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When you first walk into Gentle Monster, the four-year-old Korean eyewear brand that opened its first North American store on Soho's Grand Street earlier this month, you might be wondering where all the eyewear, y'know, is. Its minimalist entryway consists of little more than a concierge and the poured concrete floors inlaid with wooden slabs that run throughout the 500-square foot space.
You're getting a taste of "Korean hospitality" here, according to US vice president of communications Taye Yun, by coming into a peaceful area where a staff member can personally greet and walk you through the collections. "The intention is that we wanted to have a customer service desk when the customer comes in. They're like, 'Why is it so empty?' But you're seeing a different phase of the store."
You're going to want to get to the glasses quickly, which are housed in the store's main room. And we mean literally housed: Rafael de Cárdenas of Architecture at Large designed a hut-like wooden structure to enclose where you'll find all the frames, each sitting in their own backlit cube like works of art. The long space is transversed by a hollow countertop holding black stones similar to what one might find in a zen garden, and customers can switch sides via a mirrored throughway embedded with videos.
The design reflects how Gentle Monster is "embracing the space and the culture of the neighborhood," according to Yun. "New York is a statement for us," and the brand wanted to introduce itself to Soho with an understated version of its signature retail style — see what their Korean stores look like to understand the restraint in design here.
As for the glasses themselves, prices start at $250, which is comparable for other premium eyewear brands in this market — but you won't find glasses that have gold-encrusted deer teeth embedded in the temples, or a wavy bridge that emulates Johnny Bravo's hair, in those stores. Most frames come in a few sizes to fit bigger or smaller faces, but that's not related to gender. "We let the customers decide," Yun explained of the brand's decision for unisex marketing. "Leaving it like that, we notice that guys are picking out glasses that girls were liking the day before."
Once you select your pair, bring them to the service desk toward the back of the store (above left) to have them custom-fit to your visage. "A millimeter difference really does reflect differently on each individual face," Yun explained of the complimentary service. (This desk is also where you can return for complimentary polishing or adjustments for as long as you have your glasses.) The acetate used in many of their frames quickly melts in high heat, so you won't be wait more than a few minutes for the perfect fit.
That's a perfect amount of time to explore the final room, a rotating gallery space that'll be changed up every three months or so with art installations, the first being with Moooi. "This is like a solar hibernation during the winter," said Yun
Whether you're there to soak up the digital sun, appreciate the architecture, or marvel at a selection of frames that include collaborations with Hood by Air and Opening Ceremony, you're not going to be disappointed in Gentle Monster. And considering the brand once sold a pair of sunglasses with grass seeds in its lenses that would grow when you're in the sun, we're excited to see what will come from them in the future.