How BTS, Wanna One, Big Bang and Other K-Pop Bands Are Igniting Fashion

Since Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video went viral in 2012, Korean pop music has been on a slow rise — until now. It’s quickly turning into a global phenomenon. From food to beauty to fashion, the K-Wave continues to build — with its music stars amassing dedicated fans and millions of followers on social media.

Many brands — from athletic names like Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok to luxury labels such as Gucci and Fendi — are taking notice of K-Pop’s widespread influence.

“Younger consumers are exposed to a greater variety of celebrities and entertainment than in the past, and K-Pop has resonated,” said Beth Goldstein, fashion footwear and accessories analyst at The NPD Group Inc. “It’s different but relatable. For a fashion brand, partnering with K-Pop artists is a unique way to get in front of a desired demographic on a more global scale.”

“It’s part of the zeitgeist. Their videos are artwork,” said Marc Beckman, CEO of advertising agency DMA United. “The music is high-end, and that extends to merchandise. K-Pop is an expression of youth culture, and it will continue to grow beyond music.”

Here is a look at five groups that have everyone talking.

BTS

Korean boy band BTS is one of the hottest acts in music right now, and despite releasing a non-English-language album this year, the group is seeing much success in the United States.

BTS, comprising V, Suga, JungKook, RM, Jin, J-Hope and Jimin, has been breaking through cultural boundaries since forming in 2013.

Its album “Tear,” for example, is the first-ever release by a Korean act to top the Billboard 200 chart upon its debut in May. A single off the album, “Fake Love,” is the first song by a K-Pop group to break into the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10.

With nearly 12 million followers on Instagram, BTS has a loyal fan base, which is dubbed the BTS Army — and some insiders compare the craze to Beatlemania.

In 2017, the band was the most-tweeted-about among celebrity accounts, and it also took home the Top Social Artist award at the Billboard Music Awards that year. It won that honor at this year’s awards. Puma teamed up with BTS in South Korea in 2015. Now the athletic label is taking its partnership to the next level with product collaborations, which include the Puma Turin as well as sportswear.

Puma BTS
Puma x BTS

“We’ve observed that many of our female customers connect with BTS, and we’re pleased with the way they have responded to the products and marketing that have come out of the partnership,” said Adam Petrick, global director of brand and marketing.

The Puma x BTS collection will be available globally this month. The band can also be seen in the company’s campaigns this year for the Puma Suede and T-7 tracksuits.

“Right now, they have the strongest presence in the Korean market and are great local ambassadors for us there, but we do plan to partner with them [more significantly],” Petrick said. “Their popularity on- and offstage is growing worldwide, and it is exciting to be along for the ride.”

CL

Rapper CL has been climbing the ranks in Korean entertainment since she was a part of girl group 2NE1 in 2009. Now she has her eyes set on the States.

After releasing “Lifted,” her first U.S. single, in 2016 and performing at this year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics closing ceremony, CL has gained global attention outside of her home market. “She has a huge digital following and has a Western crossover,” said Beckman. “She’s going to be appealing for companies looking to tap into that.”

Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, for example, has been a continued supporter and friend. He helped design costumes for 2NE1’s tour in 2012 and has called CL his muse.

The pop star has also become a front-row fixture in recent years. She has been seen backstage at Calvin Klein posing for photos with Marc Jacobs and performing at Alexander Wang’s spring ’17 show.

CL Alexander wang
CL at the spring ’17 Alexander Wang show.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

Most recently, CL starred in one of Louis Vuitton’s “Twist” campaign videos.

Her footwear style is eclectic — and she’s worn everything from Giuseppe Zanotti fluorescent sandals to Yeezy and Vans sneakers.

Wanna One

Wanna One is an 11- member K-Pop boy band born out of a Korean reality show.

Having debuted just last year, Wanna One has already become a force to be reckoned with after being listed No. 2 on Forbes’ Top 40 Korea Power Celebrity list, trailing BTS, which received the top spot.

Reebok is one brand that has taken notice of the band’s growing influence. “[Their reality show roots] have a huge impact on consumers in Korea, who carefully monitor the activities of their chosen idols,” said Sean Park, Reebok’s brand director in Korea.

Wanna One’s partnership with the label kicked off last month, and the group will be active in campaigns under the theme “Wanna One’s Pick.”

“[They] are helping boost our image and reach in Asian countries,” added Park. “We will consider a variety of ways to work with them on a more global scale.”

Exo

Members of this wildly popular group are busy fronting Fashion Weeks. Most recently, Kai, one of the nine boys, made his first major offstage appearance at Gucci’s
resort ’19 show. Wearing the brand head-to-toe, Kai opted for a plaid suit and leather loafers with an embellished headpiece.

Fellow member Sehun also made a statement during resort season this spring sitting front-row at the Louis Vuitton Cruise presentation next to Emma Stone.

But high-fashion brands aren’t the only ones paying attention. For instance, in 2016, EXO was tapped to star in a Skechers campaign for the D’Lites 2 sneaker.

Next up, the boy band will make global history, as its faces are set to be displayed this month in a LED light show on the world’s tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

And in August, members Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin will unveil a collab with Singapore brand Ysneakers to launch a limited-edition capsule collection of luxury kicks.

Big Bang

While Big Bang is on hiatus, as some of its members serve in the military, one has become a social media sensation.

G-Dragon, who has 16 million Instagram followers, is a fan favorite and growing fashion influencer. He’s been spotted in countless Chanel ensembles but isn’t afraid to wear its womenswear.

G-Dragon Big Bang
G-Dragon at the spring ’18 Chanel show.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

Fellow member Taeyang has also made his mark in fashion. Last year, he joined forces with Fendi to launch a capsule collection, “Fendi for TaeYang,” filled with jackets, hoodies, T-shirts and accessories such as sneakers and backpacks.

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