Visual treats at Gentle Monster's Singapore store

Besides the Mobius strip installation (above left), artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon (both above) at Gentle Monster's Singapore store (left) include baby dolls.
Besides the Mobius strip installation, artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon (both above) at Gentle Monster's Singapore store include baby dolls.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Besides the Mobius strip installation (above left), artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon (both above) at Gentle Monster's Singapore store (left) include baby dolls.
Besides the Mobius strip installation (above), artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon at Gentle Monster's Singapore store include baby dolls.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Besides the Mobius strip installation (above left), artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon (both above) at Gentle Monster's Singapore store (left) include baby dolls.
Besides the Mobius strip installation, artworks by Ms Somi Shim and Mr Wonho Moon at Gentle Monster's Singapore store (above) include baby dolls.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

Shoppers looking to buy eyewear at Gentle Monster get visual treats through art installations

Cult Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster does not just sell spectacles. Its flagship stores are spectacles.

The six-year-old brand's latest store - a 4,000 sq ft space on the first floor of Ion Orchard that opened officially on Sept 26 - is its 15th flagship store and the first in South-east Asia. It joins a list of stores in South Korea, China, the United States and Hong Kong.

Gentle Monster's sunglasses and frames are popular with celebrities and trendsetters. They include Korean stars such as actor Lee Dong Wook, who was in Singapore for the opening; and American A-listers including singer Beyonce, model Gigi Hadid and actress Tilda Swinton, with whom the brand collaborated in March.

With its carefully curated art installations, one might be forgiven for mistaking the Gentle Monster Singapore store for a gallery. Themed "Samsara", the Sanskrit word for "reincarnation", the store's design was helmed by Ms Somi Shim, Gentle Monster's store designer, and Mr Wonho Moon, Gentle Monster's space designer.

Their creation, the Korean designers explain, is inspired by the 2011 documentary film Samsara directed by Ron Fricke, as seen through the lens of Nietzschean philosophy. The key concepts of both are "non-linear repetition", "the inescapable wheel of life" and "salvation".

Confused? Good. Intrigued? Even better.

"Every Gentle Monster store should feel new. We try to have a different concept and style for each one," says Mr Moon, 32.

The Sinsa flagship store in Seoul's upscale Apgujeong district, for instance, which was also designed by Ms Shim, has five floors, takes the theme of "home and healing" and features lavish rooms in a house, with some bizarre twists such as upside-down trees growing from the ceiling.

The design theme for the Shanghai IFC Mall store is "Frogism", a word combining "frog" and "sadism", and is inspired by the George Orwell novel Animal Farm.

Were they drinking when they developed the idea for the Singapore store? "Sometimes," says Mr Moon with a chuckle.

"We bring in things that inspire us," adds Ms Shim, 30.

The Singapore shop draws on three symbols used in the book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, by 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, to illustrate the metamorphoses a person must experienceto overcome himself.

They are the camel, symbolising obedience; the lion, symbolising governance; and the child, symbolising freedom.

The challenge, Ms Shim says, was to represent these symbols without the store looking "too childish or kitschy".

The "camel", at the front of the store, is a kinetic installation of undulating fabric-covered humps controlled by strings and gears. "The camel obeys without hope," says Mr Moon.

Customers must then pass through a chamber representing the "lion", which contains a throne-like structure covered in blond hair. "The lion does not listen to other opinions", which is why the throne is very tall.

The chamber opens onto the store's main area, where there is a stone altar and two kinetic installations: one an army of baby dolls, the other a giant Mobius strip.

Mr Moon says: "In the third step of the cycle, the baby sees everything as joyful and playful. He can overcome everything. But we wanted to express that we can't escape these three steps. The Mobius strip shows the inescapable cycle of life."

But what do the ideas of a seminal German philosopher have to do with selling glasses? Nothing.

"We don't really connect selling products with the concept," Ms Shim says. "We just want to show people a new concept, new art, that we create."

Mr Moon adds: "When the customer comes into our store and sees cool new installations, which are not generally done in other commercial stores, it makes him think, 'Wow, cool brand.'

"That way, it's easier for people to remember us. It is a new way for us to develop our brand."

•Gentle Monster is at 01-13 Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2017, with the headline 'Spectacle of a store'. Print Edition | Subscribe