Gentle Monster is a force to be reckoned with, pioneering the tiny glasses revolution and dominating our TikTok feeds.
The Korean Eyewear label was founded by Hankook Kim in 2011 and based in Seoul. Before it was your favourite influencer’s favourite brand, it was a business-to-business glasses company set up to try and change the eyewear market, which was, and largely still is, dominated by Luxottica, an Italian eyewear conglomerate based in Milan. Luxottica is the largest eyewear company in the world and also manufactures glasses for brands, including Oakley, Ray Ban and Prada.
Going up against these guys wasn’t easy, with Kim repeatedly stumped by Luxottica when he approached stores to carry his glasses. Things got so bad that Kim couldn’t pay his staff.
Returning to the drawing board, Kim sought a new way to break into the industry, identifying a key issue with the eyewear market. At the time, most sunglasses were marketed to Western tastes. Gentle Monster focused on frames for the Asian market, designing larger glasses to make its wearer’s face look smaller, a desired trait in the Asian market.
Outside-of-the-box thinking has also been displayed in the brand’s retail stores, which create an experience beyond the product, as seen in Gentle Monster’s London store, where the theme is ‘Kung Fu’ and contains extra-terrestrial robots in positions manoeuvred to perform martial arts (it’s worth the visit just for this).
This brand has used this method of retail since its inception. Its first store in Seoul featured off-the-wall features such as a lifesize ship to attract customers, creating an immersive in-person experience.
Dropping its first full collection in 2013, the label has experienced a meteoric rise, garnering high-profile wearers along the way, including Billie Eilish, Beyoncé, Bella Hadid and Rihanna. Being no stranger to collaboration, Gentle Monster has harnessed the power of co-branded projects to further propel new styles and widen its consumer reach.
Its list of collaborators includes Fendi, Ambush, Hood By Air, Maison Margiela and D’heygere (those sick customisable frames everyone wants). In April 2020, the brand collaborated with Jennie Kim, or Jennie as she is better known, a member of the K-pop group BLACKPINK. While already widely known in Korea and other Asian markets (its Beijing store is its largest), this collaboration demonstrated the appeal of Gentle Monster in Korea to Western investors.
In September 2017, LVMH wanted a piece on the action in light of booming interest in Korean culture. A private equity firm backed by the French Luxury Goods conglomerate invested in the brand for an undisclosed amount.
Through an authentic approach to the eyewear industry, Gentle Monster has become a major player. Combined with a unique and authentic approach to experiential retail and well-thought-out collaborations, it’s no surprise everyone’s talking about Gentle Monster.
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