Fragrance brands

A New Breed of Fragrance Brands Captures the Scent of Korea

If someone asked you what the Gangnam area of ​​Seoul smells like, how would you answer?

“Very woody and very glamorous,” said Kim Su-hyang, creative director of her eponymous fragrance brand Soohyang.

A whiff of citrus for the 24/7 shopping crowds of Dongdaemun. High notes of patriotic red pine for Namdaemun, South Korea’s first designated national treasure. Flowers to evoke the lilacs that bloom every April in chic Hannam-dong.

Kim Su-hyang at the Soohyang Flagship Store in Gangnam (Soohyang)

Soohyang is part of a new breed of Korean fragrance brands that aim to capture their country’s culture in olfactory form. They often incorporate traditional elements or create scents inspired by places in Korea.

In doing so, they want to carve out a place for themselves in a market traditionally dominated by European heavyweights like Diptyque and Jo Malone.

A former music promoter for eight years before founding Soohyang in 2013, Su-hyang’s career move makes more sense than you first think.

“Music is like a perfume. It shows who you are: your tastes, your feelings and your emotions,” she said.

With Itaewon 565, the brand’s signature fragrance, Su-hyang also wants its location-inspired products to offer visitors a souvenir of their time in Seoul.

“(Travellers) have very different opinions about this city. Each space offers different impressions for different people,” she said.

Granhand Perfumer Jung Nana Helps Customers Find Their Perfect Fragrance (Granhand)

Granhand Perfumer Jung Nana Helps Customers Find Their Perfect Fragrance (Granhand)

Similarly, some brands seek to impose themselves, but in a more traditional way. Walking around the neighborhood of Bukchon Village, it is hard not to notice the popularity of boutiques and perfumery workshops.

One of them is Granhand, whose more traditional aesthetic caught the attention not only of curious tourists, but also of Chanel – Granhand candles were offered to guests of the 2015 Cruise Collection in Seoul.

Located in a hanok, or traditional Korean house, the setting of the Granhand boutique reflects its philosophy of a slower approach to the production process.

Granhand's Bukchon store located in a Korean traditional house (Granhand)

Granhand’s Bukchon store located in a Korean traditional house (Granhand)

“The process of constructing a hanok building is complicated, but there is always value in it. Likewise, it takes time to produce each product in a slow process, but we believe that these efforts will appeal to customers,” said said Kim Min-su, Bukchon store manager.

Granhand also sells a selection of soy wax candles contained in ceramic hangari vases. Traditionally used to ferment foods such as makgeolli and kimchi, Granhand wants to showcase a more classic side of Korea that seems at odds with modern Seoul.

“Since Bukchon is a famous place for foreigners, we thought that combining our candles and hangari could be a good way to express Korea’s traditional image,” Kim said.

Tucked away in another hanok area, this time in Jongno-gu’s Ikseon-dong, is another shop dedicated to linking scent to experiences.

Founded in 2015 by Han Yu-mi, Proust wants to unlock the unconscious memories of Korea through perfume, like the madeleine of its eponymous author in the novel “In Search of Lost Time”.

“Unlike the other senses, I believe that smell is a very simple sensation. When we smell a strong odor, we instantly contort our facial expression. Our sense of smell is closely linked to the parts of the brain that govern memory and emotions,” Han said.

Proust creates perfumes based on the places where Han and his perfumers grew up.

For example, there is a perfume inspired by ambergris called “Ulsan”. A highly sought-after perfuming ingredient that can only be produced by a sperm whale, the scent is a connection to the prehistoric whale carvings found in the region’s Bangudae cliffs.

The founder of Proust, Han Yu-mi (Proust)

The founder of Proust, Han Yu-mi (Proust)

There are also two Seoul-inspired fragrances, Midnight in Seoul and End of the Night. Recalling the passion of the night and the dawn of a new day, Han says the scents should evoke the “two faces” of Seoul.

“Anyone can unravel a sudden, involuntary, ‘unconscious’ memory through smell. It’s really like you’ve returned to (a) moment in time and it’s very accurate,” he said. she declared.

The growing trend of Korean perfumes and the inspiration their creators draw from their country and culture only captures a sample of what Korea means to some individuals. Not only does each place have its own color, but also its own scent and memories. And as the Soohyang brand motto says, life is better when you smell good.

By Chantelle Yeung / Trainee Journalist (