When in shopper’s paradise look out for the sugar rush

Feb 06,2007
An overview of the B1 floor of Doosan Tower in Dongdaemun market.
hen chocoholics eat candy they get a rush of sugar to the head. For shopaholics, visiting Doosan Tower in Dongdaemun market is a similar kind of experience.
This is a place where girls can easily forget about boyfriends who never call or nagging mother-in-laws. Even during the wee hours the store remains busy under artificial light ― except on Sundays. In Dongdaemun’s shopping arcades, next to the monumental gate in northeastern Seoul, it is common to see women getting their nails done at 4 a.m.

funky diva looks inspired by Korean celebrities like Lee Hyo-ri and BoA.By Ines Cho
On a recent visit I was a bit dizzy and tired from a day at work, but I soon found myself happily lost and easily shopped past midnight.
Once through Doosan Tower’s gleaming doors, shoppers are sucked into a black hole. This is a place to lose track of time. Women’s wear begins on the first floor and extends to the second via escalator. From store to store, the selection is kaleidoscopic and includes clothes, bags, accessories, suits, party dresses and yoga outfits. Many fashion themes are covered, from Boho-chic to mod to hip hop.
Now is one of the best times to shop, as stores clear shelves and offer discounts on new arrivals. And the country is still high on holiday shopping with Chinese New Year’s Day looming on Feb. 18.
At first sight, the Doosan Tower mall seems similar to Tokyo’s La Foret, a super-trendy department store designed for young shoppers. The big difference is the prices. At Doosan it is much lower. Most items that can turn one into a fashion diva ― or king ― are priced at well under 100,000 won (about $107). Prices like 19,000 won for a 1980s-inspired cocktail dress are sure to cause a rush of adrenaline but beware: a lot of items are cheaply produced, despite their eye-catching style, and are made to last no more than one season. Doosan’s products certainly don’t guarantee the flawless shape and proportion that made-to-measure clothes can offer imperfect bodies. This is not the place for a power suit that would impress Mr. Armani, or a red carpet dress elegant enough to rival a Vera Wang.

What Doosan Tower does offer is sheer retail indulgence and for those who think they may end up binge shopping, a good plan is to set a budget in advance. And carry cash instead of credit cards ― shopkeepers seem to prefer it and offer additional discounts.
Following in the footsteps of the latest runway shows and fashion magazines, the Doosan Tower shops currently have many styles from the 1960s (think Twiggy’s youthful mini outfits) and ’80s (think Jennifer Beals in “Flash Dance”).
On the second floor, I saw a number of stores selling some vintage-inspired mini- dresses that are currently available in London’s trendy Topshop. Upon closer inspection I found most of them to be factory-seconds, or their weird variations, with no labels inside. Some of these dresses may sell for as much as 130 pounds ($250) in London but here, to my amazement, they cost as little as 25,000 won. I picked up four of what appeared to be pristine samples in various styles. After seeing me start buying, one of my shopping pals got excited and purchased two similar dresses. She bought me coffee to express her thanks ― and to ensure I would have the energy to be her shopping guru for the rest of the night.

a kinky lingerie shop in “Cherry Zone”
We skipped the men’s floor on three, only because one of our friends said he’d rather shop alone the next day. (And he did, buying stuff until he couldn’t carry any more.)
The fourth floor is where “Sex And The City” character Carrie Bradshaw would swoon with ecstasy amid the sea of shoes, belts and handbags. I spotted many familiar designs inspired by the likes of Christian Louboutin, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Gucci ― at a fraction of the price. But wait ― the shoes looked gorgeous from afar but up close they looked no stronger than glass slippers. For those who are heavy on their feet, caution is necessary.
A store called Kasao made me stop. They had a beautiful evening purse and a faux-crocodile clutch, both in silver. I bought a casual pouchette for 45,000 won. It has very supple leather and was just what I needed. After all, self-gratification is the best excuse a girl can have for an impulsive act, whether bingeing or shopping. The building’s basement is the ultimate theme park for serious shopaholics. The entire floor is designed to look like a real theme park, with five “play zones.” And the shopping on this B1 floor beats anything else in the building.

top.A vintage-inspired tunic dress with no la-bel inside.middle.A trendy silk babydoll dress with label cut out. bottom,A silver leather pouchette with no label.
In the “Cherry Zone” there are kinky lingerie boutiques, including one that would be good to outfit a Japanese-style costume party. There is also a fortune telling booth for shoppers who need celestial advice.
A store called “Bloom” in the “Fantasy Island” zone specializes in good-quality silk outfits. Bloom has a “Best Store” sign over its door. The shopping center awards these to stores that get excellent feedback from customers, according to the shopkeeper. At about 90,000 won, most dresses had labels that were cut in half, but I could read some were from Diane von Furstenburg and Jill Stewart. As a shopper with quality in mind, I became a hungry hound sniffing for factory-seconds that were as good as the real thing in retail stores, however doubtful their origin. At another boutique nearby I spotted a lovely babydoll dress from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Again its label had been cut.
These silk dresses, which come in limited quantities, are factory-seconds or black-market goods from China, and are usually brought into Korea through Hong Kong. Since it is illegal to sell brand names without accreditation, the clothes come without labels or with labels partially cut off. The question of whether the merchandise sold in fashion’s black market is authentic or not can get very tricky.

Many world-renowned companies base their production in Asia. Korea was once famous for making Donna Karan, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Nike and more, but as labor costs rose, manufacturers moved to China and many factories in Korea closed down. For years, merchandise that didn’t pass inspection, or factory-seconds, were sold on the Korean black market at stores frequented by bargain hunters and merchants. Now that many factories have relocated, most factory-seconds or fakes come from overseas.
Assessing the authenticity of merchandise often depends on the eye of fashion experts, who can discern a certain “look” that dictates the fashion brand and its particular season. If curious, one can simply ask the merchant if an item is “original,” and he or she might tell you the true origin of the product. In the Korean black market, “original” is translated as “real factory-second” and is not a counterfeit made with cheaper materials.
B1 has also served as a platform for up-and-coming designers, and “We design and make our own clothes,” can be heard frequently in some stores. A store named “Grandma” displayed a gorgeous balloon dress that might pass as a Stella McCartney but was definitively different ― in a good way. But, the price, 150,000 won, seemed like extravagance in a land of 30,000 won dresses.
Like an alcoholic sobering up, a shopaholic comes to her senses at some point. By the time I reached home I wondered if my Dongdaemun bag can possibly replace my own Dolce & Gabbana bag in the same color ― I’m not sure. And what on earth am I going to do with four polyester dresses?
I should have gotten the gorgeous Korean McCartney style dress ― that would have made me look like a real fashion expert.

By Ines cho Staff Writer [inescho@joongang.co.kr]

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