Earlier this month, the street outside Prada’s menswear show in Milan was jammed with screaming fans, most of whom looked to be there for Korean pop duo Enhypen, who attended the event. Devotees periodically burst into song, intoned classics by the boy band.
Such a picture would have been remarkable a few years ago when most events drew just tiny groups of fans scouting the arena for celebrity sightings. Yet, as South Korean pop music becomes a global fascination and luxury megabrands sign more and more deals with its major singers, the fervent young followers of K-pop groups have become a fixture.
The enthusiasm shows no signs of abating: in the last week alone, visits by Korean musicians like EXO’s Kai at Gucci, Enhypen at Prada, and J-Hope (from supergroup BTS) at Louis Vuitton have lit up social media with men’s fashion week content. In addition, Dior confirmed a partnership with BTS member Jimin, who will attend its show on Friday, while Valentino announced a collaboration with the group’s rapper, Suga, on Monday. (BTS is now on hiatus due to military service).
According to sources close to the brand and the band, even the traditionally low-key “stealth wealth” house Bottega Veneta is in talks to sign a menswear deal with a BTS member. Likewise, Blackpink members Lisa (a Celine ambassador), Jisoo (at Dior), and Jennie (at Chanel) gathered ever-larger crowds of admirers while generating critical internet buzz in recent womenswear seasons.
The rise of K-Pop supergroups, whose influence swept Asia in the 2010s before extending to Europe and the Americas, has coincided with Korean cultural achievements in other media, including streaming sensation Squid Game and blockbuster films like “Parasite” and “Minari.” In addition, businesses have long sought Korean celebrities due to their followers’ near-fanatical level of social media involvement, and their viewership has grown in recent years, both domestically and worldwide.
South Korean celebrities have become the most important celebrity voices for driving media exposure during fashion week, according to Launchmetrics, with social media posts by or about them generating up to 41% of the celebrity and influencer buzz for Milan’s Fall-Winter 2021 womenswear season. According to fashion firm Karla Otto and marketing expert Lefty, that percentage could have grown to as much as 50% at the recent Milan Men’s Fashion Week.
The internet influence of Korean idols can even eclipse that of the most well-known, digitally adept Western stars: According to Launchmetrics, Kim Kardashian’s partnership with Dolce & Gabbana, in which the reality star and mega-influencer helped “curate” and style the brand’s September 2022 show, earned $4.6 million in headlines and internet interest. Similarly, Jisoo of Blackpink generated $7 million in hype for Dior’s Paris presentation the same season, mostly by merely appearing there.
South Korea to the rest of the world
Last year, South Korea was a bright spot in Asian markets for luxury goods, with sales reaching an all-time high. A recent Morgan Stanley study shows that the market has grown by almost 40% since pre-pandemic levels in 2019. South Koreans are now the world’s greatest per capita spenders on luxury goods, with “we believe Korean citizens now account for 10% or more of total retail sales for several key brands, such as Prada, Moncler, Bottega Veneta, or Burberry,” according to analyst Edouard Aubin.
But, the greater frequency of collaborations with Korean talent isn’t just due to the star’s local market’s increased prominence.
K-pop supergroups are so well-known in China that the Chinese government has tried to crack down on what it views as “irrational” behavior from K-pop fan club members, such as purchasing several copies of an album to promote sales for a favorite act. K-pop acts are also popular in Southeast Asia’s small but fast-growing market. Overall, Asian clients — and the celebrities most likely to reach them — are expected to remain in the spotlight this year, as growth in the United States and Europe, which has powered the luxury industry since the epidemic’s conclusion, is expected to drop dramatically.
K-pop is out of reach
Working K-pop stars are more popular than they realize: A strict studio system aggressively trains and closely monitors actors while crafting, controlling, and fiercely guarding their images. Regrettably, they represent a little reputational risk to the brands they cooperate with.
According to fashion executives participating in the recent wave of K-Pop partnerships, deals with these stars are also regarded as appealing investments due to the enhanced “prescriptive” effect they have among their fans. In addition, many Asian performers are less reticent than Western performers to directly promote brands or products to viewers. As a result, their fans regularly purchase the products celebrities advocate to show their support for their favorite musicians.
According to industry sources, the agreements are about more than just growing sales. K-Pop stars are often outspoken dressers, eager to experiment with fashion to differentiate themselves among their supergroups. As a result, they are enticing partners for brands and designers that want to create memorable and exciting fashion events.
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Throughout fashion week, brands are pleased with igniting the passions of local K-pop fans that attend their events. For example, Jimin’s attendance at Dior’s forthcoming menswear runway was confirmed last Thursday. The show would “celebrate Dior’s collaboration with a member of 21st-century pop superstar BTS,” according to the brand.