Fashion and architecture can cross-pollinate in unexpected ways – from designers that flit between the fields (Virgil Abloh is not the first architect to turn to fashion) to clothing collections that nod to an architectural inspiration, and interdisciplinary friendships and collaborations (such as that between Karl Lagerfeld and Zaha Hadid, see W*92, which spawned Chanel’s Mobile Art Pavilion). The close relationship between Seoul-based Korean fashion designer Lie Sangbong and local architecture practice Unsangdong is another case in point, and it has borne fruit in a striking new fashion HQ.

Unsangdong’s Jang Yoon Gyoo and Shin Chang Hoon first met Lie back in 2007, when he staged a fashion show at Kring, a cultural space the architects had recently designed in Seoul. ‘We felt we had a lot in common,’ recalls Shin. ‘Both we and Sangbong find inspiration in traditional Asian aesthetics and transform this into something contemporary. We also agree that there is no clear boundary between fashion and architecture.’

Lie Sangbong in his HQ in Seoul

Lie Sangbong in the top-floor corridor of his new HQ, decorated with mural of trees. Like his fashion collections, the building’s design nods to nature. Photography: Kim Jaeyoon

It was a relationship that blossomed, so when Lie decided to transform a commercial building in the heart of Seoul’s stylish Cheongdam district into his new base, he turned to Unsangdong for the conversion. ‘He wanted the building to reflect his unique style and to make a mark in the luxury fashion district, which is full of foreign brands,’ says Shin.

The architectural duo’s design proposal, a slim, tall tower with a sinuous, undulating façade, was inspired by a 15th-century Korean painting referencing an ‘ethereal utopia’. Lie immediately approved it. ‘Architecture and fashion have the same starting point because they both deal with the human body. Both evolved into more sophisticated spheres from the same goal of protecting and making the human body comfortable,’ says Jang, adding that both disciplines deal in form, structure and material, and the idea of creating or transforming an outer ‘skin’.

The dynamic curves of the building’s front elevation were its most challenging element. ‘We wanted to create the otherworldly feel of a cloud, to illustrate an ethereal utopia as seen in a dream,’ explains Jang. ‘To achieve this, we used vertical louvres as a base and developed subtle differences in their spacing.’ The architects spent close to a year perfecting and 3D-modelling the façade, creating a life-size mock-up and eight scale models in the process. The finished exterior is clad in waves of ceramic panels, chosen for their matt texture and durability.

Exterior view of Lie Sangbong HQ in Seoul

The tower is sandwiched between two more ordinary buildings. ‘We wanted to show a mismatch to create a feeling of something new and unexpected,’ say the architects. ‘It’s a space to generate curiosity and interest in new culture.’ Photography: Kim Jaeyoon

The building’s base is dedicated to fashion and lifestyle. The entrance level hosts a café and a lifestyle shop that sells goods by emerging Korean artists. The first and second floors (which are connected through a separate circulation core) house the showroom of Lie, a popular fashion brand by Lie Sangbong’s son, and the Lie Sangbong showroom, respectively. The five floors above are set aside for office rental space, and the 9th through to the 13th floors feature apartments. The building’s top two levels feature a cultural space, which may be hired out for shows, performances and parties.

Juxtaposing the views of Seoul’s contemporary skyline through large openings with classical references to the Greek Agora within the building, the architects aimed to create an interior that would surprise and provoke conversation – seamlessly bringing together urban, social and sartorial elements in a single building, as befitting their client’s multidisciplinary outlook. §

As originally featured in the September 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*234)