(Aka Pia’s Korean Travel Journal)
National stereotypes are generally quite cringe-inducing. Sometimes they can be convenient ways of describing a common feature present in a particular ethnic group or country. I’m a Finn, so, to explain to my new Korean friends why some Finnish men are crazy enough to risk dying in sauna competitions (which are basically an even more neanderthalesque-version of hot dog eating competitions), I’d say “Finnish men are very stubborn. They find it’s a badge of honour to be the last bloke in the sauna, even if it means you risk being cooked to death.” Clearly not all Finnish men are stubborn; at least not by Finnish standards. And clearly not all Finns treat sauna as a competitive sport. But it’s fair to say that the aforementioned behaviour doesn’t surprise me one bit.
So, with this in mind, I hope you will excuse me while I say that it seems that all Koreans love singing and dancing. The nation seems almost obsessed by music and though the majority of music I experienced on my trip to the Lush Land and concert, held in Seoul this April, was typical pop, there were some surprises in the mix. And I was completely blown away by the talent of ordinary retail staff members who, during the event, burst into song and dance (as you do) to the delight of the over 4000 visitors that came to Lush Land over the two days.
I was just about to take a much-needed two week holiday when our Press Office called to ask if I would like to attend the launch of Gorilla Perfume in Korea. It would have been nice to travel with Mark and Simon but both of them were away at the time. I may have even taken my holiday instead of going on a work trip. However, it was lovely to be asked to represent the perfumery team this way. It was also a new kind of challenge – this time I would be interviewed and grilled for more details by everyone, instead of being the invisible support person behind the scenes. I immediately bought a new dress.
The Korean team did send us a Power Point presentation of what they were intending to do but I don’t think any of us in UK fully appreciated the magnitude of the event from the slides – and actually – I don’t think even the Koreans really knew what they were getting themselves into until the project developed critical mass and rolled off like an unstoppable juggernaut. By the time I arrived in Seoul, there were two days to go and everyone looked a little gray and waxy; nevertheless in good spirits and very hard at work. I can’t imagine how many long shifts and cups of coffee went into putting together what was essentially a small festival, open to the general public.
The event was called Lush Land and designed to showcase the best bits of the company. It was staged at a popular concert hall, outside of which stalls were erected and all kinds of other activities also took place (from lively bubble bar demos with an actual bath tub to slightly creepy rock-paper-scissors-type game a man in a gorilla mask was encouraging visitors to participate in. They got free drinks as a reward so I suppose that went some way towards easing the trauma).
The exterior space was inspired by Carnaby Street. It sounds a bit corny but actually, in situ, the Carnaby-Street-style arch and clever printed backdrops gave the concrete courtyard a kind of kitsch charm, though I’m not sure how English it was exactly. Except on the second day when it poured down with rain and all the stalls had to be brought indoors. That’s when it felt English.
There were food and drink stalls, serving imported Wedgwood tea (of which I drank many cups, having been brainwashed during my 20 years in England to crave the stuff), beer, vegan food and fruit. The Lush pop-up stalls with Fresh Face Masks and other handmade cosmetics blended in effortlessly and at times I wondered whether any non-Lushies were there, trying to figure out which stall to queue for if they were feeling a bit peckish.
Both days started with a general market-feel with people milling around outside. There was a concert on both nights. On the first day, there were very long queues of people hoping to guarantee a good spot for the evening’s performance. I was told that this was because Big Bang, a Korean boy band, would be there and that they are insanely popular in Asia. So much so that there were people from neighbouring countries who’d flown over just to see them and camped outside the venue overnight.
The Gorilla Perfume gallery was set inside the concert hall and was open throughout the event. Hundreds of people were led through the maze of scented rooms. I’ve participated in all of the other gallery launches and was pleased to see how well the experience had been translated here. The local design team members recreated the gallery very well and Jungle*, the charismatic guy responsible for Korean training, spent the evening before the event with me and the gallery room staff, polishing up their performance. I can’t stress enough how important it has been to the whole gallery set-up to have excellent staff who make the whole thing just click in place. Although I don’t speak Korean (apart from the four or five words I learned from my iPhone app on the way there), I could tell how well the roles of each perfume were played by the curators chosen. The Breath of God room was a special Korean addition to the gallery; it turned out to be a good decision as the fragrance became one of the best-sellers at the pop-up shop. I did wonder how much the decision to include a Breath of God room might have been due to its Buddhist connotations and the fact that it
happened to be Buddha’s birthday month (widely celebrated with multicoloured lanterns and special Baby Buddha altars across Seoul).
The biggest surprise for me was probably the first few minutes of the opening night’s concert, when the curtain rose to… a full philharmonic orchestra! I was told that getting them to perform at a popular music venue rather than a concert hall had been a long (but clearly eventually fruitful), booze-fuelled task. By the second night, the drummer had got the hang of it and really went for a big drum solo, to the tune of hundreds of screaming and clapping visitors. I doubt he has people wolf-whistling and squealing at him very often.
The mix of music over the two nights could perhaps be best described as a kind of cross between Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny and X Factor. Korean music taste seems to lean towards the highly produced and glossy but there were a couple of performers that stood out. As an example of the glossy, none seemed more loved than Lee Sora, who the locals call Milky Skin. Her sentimental ballads sound lovely even when you don’t understand the lyrics, but apparently the lyrics are the main reason why her music is so well-liked.
My absolute favourite from the whole experience was a new Indie group called Jang-gi-ha and The Faces. Their performance was superb; starting with a quiet piece and building the audience to a hysteric froth over several songs until everyone was clapping and waving and jumping to the tune of the last song. Again, I wish I could understand the lyrics, but their music is very catchy and I really enjoyed it.
When the two-day event came to a close, there was a final treat in store for everyone: a mass Tuca Tuca dancemob in the lobby! I don’t know whether it was planned or whether the whole team just decided to jump in and do it (I suspect the former), but whichever the case, it felt spontaneous and emotional. As guests left the building, they stopped to look and take photos.
It’s always such a pleasure when a work-event feels like something you would have enjoyed even if you weren’t in any way affiliated and that’s exactly how I felt at Lush Land in Seoul. I also really fell in love with our team there and hope they do well and that I get to visit them again some day.
If you would like to see lots more photos of the whole trip, head over to our Facebook page to have a look!
*Lush Korea uses nicknames inspired by the names of Lush products in all internal communications. I actually have no idea what Jungle’s real name is. Not that it matters. Jungle suits him perfectly well. He’s exotic and colourful!