South Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster is hitting the West Coast with its second U.S. location and 15th global store, opening in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Oct. 9. Founded in 2011 by Hankook Kim, the Seoul-based brand, known for its statement sunglasses (which run from $215 to $420), opened its first U.S. flagship in New York’s SoHo neighborhood last year.
On the phone with THR today, Gentle’s Monster’s U.S. vice president, Taye Yun, confirmed that the company's 2016 revenue was approximately $250 million and that French luxury-goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE invested $60 million, or a 7 percent stake in the company, earlier this month. So plans for the company, which has grown at a rapid clip, are expanding even faster and further.
"Since the start, we've had a lot of consumers from L.A., and L.A. has rapidly become this iconic American destination, so we had all the reasons to be here," said Yun.
"We're slowly experimenting with different platforms and testing new products. We'll do a test run only in Korea, in early November, of bags and cosmetics as two separate companies, not under the Gentle Monster label."
Gentle Monster’s avant-garde glasses have quite the Hollywood following. In May, Beyonce wore the Sign of Two shades ($320) at an L.A. Clippers game and in an Instagram selfie sesh. Susan Sarandon hit the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in a green velvet gown and Gentle Monster sunglasses. Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Lupita Nyong'o, Brie Larson, Elle Fanning, Zoe Kravitz and Chloe Sevigny also wear the shades on repeat.
As does Tilda Swinton, who teamed up with Gentle Monster last February to create three collab sunglasses (a chunky cat-eye sold out, but the other two styles are still in stock; the actress also starred in an ad campaign video).
"Tilda was very exceptional because she has that genuine Gentle Monster attitude, and we wanted to collaborate with the brand of Tilda Swinton, her art history," said Yun.
Each Gentle Monster store is set up like an art gallery, with installations centered on a designated theme — L.A.'s is "harvest." A path inside the 5,000-square-foot store, lined with 2,000 metallic rods that symbolize rice plants, "guides visitors through a journey, reimagining the process of harvesting, threshing and drying ripened rice crops," according to a brand statement. An installation by Korean sculptor Jung Uk Yang represents the grain threshing, while colorful, texture-rich rugs by Korean knitwear label Misu a Barbe allude to piles of twigs remaining after the harvest.
"We wanted to deliver a very subtle, Zen kind of a feel in the crazy downtown L.A. area," said Yun. "We have an in-house team of 250 people — architects, designers, engineers, artists — who come up with the ideas, and this year we felt the harvest, the quietness, the Zen feeling, so we used that as inspiration."
To maintain a cutting edge in the eyewear game, Gentle Monster places an emphasis on newness; last year, the brand collaborated with Danish designer Henrik Vibskov; Shayne Oliver's New York streetwear label, Hood by Air; and visionary fashion brand Opening Ceremony.
"We’re a little bit different from other [eyewear] companies in that we have 140 totally new styles launching every year; we always maintain freshness, rather than just continue the previous season," said Yun. "And our collaborations deliver a different realm of design potential and new ideas."
Coming in late October is a Gentle Monster collab with Dutch furniture designer Marcel Wanders, the founder of the company Moooi, who recently designed a chair and room screen with Louis Vuitton. And the L.A. store will exclusively offer a prerelease of the new $260 sunglasses style Tazi — a thick acetate frame in three colors (white, black and clear pink).
Gentle Monster, 816 S. Broadway, Los Angeles; gentlemonster.com