10 Corso Como: From Balmain to Big Bang
Seoul's transformation from cultural also-ran to rising design star has been gathering steam for several years. Not least in uber-swanky Cheongdam-dong, where 10 Corso Como -- a cafe, boutique, bookstore and gallery -- has been selling a distinctly European brand of cool since March 2008.
How cool? CNNGo TV met up with Lee Hyo-Ree there for the Seoul episode.
The third in a chain that includes branches in Milan and Tokyo, 10 Corso Como is the brainchild of Carla Sozzani, an Italian who opened her first store in her homeland in 1990.
Inspired both by Oriental bazaars and legendary 1960s and 1970s London department store Biba, the original 10 Corso Como expanded into a sprawling complex that was at once bookstore, design gallery and boutique for obscure imports and luxury goods -- a model that has largely been followed in the Seoul store.
“Though we call ourselves a cafe ... we're also a multi-functional space with a unique blend of art, fashion, design, culture and lifestyle,” says Junsuk Lee, 10 Corso Como general manager.
Non-descript from outside, 10 Corso Como's stained glass doors open to reveal tables and shelves stacked with hard-to-find designer gear -- Alaia shoes, Balmain bags, 10 Corso Como-branded T-shirts -- and piles of glossy hardbacks devoted to photography, art and architecture.
For special displays, the first floor also has a “Novelty” section.
The interior, with artwork courtesy of U.S. artist Kris Ruhs, is at once contemporary and retro, with round-edged leather armchairs and circular, recessed lighting that wouldn't look out of place on the set of a 1970s sci-fi movie.
“Kris Ruhs designed this place to be close to nature, and to reflect aesthetic elements and various different sensibilities,” says Lee. “Before us, no concept stores like this had really existed in Seoul.”
The nature part of this equation can be seen in one of Corso Como's most popular draws: the deceptively peaceful cafe and its garden terrace.
“Though you're right next to the main road, the cafe is quiet and feels isolated,” says Minyoung Kim, a fashion designer and sometimes patron. “In the summer, I love sitting outside there.”
Money and taste
The cafe draws its inspiration directly from Corso Como's homeland, with a menu including homemade ricotta cavatelli in sweet pumpkin and sage butter sauce (₩23,000, US$21) and baked lamb ribs served with eggplant puree and pistachios (₩39,000).
A well-stocked bar offers a range of cocktails along with a strong selection of wines. And for ₩10,000 you can finish off the meal with one of Seoul's more extravagantly priced Americano coffees.
“We attract a broad age range of people who are united by an interest in fashions and trends,” says Lee. “We see leaders in fashion, design and art, and a fair few celebrities, too.”
Although it has been a few years since its opening, Corso Como's exceptional design and highly select wares ensure that it retains a gilded cachet, and a clientele as likely to include film stars, idol group members or top fashion designers as drop-in coffee sippers.
“You need a lot of money and really good taste to go shopping there, but they do have some cheaper souvenir-type stuff that I really like,” says Kim. “Corso Como has things you really can't find anywhere else in Korea. And it's always good to have options.”
For 10 Corso Como's recent 10th Anniversary project, the store featured a collaboration with pop idol group Big Bang which included apparel and accessories embellished with the group's latest neon skull motif.
"We plan to start a new fashion trend in Korea," read a 10 Corso Como press statement.