[EDIT: 6/5/2017 – the Belport chain is now called A.G.B. (Art Goût Beauté). The flagship on Garosu-gil has also changed its name to A.G.B. The ground floor of the store still has a Jo Malone shop-in-shop but makeup brands have gone, instead there is what appears to be a MAC shop-in-shop. The spa in the basement is still there; the first floor was unfortunately closed for renovation. I think the brand portfolio might have been adjusted too, so the information in this store profile is probably no longer correct. I’m not sure why Belport reinvented itself; if anyone can shed any light on this I’d be grateful!]
A few days ago I visited Korean perfumery chain Belport’s flagship store in Seoul’s trendy Garosu-gil street. Garosu-gil in Sinsa neighbourhood is known for its designer boutiques, uber-stylish cafés and concept stores.
It is also one of the latest hotspots for beauty in Seoul: over the last five years or so a number of Asian and Western beauty brands have opened stores there, including Melvita from France, Kiehl’s from the US, Lush and Neil’s Yard Remedies from the UK and premium Korean brands Su:m37 and The History of Whoo.
Domestic beauty chains The Face Shop, Banila, VDL, Clio and Skin Food have also opened outlets along Garosu-gil, and there are several drugstore retailers including Olive Young, Watson and LOHBS. And exactly one year ago, Belport opened its very first store on this street.
Belport is what they call a “multi-brand retailer” over here: in Korea, cosmetics are mostly sold in department stores (international and Asian luxury brands), in drugstores (a fairly new but strongly growing retail channel for mass market and masstige brands), and in single-brand stores (chains like Innisfree, Nature Republic, Skin Food, Etude House, Face Shop, Tony Moly etc. which only sell their own products). The country doesn’t really have a perfumery retail channel as we know it from Western European markets like France, Germany, Spain or Italy. Or at least, it didn’t until the arrival of the Belport chain.
There is another domestic perfumery retailer: Aritaum. However, Aritaum belongs to C&T manufacturer Amorepacific and the Aritaum outlets only sell Amorepacific’s own beauty brands. These include premium labels La Neige and Iope (both brands also have their own retail store chains), bath and body care brands Happy Bath and Illi Hanbang and hair care and styling brand Mise en Scène.
Belport, on the other hand, is a real multi-brand perfumery: they were the first Korean beauty chain to introduce a range of international premium cosmetics brands in their stores. What I particularly like is that Belport doesn’t sell the mainstream Western luxury standards like Dior, Chanel, YSL etc. Instead, the company’s focus lies on high-end niche beauty. And this concept is proving to be very successful indeed: in just one year, Belport has opened twenty stores across the country. Seven of these outlets are stand-alone stores – the most recent one was opened in September 2015 in Itaewon neighbourhood (more information and pics on Itaewon Belport further down!) – and thirteen Belport stores are located in department stores.
The two-story Garosu-gil Belport is not just the chain’s flagship but it is also the largest Belport outlet in the country. There is a spa area in the basement and the store carries over 80 (!) international niche and premium beauty brands, several of which are exclusive to Belport.
The interior is stylish: as you enter the store you have the colour cosmetics brands on the right hand side while on the left side are some great niche fragrance brands: Olfactive Studio (one of my personal favourites!), L’Artisan Parfumeur and The Different Company from France and Fueguia 1833 from Argentina. A large retail area is dedicated to UK fragrance label Jo Malone which was added just last month.
The range of colour cosmetics brands include Cargo Cosmetics from the US, Glossip Milano from Italy and Zuii Organic – these three are Belport-exclusive beauty labels – as well as Colorneer (a Belport own label brand), Borjouis from France and Stila and The Brow Gal from the US. Amongst the nail polish brands are Deborah Lippmann from the US, Korean brand Trou de Lapin and Belport’s own label brand Hello my name is.
Downstairs is the spa area: here you’ll find brands like Kevyn Aucoin from the US, Darphin from France (the Garosu-gil Belport is one of Darphin’s two official Signature Spas in Seoul), Omorovicza from Hungary, Sepai from Spain and two Swiss premium brands which are only available in Asia – La Colline and Bellefontaine. A few months ago I researched La Colline for a different article and was interested to learn that there are quite a few ultra-expensive Swiss beauty brands that are formulated exclusively for the retail markets in Asia. Anyway, the Belport spa offers treatments with La Colline, Darphin and Omorovisca.
Then we go upstairs again and this is where the fun really starts! The first floor is dedicated to skin care, body care and hair products as well as home fragrances. The big names include Bottega Verde from Italy (Belport is the official Korean distributor for Bottega Verde), US brands Dermalogica and Glamglow, Cowshed from the UK, Payot, Eugene Perma, Phyto and Caudalie from France and Korres from Greece.
I had to google most of the other brands (that is how niche they are!): Kaffee Fassett (a Heathcote & Ivory brand from the UK), Skin & Co Roma, Abeauty Kurni and Laino from Italy, Lollia from the US and a whole range of Korean niche dermo and face care brands – Avery and Repére, Sur Pur, Dr. Young and D28. Avery and D28 are both Belport own label brands. I was also delighted to see one of my favourite European beauty labels, Botanicus from Prague in the Czech Republic!
Organic skin care brands include Kahina Giving Beauty and Antipodes – in Europe these two brands are primarily available online so I enjoyed trying out the different serums and lotions! – and Botani from Australia (I bought a gorgeous vanilla-scented Botani lip balm). The men’s care selection includes Jack Black from the US, Bluebeard’s Revenge from the UK and wet-shaving blades and razors from Mühle in Germany (!).
And Belport is regularly extending its brand line-up: soon the Garosu-gil store will sell Diptyque fragrances and nail polishes from Berlin’s coolest nail care brand Uslu Airlines! I was impressed to hear that Belport would be stocking this brand: Uslu Airlines is known for its very selective distribution policy (they only go into the trendiest concept stores, perfumeries, department stores and nail salons!). They should fit nicely into Belport’s brand portfolio.
On my last day in Seoul I also managed to visit the company’s newest store in Itaewon – another beautiful retail space. Belport Itaewon has a different concept: although the store also sells skin and body care, the majority of brands are from the niche perfume and home fragrance sector.
The line-up includes Miller Harris, Atkinsons and Jo Malone from the UK, Olfactive Studios, Diptyque and Maison Francis Kurkdjian from France and Fueguia 1833. The Itaewon store also carried a couple of skin care brands I didn’t see in the Garosu-gil store, like the high-end Blossom Jeju, a skin care range manufactured with herbs and flowers from the island of Jeju.
On the first floor is a café where you can browse in international style and fashion magazines, eat delicious macarons from patissier Ruben Jan Adriaan (the vanilla-and-caramel variant is highly recommended!) and chill out in style. You also have a great view of the street outside.
Belport will be an exciting retailer to watch – the first European-style perfumery chain in Korea. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next! I am also writing a company profile on Belport for the Retail Focus article series in CBM Magazine in early 2016.