At a glance
Shopping is definitely an experience when it’s the prestigious Korean brand Sulwhasoo that is in charge!
During my trip to Seoul last September, I was lucky enough to visit this architectural gem that is the sublime flagship store of the very prestigious Korean skincare brand Sulwhasoo. Today, let me introduce you to Sulwhasoo, a true flagship of the Korean cosmetic industry. I will also tell you more about the wonderful “shopping experience” I tried out in this beautiful place.
Quite unknown outside of Asia, Sulwhasoo is the Grande Dame of the Korean cosmetics, a synonym of prestige in all Asia, and has been for more than 50 years.
The flagship store of the brand in Seoul is the perfect place to learn more about the holistic philosophy of Sulwhasoo.
Designed by the famous couple of Chinese architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu (Neri & Hu) and opened in 2016, this store is the perfect example of how Koreans master the concept of “experience shopping”.
The flagship store in Sulwhasoo is not only a shop where you can buy products, it’s also a place that tells you the story of the brand and allows the visitor to dive into its philosophy.
Half-museum, half-shop, the Sulwhasoo boutique is a real must-see for cosmetics enthusiasts visiting Seoul (and if you’re a connoisseur of architecture, I assure you it’s also worth the detour!).
The brand Sulwhasoo:
The story of Sulwhasoo begins in a modest kitchen in Korea, more than 80 years ago. Yun Dok-Jeong, a mother of six, decides to use camellia oil to create hair treatments for elegant Korean women. She’s choosing the best camellia flowers from peddlers who travel and resell their products throughout the Korean Peninsula and spends hours extracting oil from them to make her treatments. Her camellia oil haircare products are popular, so she’s able to open her first shop in the village of Kaesong, a city that is now part of North Korea.
Her second son, Suh Sung-Whan, worked with her from an early age. He learned the ropes, going with his bicycle to collect bottles and labels needed for conditioning hair oils all around Kaesong. Later, he also started to concoct face creams alongside his mother.
Sulwhasoo is considered one of the emblems of Korean beauty.
Suh took over the family business in 1945, just after the end of the second world war. He began by renaming the company “Taepyeongyang”, which translates as “Pacific Ocean”, a name that says a lot about Suh’s international ambitions, who saw the future of his company well beyond the borders of Korea.
To develop the company, he decided to focus on a cosmetic range based on ginseng. This inspiration came directly from his childhood in Kaesung, famous for the high quality of his ginseng. This plant has indeed been used throughout Asia for centuries for its many medicinal benefits. It’s also very popular nowadays for its energizing, balancing and stimulating properties of the immune system.
Suh Sung-Whan had a very specific idea in mind. He knew that eating ginseng was good for your health. But its use as a cosmetic ingredient was still unprecedented. He set up his own laboratory in the 1960s and his team of lab researchers studied each part of the ginseng plant, from the flowers to the roots, to be able to provide proof of its effectiveness on the skin.
In 1966, the research was successful, so he launched the ABC Ginseng cream, a real innovation combining the modern technology of cosmetological research and the use of traditional Korean herbal medicine. The brand became “Ginseng SAMMI” in 1973, and started to export its ginseng products worldwide.
Then, in 1987, the brand decided to expand its research to other valuable ingredients from traditional Korean herbal medicine and took the opportunity to change its name. It became “Sulwha”, which means “the flower of snow” in Korean. This flower is still used as their logo today.
Eventually, the brand became Sulwhasoo in 1997. The term “Soo” means “phenomenal” in Korean. Sulwhasoo’s research focused on the study of the synergy between thousands of ingredients from traditional Korean herbal medicine. This gave birth to the JAUM Balancing Complex, a unique formula to rebalance the skin and optimize the results of products.
Over the last 50 years, Sulwhasoo has become one of the leading beauty brands in South Korea and throughout Asia. The brand is considered one of the emblems of Korean beauty. Its products are even offered to first ladies around the world when they come to visit Korea during major international events.
Now, Sulwhasoo is distributed in 12 countries around the world: South Korea, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, the United States and Canada, with France since September 2017. Expansion in the United Kingdom is planned for this year, and Germany for 2019.
Sulwhasoo belongs to one of the largest South Korean cosmetics group, Amorepacific, founded in 1997 by Suh Sung-Whan’s second son, Suh Kyung-Bae.
Sulwhasoo, for me, is a brand that perfectly represents the South Korea paradox: truly modern with a cutting-edge R&D (since the beginning of the history of Sulwhasoo) and the use of traditional ingredients, known and used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Modernity at the service of tradition, in a way!
The passion of traditional Korean herbal medicine, as well as the latest innovation in cosmetological research, are indeed at the heart of Sulwhasoo.
The use of herbs and plants for healing is an ancestral practice in Korea, where there are a lot of traditional hanbang doctors (= the name of this medicine).
This concept of hangbang cosmetics was until recently considered a bit too “old-school” by the younger generations of Korean but in recent years, there is a trend of “back to basics” in South Korea.
The Sulwhasoo clientele, which traditionally consists of older women, became much younger recently. The younger generation is once again interested in these ancestral ingredients that are so effective. At the moment, hangbang cosmetics are everywhere in South Korea, even in newer brands that launch whole ranges that look very similar to some Sulwhasoo products.
