sells macaron-shaped soaps and scented candles, perfect as gifts or decoration. You can even try making these yourself, too. It’s a singular joy to scan the rows of soaps, drunk on the heady, sweet, piercing and pungent fragrances that permeate the interior. It’s hard to leave once you set foot inside.
On the way to the Sangsu coffee shop Anthracite, there is a small shop with a beautiful phrase engraved into its glass wall. A Collection is an artwork multi-brand shop that takes on the role of midwife for many artists attempting to release their work into the wider world. This might be summed up in its mantra: “A work of art is worth more than a single flower.” It is also a union of 60 individual illustrators, artists, photographers, and craftsmen. This is a space worth watching. You may be fortunate enough to end up owning the work of people that will actually become greatly renowned artists. Here they sell not only pictures, works of art, and photos, but also scented candles made of essential oils as well as perfume diffusers. The containers of these scented candles are specially made by engraving the creator’s artwork onto the surface. As the candle melts, the artwork begins to literally shine. The latest addition to A Collection’s collaborative roster is British artist Ryan McGinley.
Question: “How do I water them?” Answer: “Give them a good soak once every three months.” Hence the name, "Cycle de l'Eau," it would seem. Cycle de l’Eau, a shop that has opened in Yeonnam-dong, is a little space where strong and self-sufficient cacti converge. The owner selects beautifully-composed cacti, then transplants them into random containers like Campbell soup cans or plastic baskets, beakers, and absolut vodka bottles for sale. Creativity is only to be expected, as the owner, Baek Seong-hyun, is a singer and photographer. Scented candles imported from LA, namely p.f. candles, can also be bought here. Cacti run from 25,000 won to 600,000 won, varying in size and shape.