There is no world like the world of K-Pop.
His booming songs and successful choreography are a makeup of his different genres and global success. But despite the eye-catching auditory and visual pleasantries, it holds a superficial component in which lies the perfect style. Get in, fashion.
Over the decades and across all genres, fashion has played a large role in conveying the aesthetic of music from shows to music videos to album covers. But K-Pop’s massive reliance on conceptual styles and unique approaches to clothing, alongside its global presence, has created a luxury fashion movement that has everyone, from designers to fans, taking notice.
Originating in early 1990s South Korea, K-Pop (abbreviated as “Korean Pop”) is a product of exemption from a period of limited censorship. The debut of Seo Taiji and Boys pioneered modern K-Pop, blending South Korean culture with Western instrumentals and simple choreography. Dressally, however, they just echoed everyday 90s wear, often wearing bucket hats, overalls, flannels, and sports memorabilia. Resembling the hip-hop culture of old in the US, it may also reflect a strong global influence.
However, fashion did not undergo revolutionary changes until the end of the decade as a result of the new term “idol” (which is still in use today). Entertainment agencies are following the sonic momentum of K-Pop but turning their artists into celebrities or idols who not only convey the music but also visually narrate the new sound. If fashion didn’t take up a large part of K-Pop’s DNA, it must be now.
Clothing is powerful, using the ability to differentiate idols from their competitors, especially in terms of aesthetic precision, and allowing them to constantly put on new looks and undergo rediscovery. (This genre is not prone to monotonous boredom.) Despite the commercialization of K-Pop, fashion is now an instrument of expression, a tool if you will, that encapsulates music perfectly.
The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw a large number of performances representing an era of experimentation and escape. Some try on sportswear and streetwear, pairing puffer vests, anoraxes, and even glasses with primary color blocking and loose silhouettes. The abundant looks of leather, the full-length high-collared coat, and the narrow cyborg-transformed lens fills the matrix and gothic concept while futuristic vision is brought to life with metallic and galactic engineering.
Famous Y2K articles like gum-cut graphic T-shirts, cargo, and jewelry hair ties followed the trends of the era or blended into funky ensembles. The academic concept is institutionalized with the school uniform and on the shoulders of JanSports styled for fashion, not value. Surprisingly, some played in costumes like HOT which Mario Bros paired with the circus for their music video “Candy”. Joining them, groups like Shinhwa and Baby Vox adapted fragments of each concept, reimagining their fashion bones, while others such as Fin.KL maintained their signature style.
In the late 2000s and 2010s, K-Pop overshadowed a fast growing industry. Reaping mainstream popularity in the East, he has also ridden the Hallyu Wave – South Korea’s cultural diaspora across borders that began in the 1980s – in the West. The advent of digital sharing is fast becoming the root of K-Pop’s burgeoning success overseas.
The same ability to concoct a vibrant and full of life – or in this case musical resonance – clothing flows to a second generation of artists. But it’s now featured on a broader scale, reaching out to international mansions and underground brands eager to graze this previously uncharted territory of fashion.
2NE1’s fiery and rebellious concept, capturing the essence of independence and rebellion, caught the attention of Balmain, Givenchy, and Moschino. In 2011, through his work with Adidas, Jeremy Scott transformed a pair of shoes into the 2NE1 motif – wild, electric colors wrapped in gold wings (literally) woven into a tie – for a group appearance. Scott’s colorful designs were also loved by Girls Generation which featured the Adidas collection in them “I have a son” music videos. Meanwhile, Super Junior, the group that has maintained its popularity to this day, wore Stella McCartney’s Beatle-inspired “All Together Now” collection in their 2019 music video. “SUPER Clap”.
Fast forward to today and K-Pop is cemented in pop culture more than ever. Third generation artists, and even their juniors, shine in the fashion spotlight. First, they have ushered in new trends, such as modernized Hanbok, bridles and cut cardigans in men’s wear. But in the luxury fashion book, they have started a new chapter.
BTS’s success in the music scene coincides with their portfolio of styles. The look for their single “Mic Drop” itself was dressed in a multitude of designer wardrobes, from the military-esque outfit Kim Jones set for their 2019 world tour to the heavy color and graphic displays designed by Virgil Abloh worn during their time Saturday Night Live performance.
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Idols are also no stranger to fashion campaigns. Blackpink member, has been named as “biggest pop band in the world”, has worked individually with Celine, Saint Laurent, Dior, and Chanel. Under SM Entertainment, members of Red Velvet, Exo, and SuperM have worked with Prada, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Michael Kors, Burberry, among others, through campaigns, ambassador work, and social sharing. The list goes on.
Being on stage in the best outfits has also turned some idols into high-end creative directors. Got7 Jackson Wang launched its own streetwear brand, Team Wang Design last year. Since his debut, he’s produced two collections that specialize in the industry, minimalist construction and hardware (although his latest focus is on velvet) and a capsule collection that mixes Monet’s work with clothing. Blackpink’s Jennie took over glasses in 2020 when she collaborated with the South Korean sunglasses label Gentle Monster in a repertoire of neat but nostalgic works.
Many of these have not only affirmed K-Pop as a fashion powerhouse, but have introduced luxury brands to an entirely new market: K-Pop fans. Any designer has an appeal, but when worn by a sought-after idol who seems to easily pull it off, it suddenly becomes a commodity of connection. On social media, Pinterest-style images embed the exact items that idols wear, be it on stage or at airports, creating channels for fans to track and purchase those items.
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This is the case for BTS, when it comes to looking for a certain Virgil t-shirt and pink shirt jumped after members Suga and RM were seen wearing their own, according to Lyst. The same is true of Fear of God, a label no stranger to the group; just by wearing it, not promoting it on purpose, FG’s signature logo has become the ligament of the group’s fashion identity.
So, next time K-Pop’s stunning looks make you surprise think about the fashion journey it has been on. Maybe you also surf the web for luxury.