K-pop's love affair with luxury fashion is wonderful, but bittersweet

I have a terrible relationship with fashion. My mother, a particularly artistic soul, has always been eager, overzealous even, to ensure that I always look well-dressed by her definitions ever since my childhood. In adulthood, this has obviously led to some clashes because as much as I love her she and I have very different taste. To this day, my mother, bless her soul, regularly sends me links to clothing items she thinks I should invest in, and when I don’t she’ll often find an excuse to buy them for me, even if I wasn’t buying them because they’re not something I remotely like. As a teenager I used to go along with her ideas, and I ended up with a closet full of items I didn’t feel great wearing. While this love-oriented pressuring doesn’t bother me that much nowadays, when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I’d often over-internalize her lovingly suggested advice and end up in depressive states about what to wear, either crying or not leaving my house for days, because I didn’t feel up to Fashion.

Why am I talking about my truly terrible relationship with fashion in a K-pop newsletter instead of to my therapist, you might be wondering? It’s because K-pop is now one of the biggest buzzwords in luxury fashion, with South Korean singers and actors some of the most in-demand brand ambassadors in the world. Just look at Paris Fashion Week, where it’s almost impossible not to find a K-pop star or three sitting front row at the most elite shows.

Search results for "kpop fashion week"

In recent weeks, I feel like despite fashion not being something I particularly lean towards coverage-wise (I’ve covered NYFW minimally), it keeps coming up. I recently spoke to French newspaper Le Monde in relation to Blackpink representing some of Paris’s most iconic fashion houses, and there’s an upcoming podcast episode I just spoke with where the interviewer was surprised to hear just how impactful K-pop stars are nowadays as fashion influencers. Uh so… I was literally writing this graf when a friend texted me that the episode dropped. I haven’t listened yet so don’t know if the fashion bit was kept in, but yea, check me out on the New York Times’ Popcast discussing K-pop girl groups.

screenshot of text conversation: Friend:  	Omg the surprise to see you on one of my fave podcast lol  Tamar Herman:  	IT CAME OUT???  	that was so fast they didn’t tell me???  Friend:  	YES lol  Tamar Herman:  	but hi 😃

This month, there’s been around half a dozen K-pop stars announced as different luxury brand ambassadors. Almost every day, I’ve received at least handful of press releases about K-pop’s love affair with luxury fashion houses, including: “JACKSON WANG NAMED LOUIS VUITTON NEW HOUSE AMBASSADOR; MAGIC MAN WORLD TOUR SOLD OUT.” “Press Release: GIVENCHY Announces Artist TAEYANG As Its First Male Ambassador From South Korea.” “ENHYPEN GRACE PRADA FW 2023 MENSWEAR COLLECTION AT MILAN FASHION WEEK.”

Enhypen at Prada FW 2023 menswear show Milan Fashion Week

So what’s my point here, aside from oversharing and writing about K-pop stars getting recognition as fashion trendsetters?

The thing is, I do feel like K-pop has stepped a tiny bit away from its avante-garde nature because of all these high-profile branding tie-ins. While there is still definitely a theatrical, costume-y aspect when stars get on stage, stage costumes are increasingly built around fashion items, with written names especially highlighted. Brand ambassadors especially get to do this, such as with Blackpink and BTS getting exclusive stage outfits created by the likes of Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton.

K-pop has always impacted fashion as long as it’s had fans, and there’s always been an element of brand ambassadorship or collaborations. K-pop is really good at making people buy things. (Heaven only knows that I had to have a pair of green skinny jeans from Gap and another blue one from Uniqlo thanks to Girls’ Generation and SHINee’s influence on teenager Tamar.) Off-stage, airport fashion photos launched hundreds of trends.

But nowadays the enmeshed state of K-pop and fashion is so all-encompassing, that it feels sometimes like we’ll never get back to the eccentric, over-the-top costuming and individualism that we used to see. I have to admit, this is definitely sounding like a “I am old and miss the K-pop of my youth” newsletter, but it’s also a bit more than that.

For a long time, and still to some degree, fans developed their own fashion sense and style inspired by K-pop’s alternative approach to trends. That aspect of K-pop fandom definitely feels different nowadays; rather than being an alternative scene, it’s part of The Scene.

As someone whose relationship with fashion is not a comfortable one, seeing K-pop become firmly enmeshed in the global fashion zeitgeist rather than constantly pushing its limits, I’m just a tiny bit nostalgic for the times when it felt like no fashion rules needed to be followed, they could just be made. I’m not sure if other people feel this way, but during Paris Fashion Week’s K-pop moments, it’s something I am definitely thinking about.

What I’ve been up to:

This is a big week for me!

As I said above, I was featured on the NYT’s Popcast, hosted by pop critic Jon Caramanica. I grew up reading Jon’s work so this was a bit of a personal win for me, so I hope everyone enjoys. Have any thoughts on what we’ve said? Disagree with our takes? Please comment (politely, please!) and let us know.  Just a heads up, that I misspoke and said Le Sserafim is under Pledis when it’s definitely under Source, so if you’re listening today or tomorrow it may say the former but there’s going to be an updated version up once that bit gets re-recorded.

I also am appearing in the TVING documentary series KPOP GENERATION, which is available in the US on Viki. This is a sizable documentary that spoke with both K-pop talent and industry insiders, and I’m excited to see what story it tells. The first episode dropped on Thursday, and a new one should be out every week for the foreseeable future.

Also, don’t forget to sign up for my K-pop book club. I’m going to send out an email within the next week to everyone who has signed up, so don’t miss your shot!