NewJeans may not have celebrated its first birthday yet, but the South Korean quintet behind popular songs “Attention” and “Hype Boy” has quickly become a fashion industry must-know.
Members of NewJeans Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein, who are all still in their teens, signed a global ambassadorship agreement with Levi’s in March alone. They also took part in a photo shoot for American Vogue and were chosen to represent Seoul Fashion Week. That only applies to the group. Individually, Minji is an ambassador for Chanel in three categories: fashion, beauty, watches, and jewelry. Hanni represents Gucci and Armani Beauty. Hyein works with Louis Vuitton. Danielle was chosen by Burberry and YSL Beauty.
These luxury firms are expecting big bucks from fans of Korean music, movies, and TV series. According to a survey by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs-affiliated Korea Foundation, the number of “hallyu” (or “Korean Wave”) fans surpassed 178 million last year, up from 156 million in 2021 and about 20 times the fan population 11 years ago.
K-pop singers consistently rank among the top drivers of engagement and, consequently, revenue for companies, according to data from social media analytics firm LaunchMetrics. For example, when Cartier named Jisoo from Blackpink their brand ambassador, the social media post created $3 million in media value for the company. Similarly, when BTS attended the 2022 Grammy Awards wearing Louis Vuitton, the label received $6.4 million in value from the performance.
Brands have numerous options: NewJeans is one of several K-pop acts that debuted last year, including Mimiirose, Fifty Fifty, and Le Sserafim. Many are attempting to fill the vacuum left by BTS, which has temporarily disbanded until roughly 2025 while its members serve in the military. Meanwhile, significant acts like Blackpink and Twice are embarking on global tours as the live events calendar reverts to pre-pandemic levels.
Yet, NewJeans has benefited from the fashion industry’s recent shift toward quiet luxury due to its softer, pared-back style. The name NewJeans was chosen because it refers to jeans as a timeless fashion mainstay while also being a double entendre meaning “new genes,” indicating their intention to usher in a new generation of K-pop. In short, NewJeans are the type of jeans that businesses can use to provide a novel option.
Why does luxury adore NewJeans?
Although their meteoric growth parallels that of Blackpink, and both bands are multi-member girl groups (NewJeans has five members to Blackpink’s four), the similarities end there. Since its debut last July, NewJeans has been carving its route in terms of aesthetic and musical appeal, with a girl-next-door image and pleasant pop tracks.
Instead of high-octane cosmetics and clothing, the girls are dressed more innocently and naturally. They wear schoolgirl uniforms in the music videos for “Ditto” and “Cookie,” while in “OMG,” they dance with bags shaped like cuddly animals.
The sets in their music videos are also relatively simple, such as a sports field or a studio with a bench as the only object. It stands in stark contrast to the swaggering dance steps and highly saturated, CGI-effects-laden music videos that have previously dominated among K-pop female groups.
This decision could be influenced by how young the members of the group are. Minji, the oldest, is only 18 years old, and Hyein is only 14 years old. The adorable aesthetic extends to their dedicated fan app “Phoning” and YouTube account, where they post stuff fit for a children’s TV show. They play shop, hold a pajama party, and visit a farm, among other things, in various 30-minute pieces.
Who are their supporters?
Companies and events have been lining up to capitalize on their expanding fanbase, known as Bunnies or “tokki” – a reference to a cartoon rabbit mascot on the NewJeans’ album cover.
Seoul Fashion Week named the group’s 2023 ambassadors, succeeding actor Lee Jung Jae of “Squid Game” fame. The organizers cited “their daily fashion and stage clothes (which) convey their naturalness and bouncing charm in a colorful and welcoming style,” and worked with the group to promote local designers Ulkin, Ajobyajo, and Blr Bluer at the festival.
Nevertheless, as important as their native market is (South Korea has a high ratio of luxury sales to population), it’s the girls’ international appeal that stands out. Musinsa, a renowned e-commerce portal that focuses on selling South Korean fashion internationally, appointed the group as ambassadors in October.
The firm, which sells 300 brands on its worldwide website, said in the announcement that it expected the group to “launch a new wave of K-fashion” and that they will “be suitable as a K-icon for promoting Korean fashion brands to the world.”
Musinsa intends to use the NewJeans campaigns to promote in Japan, Southeast Asia, the United States, and Australia, where two of the girls, Danielle and Hanni, grew up.
In mid-March, NewJeans signed on as Levi’s global ambassadors, in what looked like a foregone conclusion. The denim company described it as a “natural alliance” because of the “group’s ambition to be as timeless to culture as jeans are to fashion.”
The trio was featured in a photo shoot with the US edition of Vogue that same month, shot by photographer Cho Giseok.
Because Cho is also the founder of the LVMH Prize-nominated fashion label Kusikohc, his brand’s social media followers increased following the Vogue photo session.
According to Lawrence Von Mohl, worldwide brand manager for Kusikohc, Asian pop singers have considerably more intense fanbases in the West, and Asian fans are more eager to spend money, even if it is unreasonable, to support their heroes. (It has been reported that fans will buy dozens of copies of an album to ensure that their favorite musician breaks industry records.)
“The following is insane,” Von Mohl stated. “When you attend the huge (fashion) events, like Chanel or Dior, there are screams when the K-pop stars walk out, and you can barely hear your voice, and not when a Western celebrity runs down the carpet.”
For the time being, Blackpink remains a rarity in the realm of K-pop in terms of capturing mass Western mainstream exposure. The quartet is ready to bolster it even more when it headlines Coachella later this month. Back in 2019, Blackpink was the first K-pop group to perform there, which was heralded as a big accomplishment at the time. With fresh tour dates, most of the focus will return to the group, particularly band member Jisoo, whose two singles from her solo debut smashed Spotify’s steaming charts over the weekend.
There is also rivalry from newer acts. Another girl group, Fifty Fifty, became the fastest K-pop group to enter the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with its song “Cupid,” and IVE’s music label revealed that it is going to begin promoting the group in North America. Yujin, an IVE member, has recently been appointed as an ambassador for Fendi.
Nonetheless, NewJeans will be touring globally at a major US event during its first full summer season. In comparison to the three years it took Blackpink to be invited to perform at Coachella, the band is preparing to take the stage at Lollapalooza in Chicago, demonstrating that NewJeans is well-positioned to grab a rising stake in the lucrative fashion endorsements industry.