Perfumes in films,

Gangnam Beauty and Atelier Cologne

gangnam beauty mi-rae perfume atelier cologne

Ever since the middle-school Mi-rea (played by Im Soo-hyang) was bullied for not fitting to the Korean beauty standards. So before entering the university she decides to go under multiple plastic surgeries. With a new face, slim figure and new school she hopes to finally start a ‘normal’ life. But since the surgeons did a pretty good job she quickly becomes one of the most beautiful students. Being constantly in a center of male’s attention and a subject of gossips Mi-rea discovers that a life of both attractive and unattractive young women can be equally challenging…

The plot of My ID is Gangnam Beauty – one of the most watched k-dramas ever – is simple yet perfectly sums up our beauty hungry society. But there is something else.

gangnam beauty mi-rae perfumer

But before you all get excited and loose your social life for a week in order to binge-watch the whole series, I’m going to tell the harsh truth. Yes, the main protagonist studies chemistry in order to become a perfumer, but that’s only because My ID is Gangnam Beauty includes some serious product placement from a gigantic perfume company. In fact, their products are being featured so often that sometimes it feels like watching some sort of Korean The Truman Show. Otherwise, it’s a classic love triangle drama (the Good Guy, the Bad Guy and The Pretty Girl) dedicated to the teenage audience. And it really reminds me of films like Black Swan or Whiplash, which are set in specific worlds (ballet/music), but their plots are about something way different (obsession/ambition). Knowing that, I’m going to roast ‘the perfume parts’ of Gangnam Beauty anyway. Because some scenes are very amusing. And if you thought that perfume brands can’t go further than what Chanel did in 13 going on 30 then you’re here for a treat.

Atelier Cologne

Even though the words ‘Atelier Cologne’ were never spoken out loud by any of the characters, their perfumes are being constantly shown on a screen. We see them for the first time in the 10th minute of the first episode, which already tells a lot. Mi-rea goes to the brand’s counter just after having her surgeries and buys that pomelo scent. The viewers quickly learn that Pomélo Paradis is her signature scent as she even wore it even in the middle-school. Then she firstly looses her perfume on a campus, but luckily the Bad Guy finds it. In fact his mother also wore it (!). And, it gets better, she actually is the head of Kelun Korea, which owns Atelier Cologne. Couple of episodes later, Mi-rea wins a ticket to a perfume event hosted, of course, by Kelun Korea (aka Atelier Cologne). And so on an so on. But the grand finale is an internship in (Atelier Cologne’s) lab, which Mi-rae and other main characters are attending during their summer holidays. But we’ll get back to that.

The infamous product placement

Atelier Cologne’s products are constantly somewhere in the background of many locations. It’s actually pretty funny that Mi-rae keeps buying their perfumes despite having endless supplies of them at her own home.

But for sure, not every viewer is so observant. The brand thought about it as well, which resulted with plenty of collection shots.

… followed by extreme perfume close-ups.

Interestingly, during the whole show there’s only one scene, in which main characters talk about perfumes. And it’s even more interesting, because the fragrance is NOT by Atelier Cologne. This scene really aims to show that our main protagonist and the Good Guy (Yeon Woo-young – a chemistry graduate and teaching assistant!!!!) share the same passion. Perfumes. And. They. Know. So. Much. About. Them. Enjoy.

Because every recognizable perfume needs to have a number added to its name. Preferably 5, 19 or at least 22. Also: what a huge perfume lover she is! In order to recognize the smell of one of the most popular fragrance in the world (I’m sure the producers weren’t able to directly reference Chanel no 5) you need some mad sensory skills! Wow!
Let’s not forget that he’s a chemistry graduate and teaching assistant. So, you know, that’s why he already acquired such profound knowledge about perfumes.
Oh. Mind blowing.

Internship in the perfume company

Now, this is really the most amusing part. So at this point our main characters finished all exams and are attending a summer internship at the perfume company. They were promised to get hands-on experience at the lab and learn about theories and history of perfume. Just to remind you, those are the chemistry students of one of the most prestigious universities in Korea.

Mixtures, maybe?
Guys remember. While smelling a perfume try to distinguish scents. Not notes, or, I don’t know, ingredients!? Scents.
Or, in that case, just check out the Fragrantica’s listing for Atelier Cologne. Because clearly that’s what they are smelling.
Just smell your own skin.

Of course I didn’t study chemistry, but I did go to the university. And if any of my summer internships would end up being like this I would be extremely disappointed. But the characters didn’t seem to mind it. In fact I think they enjoyed this hands-on experience.


As I mentioned at the beginning Gangnam Beauty obviously isn’t a tv show about perfume world. However the amount of perfume product placement makes it relevant for some people in this industry. Atelier Cologne clearly wants to expand into the Asian markets. Choosing the k-drama instead of social media marketing was a brilliant move. After watching this love drama many viewers will be able to easily recognize their bottles and maybe even buy this pomelo scent. But personally I think that the brand overdid it. Just like Mi-rea with her plastic surgeries. I didn’t post all the screenshots I did, but believe me. There wasn’t an episode without Atelier Cologne’s obvious presence.

Have you watched Gangnam Beauty? What do you think about Atelier Cologne’s marketing strategy? Is it too much or just enough? Let me know!

Love, Kasia

PS Many thanks to the lovely Mileta for telling me about this Korean drama. Thanks, girl!

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A polish girl living in Switzerland, who has a degree in musicology and is obsessed with perfumes. I own 70+ dresses. And even more perfume bottles.

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