Korean cosmetics brand Whoo (后), conceived and designed by Mario Gagliardi and his team at LG Household and Health Care, has surpassed all competitors including Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Rolex for overseas luxury duty-free sales in Korea. It is the first time a Korean brand has become the bestselling luxury brand. Among the users of the Whoo series is first lady Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese president Xi Jinping, and Chinese actress Angelababy Yeung.
The beginnings of the brand reach back to 1997, when Mario Gagliardi, then chief designer and head of design strategy at LG, convinced executive director Lee Young Joo of the LG Chem Design Institute to start developing something which has not been done before: Cosmetics series with a genuinely Korean theme.
At the time, LG Household & Health Care produced several cosmetics brands with Western themes. The company increasingly lost ground with domestic customers, who preferred imported American and European products and perceived LG products as less convincing than the Western competition.
Mario’s strategy was to bring back domestic consumers with decidedly culture-specific brands and designs, and in the process create authentic brand identities which would stand up for themselves in international markets. After a successful presentation with the CEO of LG, the first series brought to market was Yin, followed by O Hui.
Yin was built on the idea of the complementary forces of Yin and Yang, a core theme in Korean and Asian philosophy. Depending on character and skin type, Yin cosmetic bottles came in different colors. Elaborate miniature sculptures on top symbolized Asian traditional elements. Its ingredients and scents, made from Korean herbal essences and ginseng root, emphasized its philosophy.
The idea was expanded further with O Hui (Five Hues, the five essential colors used in Korean traditional architecture, a concept comparable to the five elements). Also made with natural essences, it interpreted the aesthetics of ancient Korean courts, taking design cues from Korean and Chinese cultural artifacts. Yin then was modified by adding ideas of O Hui to create Whoo (Empress). The design language elements of the cosmetic bottles – characteristic round shapes, elaborate bases and finely crafted miniature sculptures on top – are suggestive of their precious content.
Before, the stories told in cosmetics marketing were all about Paris and New York. Yin, O Hui and Whoo changed this perception, telling genuinely Korean and Asian stories. Since the launch of the first designs in 1998, these cosmetic series have been enthusiastically received, first in Korea, then in China. The revenue of Whoo with Korean and Chinese consumers is continuously increasing, making it today Korea’s leading cosmetics brand.
The design team at LG H&H continues to develop design variants with finely crafted details in keeping with Mario’s concept and design language.