Gentle Monster is everywhere. Arguably the biggest luxury brand to launch from the peninsula, this Korean eyewear company has a turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars every year and can be found in over 450 retailers in 30 countries. You should expect long lines before walking into any of their 41 (and counting) flagship stores and be quick with purchasing any collaboration items, as they tend to sell out quickly.
The brand has earned a cult-like status and you may recognize its unique name or recall top celebrities wearing strangely oversized sunglasses on K Dramas or music videos. Maybe you stumbled into one of their stores and noticed the exotic art exhibits displayed in between their products. But unless you’ve been living on a deserted island, you’ve most certainly seen Gentle Monster sunglasses at some point in the past several years whether you realized it or not.
What is Gentle Monster?
Gentle Monster was founded in Seoul, South Korea in 2011 by Hankook Kim. When asked about their paradoxical name, Kim says ‘Gentle’ stands for humble and wearable designs balanced against the ‘Monster’ aspect of attitude and uniqueness.
For the past decade, the brand has been the forerunner of “experimentation” and innovation, seen both in the unique features of the glasses themselves as well as the interior design of each of its flagship stores. Whether they are avant-garde gradients of color, futuristically shaped sunglasses that mimic ski goggles, or embellished with colorful crystals, Gentle Monster eyewear undoubtedly stands out from your typical sunglass frame.
What’s so special about Gentle Monster?
The brand was not always on the fashion radar, however, and started with a rather simple mission. Catering to the Asian beauty standard of emphasizing small heads and faces, Kim made oversized sunglasses that could create the illusion of smaller faces. Most of Gentle Monster’s earlier designs share this same feature—they are oversized with thick, bold frames to mask a larger portion of the face.
Instead of copying the design of Western sunglasses, Kim envisioned a different, more Asian aesthetic. “Here, having a small face is the biggest compliment,” Kim says. “There were no competitors for oversized glasses, which make heads look smaller.” The glasses also fit better on Asian faces which tend to have lower nose bridges.
Creative collaborations and experimental design
Since the success of their more timeless pieces, the brand has definitely branched out with more creative, funky designs. Notable collaborations in the past few years include top fashion houses such as Fendi, Alexander Wang, Marine Serre, Ambush, Coperni, Moncler, and most recently Maison Margiela. Gentle Monster was also made popular through collaborations with A-list celebrities such as Jennie from Blackpink, DJ Diplo, Chinese singer Cai Xukun (or Kun), and even the online video game empire World of Warcraft.
Each collection looks completely foreign to one another, as the inspiration and creative direction of various collaborations rendered drastically different designs. Aside from collaborations, Gentle Monster’s growth can also be attributed to its popularity with pop stars in general, with celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Beyonce, and Rihanna openly hyping up the brand.
The celebrity power and influence is certainly a factor in Gentle Monster’s huge popularity and a $60 million investment by LVMH in 2017 has helped fuel growth. But Kim’s commitment to creating an exclusive and unique shopping experience has proven to be an ingenious marketing tactic that has drawn millions of people to their stores with the irresistible need to snap a photo of the bizarre interior and upload it to social media.
Their stores are each curated to feel like you’re walking through a contemporary gallery, featuring things like life-sized horses, an interior waterfall in the middle of the store, or a rotating light installation. If you ever visit Seoul, make sure to visit one of the brand’s first locations in Garosugil, Sinsadong, for what will surely be an eye-opening exhibition.
Where to buy Gentle Monster
If there is one thing you should buy on your next visit to Korea, it is a pair of Gentle Monster sunglasses at the duty free shop. You can save over a hundred dollars when you factor in both the lower retail price and the tax savings. For those of us who are not in Korea, there are now many places you can purchase the brand both in shops around the world and online.
On a recent visit to the Gentle Monster flagship store in Downtown LA this past month, a sales associate mentioned that their latest design concept was based on the idea of “the harvest”. The store featured a giant wooden spinning machine in the middle, with a futuristic locust robot at the entrance. The London store was most recently designed under the theme of “kung-fu”, displaying a tribe of extraterrestrial robots training in martial arts next to an artificial waterfall. The exhibits in each store are changed every 21 days, bringing a new sense of anticipation and excitement every time you visit.
Check out your closest location by looking through the complete list of stores here.
The best GM sunglasses to try now
The brand is no longer limited to oversized frames that make faces look small. While the original styles like the classic Her 01 are still bestsellers, there are now dozens of great styles to choose from. To see if their sunglasses were worth the hype, I decided to purchase a pair for myself. I wanted a frame that I could wear with most outfits but with a unique flare. I decided to go with the Lilit 01 (BR) model, a yellow-tinted lens with Gentle Monster’s classic flat frame. This model is one of their more popular pieces in the past year, famously worn by BTS Jimin on multiple occasions.
Upon arrival, I immediately noticed the simple yet aesthetically pleasing packaging. The box contained the sunglasses, a white leather case for travel, and an authentication certificate. I used to dislike wearing sunglasses because I felt that most frames from famous designer brands were tailored to fit Western faces. Without nose pads or extra adjustment, most glasses would easily slip off my face.
When I tried these on, I could see how Kim envisioned an eyewear brand that was designed for more Asian features–lower nose bridges, higher cheekbones, and an overall broader face. Despite the higher price ranges that Gentle Monster carries, I was thoroughly impressed with my purchase and can see it becoming an investment piece in my wardrobe year-round.
If you’re thinking about purchasing your own pair, I would recommend going into the nearest store and trying on the different styles to see which frame complements your facial features the most. For starters, scroll through this gallery with model names to see some of Gentle Monster’s most popular styles, or check out their full list of bestsellers here.