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Luxury megabrands recruit K-pop icons

Brands bet on stars' social media reach and engagement figures

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Feb. 28, 2023 - 17:59

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Jisoo of Blackpink on the cover of Vogue France's March 2023 issue (Vogue France) Jisoo of Blackpink on the cover of Vogue France's March 2023 issue (Vogue France)

Blackpink member Jisoo graces the cover of Vogue France’s March issue, the first K-pop musician to do so.

"Jisoo is a new generation pop culture icon,” the French magazine proclaimed. The 28-year-old girl group member is shown wearing a black ribbed linen dress with a floral motif from Dior. She has been Dior’s global ambassador since March 2021.

On Monday, Vogue France Editor-in-Chief Eugenie Trochu shared a screenshot of the magazine’s crashed website in an Instagram post, saying that the site went down because Jisoo fans flocked to the site trying to buy copies of the March issue.

K-pop is now more than music, and top K-pop stars taking over major fashion weeks has become nothing new.

According to the France-based influencer marketing platform Lefty, Jisoo helped Dior bring in a total of $45.5 million in earned media value, or EMV, boosting the house to become the top brand during the Paris Fashion Week. Dior was followed by Saint Laurent, where her bandmate Rose is an ambassador. The other two Blackpink members are also currently partnering with leading luxury brands – Jennie with Chanel and Lisa with Celine and Bulgari.

Jisoo was the top influencer during last month's Paris Fashion Week, outpacing Kylie Jenner who generated $22 million in EMV by appearing in shows for Acne Studios, Loewe and Balenciaga.

“Fashion brand ambassadors are not appointed just to sell more products by promoting the brands, but to keep the brand’s identity, history and legacy up to date, a veteran industry insider told The Korea Herald on condition of anonymity. They can do this by wearing the brand’s fashion items for official events in front of cameras, or by simply uploading a photo of themselves casually carrying the brand’s handbag, the insider added.

RM of BTS is seen carrying Bottega Veneta’s iconic large-sized brown leather Andiamo handbag. (Bottega Veneta) RM of BTS is seen carrying Bottega Veneta’s iconic large-sized brown leather Andiamo handbag. (Bottega Veneta)

RM of K-pop sensation BTS on Sunday attended Italian fashion brand Bottega Veneta’s fall/winter 2023 show as part of Milan Fashion Week.

A scene just like the one that unfolded at Incheon Airport as he departed for Milan was repeated outside the fashion show venue, packed with a swarm of screaming fans holding up their phones and cameras to snap pictures of the superstar dressed in Bottega Venetta from head to toe. He was carrying the Italian brand’s iconic large-sized brown leather Andiamo handbag when he departed.

BTS bandmate Suga has been appointed Valentino’s global ambassador, while J-Hope is working with Louis Vuitton.

On Friday, K-pop rookie girl band NewJeans member Hanni made her fashion week debut as Italian fashion powerhouse Gucci's global ambassador at the Gucci fall/winter 2023 fashion show in Milan, where she was seen talking with Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri.

All NewJeans members have been appointed global luxury brands' ambassadors – Haerin with Dior, Hanni with Gucci and Armani, Minji with Chanel, Danielle with Burberry and Hyein with Louis Vuitton.

What do these musicians get in return? They are given the latest season’s bags and clothing – often limited edition items that are personalized in some way -- to advertise on their social media feeds for free, according to the industry insiders.

Cashing in on global K-pop fandom

Global fashion brands are partnering with K-pop stars who are at the epicenter of the current zeitgeist, industry observers suggest.

Starting in 2016, the influence of K-pop has sprawled from Asia to around the world. This was when the number of Army – the name of BTS’ fandom -- skyrocketed overseas as well. This was also when global music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify created separate K-pop charts. These developments led to more global interest in K-pop artists and their fans’ obsession with what the artists wear, write, eat and where they go as shared on social media platforms like Instagram.

“What fashion brands paid attention to was not the number of Instagram followers that BTS or Blackpink members had, but the figures on social media engagement and the social media reach of their accounts," said an industry insider from a local entertainment agency.

As soon as jewelry brand Tiffany & Co. appointed Blackpink’s Rose as a global ambassador in 2021, the number of mentions of “Tiffany” on Twitter jumped by 500 percent to 60,000 over a single day.

When Louis Vuitton uploaded a video of its fall/winter 2021 show invitation being sent to BTS members, it went viral and the number of subscribers to the brand’s YouTube channel grew by 200,000 in a day.

According to big data firm Launchmetrics, such videos by Louis Vuitton featuring BTS were worth $430,000 in media influence value, or MIV, while an Instagram post of Blackpink’s Jisoo by Dior was valued at $610,000.

Other experts also highlighted the increased spending power of millennial and Generation Z consumers.

In recent years, the number of consumers for luxury brands in their 20s and 30s have dramatically increased compared to the traditional group of those in their 30s and 40s. With the continued economic downturn, young consumers are inclined to spend more on what interests them instead of saving up.

Data shows that in 2018, the under-35 group already accounted for 55 percent of Gucci’s total sales.

“You can easily see bags or shoes that K-pop stars wore for events in front of cameras get sold out in a matter of days, not just in Korea but all over the world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that genuine cultural cachet and virality on the internet can’t happen without engaging with Gen Z,” said a PR manager responsible for Asia-Pacific at a French luxury brand.

Others pointed to the natural charms of K-pop stars who appeal to a global audience.

“They evoke a yearning among young people who want to become fashionable like K-pop stars and who are literally idols for many, with their slim bodies, small faces and good proportions which make them photogenic," said Han Young-ah, CEO at French luxury lifestyle publisher Assouline’s Korean branch.

Jennie of Blackpink (Chanel) Jennie of Blackpink (Chanel)
J-Hope of BTS (Louis Vuitton) J-Hope of BTS (Louis Vuitton)