City, Design & Living
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Seoul, the new Tokyo?

The 80s have been Tokyo’s golden age. Japan’s economy was the second largest in the world; the price per square meter reached $100,000 in Ginza. Tokyo became a global city catching the world’s attention and exporting its pop culture all over the world. Two decades of decline later, Tokyo has been surpassed by another East Asian city.

The rise of Seoul

South Korea was considered as the 3rd poorest country in the world in the 1950s.Yet, the Land of the Morning Calm is now part of the richest countries in the world. The outstanding economic development of South Korea, known as ‘the miracle on the Han River‘, has transformed Seoul into a global city, a business hub, a center of cultural creation and an avant-gardist high-tech place.

Seoul was almost entirely during the Korean War and many of its inhabitants faced extreme poverty situations. In the afterwards of the war, the city went through a fast-paced development. The population of the city was increasing dramatically, from 2,4 million people in 1960 to 10,7 million people in 1990. In a very short amount of time and out of necessity, urban planners managed to create a modern city, providing infrastructures and housing to millions of new inhabitants. This incredible success explains why Seoul has been a model for generations of urban planners across the world.

Because of the Japanese colonization and the Korean War, Seoul lost most of its historical legacy. A new Seoul was to be invented. After the war, the intense development of the city created a bland uniformity in its landscape. Seoul was built to be functional, not to be beautiful. However, this bland uniformity has completely changed as Seoul became more open and sophisticated. This evolution represents a journey from functionalism to estheticism.

Credits: Ken Lee @Seoul state of mind

Credits: Ken Lee @Seoul state of mind

The search for aesthetics experience and the will to mark its landscape have been two specific aspects of modern Seoul.

Seoul has become a playground for high-profile design and architecture. The city was named World Design capital in 2010. Superstar architect Zaha Hadid designed the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a major urban development landmark. From the slender skyline of Yeouido island to the new City Hall designed like a wave, there’s a compelling mix of a freshness and audacious architecture.

Credits: Ken Lee @Seoul state of mind

Credits: Ken Lee @Seoul state of mind

The city has turned into a major trendsetter and influencer for fashion, luxury, lifestyle and beauty.

Nowadays Seoul is simply at the vanguard. As a matter of fact, the city has turned into a major trendsetter and influencer for fashion, luxury, lifestyle and beauty. This evolution is connected to the Hallyu, which means Korean wave. This concept illustrates the growing Korean soft power in the world and the international interest in Korean culture, such as K-pop, TV dramas, avant-gardist cinema, Korean artists, Korean fashion…

Luxury brands consider Seoul as a hub and a trendsetter in Asia. Therefore, they use Seoul and the South Korean market as a starting point to tap into the whole Asian market and they use the Hallyu as a marketing tool to promote their products. For example, in June 2015 Dior opened its largest Asian flagship store in the upscale district of Gangnam. Chanel held its 2015/16 Cruise Collection in Seoul in May 2015. Moreover, the world’s top luxury group LVMH has been investing in Seoul’s flourishing K-pop industry. L Capital Asia, the investment fund of LVMH, took a US$80 million equity participation in YG Entertainment, a major K-pop agency. Seoul has also been chosen to host the second edition of the annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference next year.


Courtesy of Maxime Rémy

Technological innovation has been a central aspect of its development and its international recognition.

Besides, digital modernity is part of the very fabric of Seoul. For instance, the city of Songdo in the suburb of Seoul has been built on reclaimed land and it is one the first “smart cities” in the world. This $40 billion project created a connected city part of a free economic zone with a unique urban environment, based on green growth.

Finally, Seoul stands out from the other global cities because this is a vibrant city, embracing its past and resolutely forward-looking. Energetic, exciting, pioneering, this is how Seoul can be described.

Maxime Rémy

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