K-pop star Doyoung joined Dolce & Gabbana as the luxury label's global ambassador this week. A member of the 10-strong boy band NCT 127, which is itself an offshoot of NCT, the singer, 27, has been hand-picked to represent the Italian brand around the world, for what the company describes as his “distinct style” and “undeniable charisma”.
Dolce & Gabbana is far from alone in looking to the superstars of K-pop to front advertising campaigns and make high-profile appearances at fashion shows, often sitting front row.
In signing Doyoung, Dolce & Gabbana hopes to build a connection to the “passionate fan base” of K-pop, as well as the “fashion enthusiast worldwide”.
It is easy to see why brands from the West are keen to tap into the phenomenon of K-pop. The genre boasts millions of fans around the world, with Spotify reporting almost 8 billion K-pop streams a month last year. It has also driven a spike in Korean language classes.
A wave that started with Psy's 2012 hit Gangnam Style (the first video to hit one billion views on YouTube), its popularity has been bolstered by the screen success of the film Parasite – that won Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards – and the series Squid Game. Interest in Korean culture is skyrocketing worldwide, including in the UAE.
With big brands eager to tap into this interest, both to be part of the zeitgeist and to connect with the next generation of consumers, they are falling over themselves to sign up K-pop stars.
Doyoung’s NCT 127 band mate Jungwoo was named the first male brand ambassador in South Korea for Italian brand Tod’s in September, while Taeyong, who is also part of the band, was appointed global brand ambassador for Spanish fashion house Loewe in June.
In May, Jeno Lee, from another NCT spin-off, NCT Dreams, joined Ferragamo as its first global male house ambassador. Something of a fashion veteran already, Lee walked in the Peter Do spring/summer show last September in New York.
As the world's biggest boy band, BTS unsurprisingly has several of its members aligned with big-name brands. Kim Namjoon, popularly known as RM, joined Italian house Bottega Veneta as its ambassador in March, while V (real name Kim Tae-hyung) became brand ambassador for Hedi Slimane's Celine in March.
In January, Valentino snapped up BTS rapper Suga, who now joins Naomi Campbell, Lewis Hamilton and Zendaya as a Di.Va ambassador. Jimin, also from BTS, meanwhile, joined not one but two brands: Dior Men in January and Tiffany & Co in March.
When J-Hope joined Louis Vuitton in February as global ambassador, the house explained the thinking behind the move: “He is beloved by fans across the world for his upbeat energy, precise choreography and creative musical direction.”
Also linked to Louis Vuitton is Jackson Wang. The Hong Kong-born GOT7 member joined the French house at the beginning of the year.
Merely days after their debut at the Lollapalooza festival in August, the band Tomorrow x Together, also known as TXT, joined Dior Men as ambassadors. Kim Jones, the artistic director of Dior Men, explained that the South Korean singers “embody the spirit and singularity of Dior style, a modernity with a timeless signature”.
Meanwhile, the seven-strong band Enhypen signed to Prada in June as global ambassadors. Having already been wearing the Italian brand for a while, their appearance at the autumn/winter 2023 and spring/summer 2024 shows in Milan this year saw hundreds of screaming fans turn out in welcome.
In February, Taeyang from BigBang joined Givenchy as global ambassador, while Versace tapped Hyunjin from Stray Kids in July. Speaking of the latter's appointment, Donatella Versace said: “Hyunjin has great new energy and creativity. I love his confidence and freedom of expression. He is a true Versace man.”
And it is not only the boys who are being snapped up. In October, girl group Le Sserafim joined Louis Vuitton as the faces of a capsule collection launched specifically in South Korea, while Hyein from NewJeans became part of Louis Vuitton in December, despite being just 14 years old.
Her band mate, Danielle, meanwhile, became the global face of Burberry in January. Also from NewJeans, Haerin became the latest to sign up with Dior in April, joining Blackpink's Jisoo who has been with Dior since last February.
In January, Fendi welcomed Yujin from IVE as Korean ambassador, while Mi-Yeon, the singer from (G)I-dle, was named ambassador for Jimmy Choo in August.
No doubt this list will continue to grow as brands double down on the all-important South Asia market. According to DataSpring, South Korea has the highest per capita spending in the world for luxury goods – an average of $325, compared to $280 in the US and just $55 in China.
With the American post-pandemic shopping boom now thought to be slowing, and China's pre-pandemic obsession with luxury goods curtailed by financial uncertainty, South Korea is where all eyes have been fixed this year, a trend that we predict will continue well into the new year.