Fashion and the Allure of the K-Pop Star

Bigbang, the Korean boy band and its two most popular members, G-Dragon and Taeyang, have proven an interesting topic of discussion of late, as their visibility has notably expanded beyond the borders of Korea. The band’s two most fashion-minded members, along with a number of other Korean superstar artists, including boy bands BTS and EXO, and CL and Dara of 2NE1, are penetrating the fashion industry and its probably only upwards from here.

It makes sense for a number of reasons. Consider the fact that fashion – in its current form – is largely driven by social media. Most fashion brands are firmly plugged into nearly every social media platform, including Weibo, a Twitter x Facebook hybrid, which is one of the most popular sites in China. Marketing of the social media kind has experienced growth that is nearly exponential over the past decade, in particular.

For fashion brands, this includes straightforward advertising (think: “Sponsored” posts on Instagram) but maybe more importantly, it includes the creation and maintenance of brand recognition. This often comes in the form of influencer marketing (the marketing products and services to those and by those who have a sway over the things other people buy).

Enter: the aforementioned K-Pop stars, who are larger than life in Asia and online. Consider CL, or “The Baddest Female” as fans have dubbed her on the heels of her 2013 number one hit. The rapper, singer, songwriter, and bona fide style icon, can be spotted sitting front row at shows like Chanel and Moschino and stepping out in designs from cutting-edge labels like Vetements and Hood By Air. She can also be seen in regional Maybelline ads or with girl group, 2NE1, which has been touring the world. 

BTS has spurred a huge slew of fashion-specific social media accounts dedicated to documenting the wardrobe choices of the group's 7 members, who have stepped out in everything from Gucci and Saint Laurent to Wooyoungmi and Juun. J. Their penchant for fashion has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry, as it has landed them Nylon and W magazine covers, and features on Dazed and a number of other industry sites.

EXO - the South Korean-Chinese boy band, formed by S.M. Entertainment in April 2012 and broken into two subgroups, EXO-K and EXO-M, promoting in South Korea and China separately - has also garnered traction amongst the fashion industry both online and on the runway. Former EXO band member Kris Wu, for instance, has walked for Burberry, while gracing magazines covers for Vogue Me, Vogue China, Cosmo, and L'Officiel, among others.  

Moreover, the market is asking for increased diversity in the fashion industry because the pool of consumers that is buying luxury fashion is becoming increasingly diverse. According to a 2014 report by global management consulting firm Bain & Company, Asia-Pacific’s share of the global luxury goods market has grown by ten percent over the past ten years, and today, the fastest growing luxury markets in the world are the Middle East and Africa. Couple with this the fact that sales in Asian markets, while currently down in China and Hong Kong in particular, serve as important sources of growth for luxury brands.

With the help of their management company, YG entertainment, Bigbang’s two stars and CL are set to become even more ubiquitous, or at least, that’s the goal. Inhae Yeo, head of fashion consulting firm, Oikonomos, noted recently: “YG Entertainment wants to make stylish solo artists out of musicians like Taeyang, CL and Sandara, too. They’re taking a 360 degree approach to build them into brands in their own right.”

And YG has the resources to do so; you may recall that L Capital Asia (LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton private equity firm) invested $80 million in YG Entertainment. And don’t forget CL. With "Hello Bitches," the first single from her solo album have been just released and the fashion world increasingly taking notice of her (think: both Karl Lagerfeld and Jeremy Scott are fans), she is on her way to conquering the world, since she already has Asia firmly on her side.

If Western brands (like Guiseppe Zanotti, Chrome Hearts, and the others that have partnered with G-Dragon, for instance, and Maybelline and DKNY have enlisted the help of CL) are smart, they will continue to court these individuals as they become internationally-renowned stars – because it is only a matter of time.