Wonders of Seoul
South Korean Swag Report
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— Jonah & Erin
Seoul: It’s a sprawling metropolis full of secrets & sauce. So picture my excitement when I (Jonah) got on a plane to Incheon, for the first time ever, late last month. Job One was a non-Spyplane-related reporting trip. But when a Korean customs official asked the purpose of my travels, I disclosed my side mission to “get hard answers as far as what the f**k is tight & popping in Seoul right now for Spy Nation.” The official replied, “Blackbird Spyplane? Say less, the recon is unbeatable,” and escorted me to an expedited lane for foreign dignitaries.
The result?? Today we’re continuing the tradition of our beloved Spyplane City Reports. O yes! Enjoy the Wonders of Seoul.
⚠️ Update: Part Two of the Seoul Sauce Report is live here.
When you see a 📀 below that’s a DVD-ROM: Dope Vibey D*mn Recon Ordnance Marker. And you can always check our Global Intel Travel Chat Room to enjoy & share earth-encircling travel recon.
South Korea’s grip on global pop culture has been undeniable for a minute… you’ve got behemoth K-pop acts, of course, but also Oscar-grabbing, money-making masterpiece cinema like Parasite (peace to Bong Joon Ho), buzzy dystopian TV phenomena like Squid Game, and impossible automotive fantasies too perfect to exist in our fallen world, like the Hyundai Grandeur EV concept car…
But what about dope South Korean garments?? (I’m not talking L**kheed Martin-branded streetwear!) We’ve shouted out a few lines over the years, but I was eager to tactically locate, link & build on the ground with the growing number of Koreans making, collecting & selling slappy jawns who haven’t (fully) hit the “international radar” yet. I was stoked to discover:
A gifted designer who studied bespoke tailoring in London and whips up cool cut & sew slappers all by himself out of his home studio…
A friendly young mensch building a fire Yohji Yamamoto archive of men’s & women’s pieces, where I copped the pristine early-‘00s olive melton-wool suit I’m rocking above for a mere $240…
Tremendous ROOMY PANTS, which are rampant in Seoul…
An encyclopedically knowledgeable guy described to me by a couple trusted & tasteful Spyfriends as Seoul’s “king of vintage”…
A bunch of good shops around town…
And you already know my bon vivant a** enjoyed some great food and some beautiful sights, too.
LET’S GO —
By the time I landed, made it through the airport, and rode a ~$15 hourlong bus into Seoul (the $90 taxi ride is barely 10 minutes faster; I took one on the return end) it was evening, the constituent particles of my body & psyche were s✨t✨r✨e✨w✨n across the time zones, and I had an appetite. So I hit a perfect place for the dazed & hungry… a wonderful zone where I would return several times throughout the week:
📀 Gwangjang Market !
This is Seoul’s cacophonous enclosed street-food hub, open day and night. Also, as evidenced by the swaggy king pictured above right serving in the yellow vest, floral shirt & pants, and iridescent YURPLE (?!) flats, Gwangjang is a hot-spot for people-watching, too. My foolproof m.o. every time I went was simply to see where a bunch of people were eating / waiting to eat, grab a seat, point at whatever looked good and tell the chef, “kamsahamnida.”
For vegetarian Spyfriends, there’s a bunch of fantastic 📀 crispy-chewy fried-mung-bean pancake (bottom left above) stalls, and counters serving up plump 📀 kimchi dumplings. One dumpling-slinger (top right above) was featured on a Netflix travel show (there’s hella laminated Netflix logos hanging at her spot) and as a result she’s very popular… There’s also a bunch of great 📀 fresh-fruit smoothie stalls and a couple 📀 “twisted donut” vendors people fiend for.
If you’re feeling adventurously carnivorous you can check out 📀 Buchon Yukhoe (top left above), a restaurant in Gwangjang with a Michelin Bib Gourmand, where the specialty is a large plate of raw beef topped with an egg yolk. I keep it pescetarian 99% of the time, with carve-outs for rare dishes when I travel, on some “when in Rome” s**t. On that principle, I ordered a plate of yukhoe. It was intensely protein-forward, but I loved it. Apparently even native palates can find the dish outré: A few nights later I was out to dinner with Bong Joon Ho, and when I told him I’d eaten yukhoe, his eyebrows lifted — “The taste is a lot, even for some Koreans,” he said. But it really didn’t strike me as that crazy, so go figure. There’s a delicious sweet-salty sesame sauce they serve it with, along with a simple, palate-cleansing potato soup… You can add octopus, too, but I decided that enough blessed animal life had already died for my dinner, so I didn’t go there.
I chased it all with an effervescent $4 📀 Makgeolli, which, if you’ve never had it, is naturally carbonated rice wine — kind of like sake in soft-drink form — and a ubiquitous Korean street-food stalwart.
But let’s get serious —
Who in town is “cheffing up” cool clothes?? Seoul’s small / independent maker scene is still emerging — but there are a ton of gems a-bubblin’. For starters…
A. On some “understated elegance” vibes, the new Seoul-based line 📀 Stillness make a variety of fantastic roomy jackets and pants in muted solid colors, cut from linens, wools, cashmeres and some lightweight, dense-weave technical nylons. Designer Dae-wuk Kim tells me the line launched with its FW22 collection — it’s not even a full year old, but d*mn it looks good already! Dae-wuk attended fashion school in Korea, taking inspiration from “great designers like Margiela and Dieter Rams,” he says, adding that, “starting from the upcoming FW season, we’ll be joining the Korean overseas sales platform Musinsa Global,” making international orders possible, so smash the follow on IG & don’t sleep.
B. I have a weakness for weird-but-rockable sneakers, and these cushy pull-on moc-style Korean runners — not a million miles from Y2K Oakley territory, but in chilled-out earth tones rather than hallucinatory fluo hues — are excellent: