Every boyfriend's nightmare: Inside Seoul's new handbag museum
Seoul museums really need to get more creative with their names. Take the Korea Furniture Museum, for example. The name deters all semblance of cool, despite being one of the most beautiful spots in the city.
The same goes for the newly opened Simone Handbag Museum on Garosugil in Gangnam. It would take a very secure guy, for example, to be caught dead entering a museum with that name over its entrance.
However, the self-proclaimed world’s first official handbag museum, which has been previewed in the New York Times and many a fashion magazine around the world, is actually an exquisite exhibition with more of historical contextual emphasis, rather a gaudy display of excessive luxury.
Context and concept
The brainchild of Kenny Park, 57, the CEO of Simone Acc. Collection Ltd., a Korea-based supplier of handbags for labels including Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade and Tory Burch, the museum houses more than 300 European pieces in its permanent collection over two floors and reserves the top floor for special exhibitions.
Built over three years, the building itself cost US$3.53 million while another US$1.59 million was spent on securing pieces for the collection.
The third floor -- where the museum begins -- is an extremely modern display of avant-garde installations intermixed with iconic handbags.
The fourth floor is a history lesson, featuring British “reticules” from the 1820s, to “miser’s purses” and European women’s first “work bags” that take a decided turn for the ugly as they become more utilitarian, rather than decorative.
Big on details
The captions are a delight to read. Here’s an example:
“Sweetmeat Purse, English, c1590, silk and metal damask, metal braid, silk cord and floss.
In England gifts were given on New Year’s Day to the reigning monarch. This tradition provided the opportunity for courtiers to ingratiate themselves with the royal household and it was not unusual for a gifted purse to contain considerable amounts of money. Many highly worked and expensive sweetmeat purses appear on gift lists compiled during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.”
The permanent collection was put together by Judith Clark, a London-based experimental exhibition maker, who worked with dealers and curators in building the museum as well as publishing a book from Yale University Press in honor of the museum’s opening last month.
Each mannequin is an avant-garde work that took a team of 30 experts and designers to create, from the wigs to the clothes to the positioning of the arms and fingers.
The basement and the first and second floors house a café, a museum gift shop, a multi-brand shop and Simone’s own bag shop, as well as a DIY shop where customers can try their hand at making their own bags, and a massive leather shop for those who wish to buy original materials, including real alligator swatches priced around ₩1,250,000 (US$1,100).
While this museum houses only European pieces, Simone plans to build another museum for Asian handbags in the near future.
“We’ve found that people are very surprised by all the details when they come here,” says assistant curator Jina Koh. “They may have these stereotypes coming in, but then they start viewing the bags as works of art, or historical artifacts.”
“Many of the guests spend hours reading the captions, and some even write down all their questions and then come and ask us at the end,” says head curator Dawn Chung. “Even the men.”
It’ll probably still be difficult to get a man to darken the doors. “It’s only natural that men tend to keep away from such a feminine topic,” laughs Chung.
As one of our male acquaintances put it: “It’s ridiculous that a handbag museum exists in the first place. I’m never ever taking my girlfriend there. She’ll just get ideas.”
Simone Handbag Museum, 17 Dosan-Daero 13 Gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea (서울시 강남구 도산대로 13길 17); +82 2 3444 0912; www.simonehandbagmuseum.co.kr
More on CNN: 15 of the world's weirdest museums