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K-pop and couture: Why luxury fashion has been gearing East

Ally De Leon

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K-pop and couture: Why luxury fashion has been gearing East

IVE's Wonyoung, Pia Wurtzbach, and Tu Tontawan.

Wonyoung, Pia Wurtzbach, and Tu Tontawan's Instagram pages

It’s clear that the tides have shifted East for leading fashion forces hailing from the West. But why exactly?

Over the past few years, the world’s most coveted brands have rushed to appoint Asian celebrities such as K-pop idols and Thai actors as their ambassadors. Even the Philippines’ very own Heart Evangelista became an endorser for ION Orchard, one of Singapore’s famed luxury malls. Campaigns that have once been dominated by European celebrities and Hollywood stars are now shared with or being led by Asian public figures.

It’s clear that the tides have shifted East for leading fashion forces hailing from the West. But one may be asking, why exactly? Here are just some of the few reasons why Asian celebrities are luxury fashion houses’ new favorite darlings, as well as some key faces and figures that prove their point.

Fandom power

K-pop stars make up a large part of luxury brands’ roster of ambassadors and endorsers. Some acts, such as HYBE Labels’ ENHYPEN (Prada), LE SSERAFIM (Louis Vuitton), and TOMORROW X TOGETHER (Dior), are granted full-group ambassador status, wherein the entire group represents their respective brands. 

Meanwhile, other K-pop groups including BTS, BLACKPINK, NCT, and NewJeans have members taking on individual ambassadorships. Notable examples include BTS’s V’s partnership with Celine, BLACKPINK’s Jennie for Chanel, NCT’s Jaehyun for Prada, and NewJeans’ Hanni with Gucci.

The list of K-pop idols who serve as ambassadors for fashion houses is extensive, and it only grows longer as seasons come and go. This can be attributed to K-pop fandoms’ immense dedication to their chosen idol groups.

Fans of K-pop groups are known — both by fans and non-fans alike — for their consumer power. This can primarily be seen in their willingness to purchase luxury goods from brands endorsed by their favorite idols. Various fandoms document their purchases on social media, testifying to their idols’ effectiveness as endorsers.

Additionally, South Korea is home to the world’s biggest spenders on luxury goods, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley, which noted that the country’s spending grew 24% in 2022 to $16.8 billion.

Social media highs

However, because many K-pop fans are teenagers to young adolescents, one can’t expect everyone to buy expensive goods from these brands. Thus, their biggest contribution to the success of their favorite artists’ ambassadorships lies in their social media usage and massive online presence.

Due to K-pop fans’ active online engagement, K-pop stars regularly draw in millions of dollars in Media Impact Value (MIV). MIV is a statistic from data company Launchmetrics that measures the monetary worth of public posts, digital media, and interactions generated by celebrities and influencers during their involvement with their brands.

For example, during Prada’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection debut at Milan Fashion Week in September, K-pop group ENHYPEN generated $7 million in MIV for the Italian fashion house. BLACKPINK Jisoo’s individual appearance for Dior the same month yielded $6.5 million in the same measure. Fashion technology company Lyst deemed Miu Miu the hottest brand for 2023’s third quarter, and IVE’s Wonyoung, TWICE’s Momo, and Girls Generation’s Yoona brought in over $5 million dollars collectively for the brand’s media impact value.

K-pop idols are far from the only Asian stars that rack up high values through the power of social media. The years 2022 and 2023 have seen a rise in tapping Thai actors and actresses, which can be considered one of the aftermaths of fellow Thai star, BLACKPINK’s Lisa’s impact on the fashion and beauty industry. Notably, actor and Prada ambassador Win Metawin of 2gether: The Series and F4 Thailand fame, brought in $4.7 million in Media Impact Value during his Milan Fashion Week attendance for Prada last September. 

Other Thai stars, such as Davika Hoorne, Tu Tontawan, Bright Vachiwarit, and PP Krit have all been appointed as brand ambassadors for Gucci, Dior, Burberry, and Balenciaga this year — showing the efforts of luxury brands to better target their Southeast Asian audience.

