Valet parking, designer labels and 10$ lattes, the small yet highly affluent region of Apgujeong in Cheongdamdong is Seoul's answer to Beverly Hills. For the visitor, the reality is far more interesting, as designer flagships, luxury department stores and high-end boutiques are mixed with small primitive snack stands, tile-clad low rise villas and grinning bubble-permed grandmothers. In other words, a fascinating mix of the humble and the highbrow.
Tracing an elegant parallel to the south bank of the Han River, Apgujeong is the area's main draw. Lined on both sides with the accoutrements of the nouveau riche, it boasts some of the world's highest property prices and welds together the sister neighborhoods of Sinsadong and Cheongdamdong. A concentrated by-product of the "economic miracle" that took place over the 1970s and 80s, affluence came rather suddenly to the area, a fact made almost painfully clear by the large black foreign motors favored by the locals. It is however, on these little lanes that the area's true appeal resides.
While Apgujeong itself revolved around international mega-labels, one should burrow into the side streets, where a more markedly local form of luxury can be found. Korean designers have taken the upper hand here, and their boutiques abound, from bespoke jewelers and milliners to tailors of classic suits and creators of female footwear, as well as umpteen "multi-brand stores" that attempt to lasso together a particular niche of mens wear or far more commonly, unique womens wear.
Rather pleasingly, there has been a recent effort to stem the stream of Westernization that has flowed almost one-way for several decades, and designers are now finally bringing Korean talent to the fore, rather than meekly appeasing locals with derivations of Western tastes. Part of this process has been a revolution in the area's culinary scene; while high-end French, Italian and Japanese restaurants are still most in demand, they've recently been joined by a super smart set of establishments seeking to expolit the neo-Korean niche and the results have been superb.
Those looking to get in on the action should head straight to the streets surrounding Doosan Park. A little west, a road known as Garuso-gil Street has seen its popularity skyrocket in recent years. Translated as 'tree-lined lane', it is indeed dotted with gingko trees. On Garuso-gil Street, the cash is bandied about at the ubiquitous clothing boutiques, flash cafees and coffeeshops and trendy bars.