Sulwhasoo also celebrates the holistic skincare, based on the harmony between nature and man, as well as the balance between body and mind. There is indeed a very zen and minimalist approach in Sulwhasoo, it’s very far from the more “blingy” luxury that can be found in some of its competitors, like The History Of Whoo for example.
A first care serum, that you apply right after you cleanse your skin. Formulated with Korean medicinal herbs, this stimulating serum ensures optimal results by boosting the effectiveness of skincare products you apply on top. It also promotes the natural balance and hydration of the skin. Its star ingredients are the famous JAUM Balancing Complex, which consists of five precious natural Korean ingredients (peony, Solomon seal, sacred lotus, white lily and Rehmannia) that rebalance the skin deeply.
It’s the best-selling product of Sulwhasoo and the flagship store has its own version, coated in gold. I’m using it at the moment and I’ll do a review soon.
This is the latest version of the brand’s iconic product, their famous ginseng cream that started it all.
Formulated with ginseng extracts, this cream revitalizes and repairs the deepest layers of the skin to rejuvenate mature and/or sensitized skin.
I really regret not having brought this cream back from Seoul and I will probably take advantage of a future visit to the Galeries Lafayette in Paris where the brand is available to purchase a jar!
The flagship store in Seoul:
The flagship store in Sulwhasoo, Seoul, South Korea, is an architectural gem created by the design firm Neri & Hu, founded by a couple of Chinese architects, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu. It opened in the spring of 2016 and is located in a prime location of Gangnam’s luxurious commercial district, just opposite Dosan Park.
The 1,949 sq m shop, which has five floors, is the symbol of an eastern lantern with what the designers call “a continuous structure” of fine brass filaments. This metal structure extends throughout the shop, from the exterior facade to the interior of the place, giving a very soft golden light, reminiscent of this lantern theme.
Half-shop, half-museum, the flagship store includes:
– a retail area with all of the brand’s products as well as exclusive editions for the shop,
– a VIP customer area where you can receive your own personalized treatment while drinking a tea especially created for the shop,
– two separate spas where you can enjoy the very sophisticated Sulwhasoo skincare rituals,
– a space dedicated to the brand’s heritage, with the key ingredients used in the products as well as the brand’s archives, such as ancient packaging,
– a floor devoted to cultural and historical exhibitions highlighting the heritage of South Korea,
– a rooftop above the shop where you can relax outside at the restaurant and drink a Sulwhasoo coffee while contemplating with stunning views of Dosan Park, which is located just opposite, as well as the beautiful city roofs.
“Sulwhasoo’s flagship store is a space trip that leads to self-exploration of all dimensions of beauty, inside and out,” explain Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu of the project. “The building as a lantern illuminates metaphorically and literally, as a beacon of light for the city and as a symbol of excellence in beauty.” (Source Wallpaper)
I loved spending time in the Sulwhasoo flagship store.
Before going to Seoul, I heard a little about the brand, but I confess that my knowledge was very limited. I could feel that I would probably like the philosophy of Sulwhasoo but I wasn’t sure I understood its identity very well.
I came primarily to buy some products but I also wanted to take some pictures of the place. So I explained my approach to the team inside the shop and they were immediately very welcoming, they helped me and explained what I could find on each floor and left me the time to take photographs of everything I wanted.
Most of the sales assistants there speak English fluently, which isn’t always the case in Seoul, where the largest tourist population is Chinese.
The sales assistant who took care of me was absolutely adorable and she really took the time to answer all my questions. The service was really impeccable!
Some of the bestselling products from Sulwhasoo are available in limited edition at the flagship store. This is the case for the First Care Activating Serum EX and the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream EX. They are coated in gold, to remind the symbol of the lantern, concept of the store.
I purchased the serum and received several samples of the cream. I can tell you that I hate myself for not purchasing it too because the exclusive golden jar version is absolutely stunning.
I literally had to tie my hands to not buy one of the sublime “Mother Of Pearl” powder compacts, a limited edition handmade by local artisans with cultured pearls. There is one different version each year, you can see all the different editions in the flagship store, they are all exhibited. And they’re all to die for!
The sales assistant literally showered me with samples, travel sizes, as well as various gifts for purchase. I couldn’t believe it! In South Korea, it’s quite common to receive a lot of samples when you buy a beauty product but they were particularly generous! I felt super privileged and lucky.
I already had the opportunity to try some of them, and I can tell you that their excellent reputation is certainly not usurped. I’ll tell you more in detail in upcoming reviews, but I think I’m in love with the ginseng range!
The flagship store is really stunning and I loved the zen feeling that emanated from it. And if you don’t want to go back to reality too quickly after leaving the store, you can always go for a nice walk in the Dosan Park close by, to extend the relaxing feeling a little bit.
If you’re in Seoul, I cannot recommend enough to go to the Sulwhasoo flagship store. Even if you are not a cosmetic addict, the place itself is definitely worth the visit!
18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
10am-9pm, Monday to Sunday (*Closed the first Monday of every month, New Year’s Holiday and Chuseok)
Sulwhasoo Spa: +82-2-541-9272
Sulwhasoo Balance Spa: +82-2-541-9273