It is interesting to note that actors Bright, PP, and Win rose to stardom through their roles in Thai BL or boys’ love dramas. The genre is said to be Thailand’s answer to soft power, potentially competing with TV series on an international scale in Asia, including South Korea’s famed K-dramas. The vast popularity of BL dramas in Thailand and around the world is seen to contribute to the fandoms and social media presences built by these actors, further cementing their status as influential endorsers in the fashion industry.

At large, social media is dominated by multiple regions in Asia. The Philippines often finds itself at the top of country rankings by social media usage. Furthermore, the aforementioned super-fandoms for K-pop and Thai television series maintain strong domestic presences, increasing online talkability in South Korea and Thailand.

The perfect fit

Appointing ambassadors to represent esteemed luxury brands is a decision that goes beyond numbers and metrics. Hear it from the houses themselves: eccentric Spanish fashion brand Loewe cited “unique personal style and love of fashion” in appointing NCT’s leader and center Taeyong as their global brand ambassador. Similarly, Swiss fashion house Bally chose SEVENTEEN’s vocalist DK as their global ambassador due to his “casual elegance and global charm.”

Brand ambassadors get access to many perks, which include but are not limited to front-row seats at fashion shows, global campaigns, access to archival and fresh-off-the-runway pieces from their brands’ collection, and a regular stream of gifts from their represented brand. Due to this, luxury fashion houses ensure that their chosen ambassadors fit their overall brand personality. This allows them to best tailor their offerings, creating meaningful collaborations with lasting impact that transcends the aforementioned numerical feats.

A good example can be seen in BLACKPINK’s Jisoo’s global brand ambassadorship with Dior. Since the start of her ambassadorship in 2021, Dior has treated Jisoo as their muse, spawning the creation of a new Dior Lip Addict shade inspired by the star herself. For the BLACKPINK member’s Born Pink tour, Dior designed a customized stage outfit for her — a sparkling black tulle-based ensemble embroidered with flowers.

Gucci’s partnership with EXO’s Kai also shows the benefits of well-chosen ambassadors through the Gucci X KAI capsule, a collection of ready-to-wear apparel and accessories the K-pop star himself had a say in. The Italian house’s former creative director Alessandro Michele headed the design process, making Kai’s distinctive bear motif the collection’s centerpiece, immediately reminding fans and consumers of the accomplished idol dancer and ambassador. The collaboration was widely well-received, selling out almost immediately after its drop and increased the brand’s appearance in search queries by over 200%.

It’s worth noting that while ambassadorships are at the helm of luxury fashion involvement, brands also have other means of being well-acquainted with Asian celebrities and influencers prior to endorser appointments. During the Spring/Summer 2024 presentations in September, luxury houses with shows at Milan Fashion Week were graced by a remarkable number of local celebrities. Actresses Liza Soberano and Andrea Brillantes made their fashion week debuts as guests of the likes of Gucci, Prada, and Versace. Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach’s appearances for Gucci, Bally, and Moschino landed her the second overall spot in MIV rankings, generating $3.4 million (approximately P192 million) in value.

Style maven Heart Evangelista was also spotted at numerous front rows for fashion weeks in Milan and Paris, with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Versace, and Moschino as some of the many brands in her itinerary. Even beyond Fashion Week season, the artist remains highly involved in the luxury scene. Most recently, the fashionista visited the opening of a Victoria’s Secret branch at ION Orchard as part of her endorsement of the luxury mall.

The rise of Filipino celebrities’ presence in luxury fashion is a testament to the industry’s hopes of better connecting with their Asian audience. Furthermore, it may be seen as a recurring trend that allows fashion houses to consider more Filipino and Asian stars for ambassadorships due to the aspirational lifestyles they lead and quantifiable impact they promise. 

Asian audiences continue to express interest in consuming from and patronizing luxury brands, it can be expected of the industry to have a growing list of reasons to put Asian stars at the forefront of their brands. Through immense fandom and follower power, social media impact translating to valuable metrics, and overall brand or lifestyle fit, these brands can best maximize their reach and customer relationships with the help of Asian celebrities across all regions. –

Ally de Leon is a Rappler intern.

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