Luxury mega-brands are increasingly inking deals with major K-pop stars. That was unusual a few years ago when most shows drew only small groups of fans positioned to spot celebrity arrivals. However, as South Korean pop music became an increasingly global obsession, and as luxury megabrands signed more and more deals with its leading stars, fanatical young followers of K-pop groups multiplied and have become a fixture, with no sign of slowing down. From Prada to Dior, fashion houses are increasingly embracing Korean pop stars during fashion week to increase media exposure and as brands look to Asian consumers to fuel their growth.
Korean stars such as EXO’s Kai at Gucci, Enhypen at Prada, and J-Hope (from supergroup BTS) at Louis Vuitton have helped to light up social media during the last few Fashion Weeks. Even Dior announced a collaboration with BTS member Jimin, while Valentino announced a partnership with the group’s rapper, Suga. Today, according to Launchmetrics, South Korean talent has become the most important voice for driving media exposure during fashion week, with social media posts generating up to 41% of celebrity and influencer buzz for Milan’s Fall-Winter 2021 womenswear season. According to fashion agency Karla Otto and marketing consultancy Lefty, that share could have risen to as much as 50% at the recent Milan Men’s Fashion Week.
Korean celebrities’ online influence can rival that of the most well-known Western celebrities: a collaboration between Kim Kardashian and Dolce & Gabbana, in which the reality TV star and mega-influencer helped “curate” and style the brand’s September 2022 show, generated $4.6 million in headlines and online visibility. Jisoo of Blackpink generated $7 million in buzz for Dior’s show in Paris the same season, primarily by simply showing up. In addition, South Koreans are now the world’s biggest spenders on luxury goods per capita, and “for a number of leading brands, such as Prada, Moncler, Bottega Veneta, or Burberry, Korean nationals now account for around 10% or more of their total retail sales,” according to experts.
However, the increased pace of partnerships with Korean talent isn’t solely due to the increased importance of the star’s home market. KPop groups are monastically trained and closely monitored by a strict studio system that crafts, controls, and fiercely protect their images. This means they pose a little reputational risk to the brands with which they collaborate. Furthermore, K-Pop stars are frequently expressive dressers, willing to experiment with fashion in order to differentiate themselves within their respective super groups. Deals with these stars, according to fashion executives are also seen as good investments due to the more “authentic” influence they have among their audience. Many Asian performers are less hesitant than Western performers to explicitly recommend brands or products to fans. As a result, their fans frequently purchase the products that celebrities endorse as a way of showing their appreciation.
Overall, Asian consumers and the celebrities most likely to reach them are likely to remain in the spotlight in 2023, as growth in the US and Europe, which have powered the luxury industry since the end of the pandemic, is expected to slow sharply.