In the wee hours of Friday morning, a phenomenon will erupt on the internet. Blackpink, the world’s biggest girl group and most successful girl group in K-pop history, releases its first new single in almost two years.
“Pink Venom”, as the song is called, has already created a sensation before its release. The past week of teaser photos and videos released on social media has crossed millions of eyeballs and inspired a frenzy among their fans, a global audience that – judging by the group’s Instagram following alone – is larger than the population of a mid-sized European country. “Pink Venom” is part of the upcoming album, “Born Pink”, which is expected in mid-September and will be accompanied by a world tour.
What Blackpink has done better than any girl group before is to utilize fashion as a tool to position its members as larger than life idols – more stylish, composed and beautiful than mere humans. But in carefully edited videos and behind-the-scenes features released by the group’s label, the members exude a giddy kind of youth that still makes them approachable. It is this excitement that makes their fans, better known as “Blinks”, feel strongly connected to their cause.
And that loyalty results in big business for the brands that Blackpink members Jennie, Lisa, Rosé and Jisoo choose to wear or have ambassador contracts with.
Last year, Self-Portrait founder Han Chong told WWD that he sold through five production runs of a cardigan that Jennie wore in a Netflix documentary about the group.
Mimi Wade, a British designer who has repeatedly dressed Jennie and Rosé, said that “the reaction has been huge, I get a lot of messages, fan art, collages and reposting… They have a huge influence on fashion and people look at them a lot more inspiration.” She has also pushed through several production runs of designs worn by the girls.
In the six years since their debut, each Blackpink member has signed jewelry, beauty, and fashion contracts that are each estimated in the seven-figure range. Lisa, with the largest Instagram following at 81 million strong, has contracts with Celine and Bulgari; Jennie is signed to Chanel and promotes fashion, accessories and fine jewelry, as well as designing eyewear for Gentle Monster; Jisoo is an official ambassador for Dior’s fashion and beauty activities; and Rosé is signed with Yves Saint Laurent and Tiffany & Co.
Alexandre Arnault, executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Co., said of the group: “Blackpink has a huge global audience that is influenced by their style. We have seen the impressive success of K-pop and K-drama all over the world. Korean talent has been a permanent part of our culture and continues to be the epicenter of influencing global trends.”
Tiffany has gone to great lengths to leverage its partnership with Rosé. It recently featured her in an ad for new editions of its Hardwear collection, flew her to London for a retrospective event and hung an eight-storey billboard of her face above its flagship scaffolding as it undergoes renovations.
Arnault feels this has given Tiffany a huge boost. “Over the past two years, Rosé has introduced Tiffany and our collections to her loyal and dedicated fan base. She has the ability to engage audiences in an authentic and personal way, which has been wonderful to see. Through our partnership, we have been able to reach new audiences globally and look forward to continuing our relationship with her,” he said.
In 2019, a luxury accessories brand told WWD that Blackpink’s label YG — considered among the most powerful companies in South Korea — had priced a collaboration with Jennie between $1 million and $1.5 million, but that was before the group’s global following had exploded in during the pandemic. Another high-level luxury publicist told WWD that they estimate that a Blackpink member’s appearance at an event will cost in the “high six figures”.
But according to data released by Launchmetrics, it could be a bargain.
Jennie’s appearance at the Chanel show in March was estimated to generate $3.6 million in media influence value. Dior also saw a big boost that month when Jisoo attended the fashion show and posted a photo from the event to her personal Instagram account. The post alone is estimated to have generated $1.74 million in MIV. When Lisa appeared front row at Celine’s show in July, she drew thousands of screaming fans and hundreds of millions of social media impressions in China alone.
Since their “Ddu-du Ddu-du” era in mid-2018, Blackpink’s looks have been orchestrated by YG’s in-house stylist Min-hee park—one of South Korea’s biggest fashion power brokers, who can initiate make-it-or- break-it moment for big brands and new brands.
It is understood that Park is tasked with overseeing everything from the girls’ more relaxed paparazzi looks at the airport to working with stylists on magazine cover looks that must be YG-approved.
But when Blackpink started, their fashion was developed by Kyoung Won Choi, who met WWD earlier in 2018 while preparing for the group’s tour in Japan.
Choi spoke of YG’s early intention to set a new K-pop paradigm with Blackpink, using fashion as a wider communication tool for the group’s activities. “From the beginning, YG wanted them to be different from all the other groups and create an aura not close to the competition. From a styling perspective, I have full support – usually for a new band it’s not a big budget, but YG has connected me together with designers and given me a very flexible budget,” she said.
“You can’t deny the power of K-pop and K-drama. South Korea is very trend-driven, and if someone famous wears something, everyone goes for it – it creates a phenomenon,” Choi added of the group’s influence.
Gildas Loaëc, co-founder of the Franco-Japanese brand Maison Kitsuné, confirmed this. Jennie has been photographed in Kitsuné’s clothes at airports or while relaxing at home, and this has “created a snowball effect. After that, other K-pop talents started wearing our clothes, and then we were also seen on various Korean TV dramas .These shows are very popular across South Asia as well as Japan,” he said. The Jennie effect contributed to Kitsuné’s continued success across Asia, including Korea where it now has 25 stores.
Hee Sun Choi, stylist for K-pop group Itzy, told WWD in 2019 that over the years, “Fashion is more and more a really important part of K-pop. I can tell, I’ve worked as a stylist for a long time and the budget for fashion has increased enormously. This means that companies are aware of how important a group’s image and fashion are to their success.”
Blackpink’s look is a chaotic mix of what’s trending in luxury, novelty and the underground – with a dose of cuteness thrown in for good measure. The balance between these elements is carefully adjusted to suit the tone of individual releases; a poppy song will make them look cute, while a pounding dance track will often result in the girls wearing edgier, distressed clothes.
It is understood that, unlike traditional celebrity dressing deals, Blackpink’s stylists buy their clothes directly from brands and stores. The girls’ light frames require heavy modifications for a proper fit. There is also the issue of getting them to dance on stage, which is why underwear is often sewn into costumes to avoid ‘wardrobe mistakes’.
Pink Venom’s promotional photos represent the first time a brand has dressed all four Blackpink members at once. For the honor, Park worked with pop music’s foremost costume designer: Mugler.
Mugler’s creative director Casey Cadwallader – who has put the French house back on the map by strategically collaborating on boundary-pushing looks with some of music’s biggest talents – said he’s never known a group of people so powerful – their fans are so loyal and energetic, I have never experienced anything like it – it can feel like they are more famous than Michael Jackson.”
“It’s a big impact for us, most of what they wear sells out immediately. It just happened to really work – we dressed them in my new collection that isn’t out yet, and I happened to be doing a lot of pink for the first time. It was important for each girl to have a different way, but the color united them at the same time. The card was pink “Hunger Games,” Cadwallader said of working with Park on the look.
When Pink Venom is released on Friday morning, it will provide the first real calculation of how Blackpink’s popularity has increased during the pandemic – when many young people, stuck at home, discovered the group on the Internet.
For Cadwallader, it makes perfect sense: “Their music has a lot of energy and a really strong sense of drama and strength. It’s really captivating to people; every girl is beautiful in a different way – that’s a lot of appeal for people.”