The Arnaults are betting big on K-Pop, and it shows the power of South Korea's luxury spending machine
- The Arnault family is betting big on K-Pop stars.
- In January, Delphine Arnault's Dior signed BTS star Jimin as the brand's global ambassador.
On January 11, Delphine Arnault was nominated by her father, luxury magnate Bernard Arnault, to helm Dior. Within days, the fashion house appointed Jimin, one of the seven members of the K-Pop supergroup BTS, as the brand's global ambassador.
The singer's agency, HYBE, directed Insider to a statement from Dior that said Jimin "embodies the spirit and singularity of Dior style."
—Dior (@Dior) January 16, 2023
Delphine Arnault's move comes over a year after her younger brother Alexandre Arnault, an executive vice president at Tiffany & Co., signed BLACKPINK singer Rosé to represent the jewelry house. Rosé now advertises Tiffany's "Hardwear" line, a collection of necklaces and bracelets.
And in June, Celine — another brand under the massive umbrella of Arnault's LVMH — invited BTS member V, BLACKPINK member Lisa, and South Korean actor Park Bo-gum to the brand's Spring/Summer 2023 show in Paris. Lisa also worked with LVMH brand Bulgari, wearing one of their watches in a 2021 campaign.
All of which points at the undeniable: The world's biggest luxury conglomerate is officially betting big on K-Pop.
South Korean idols are no strangers to luxury brands
South Korean celebrities wearing luxury goods are a common sight. There are even Twitter accounts dedicated to documenting every branded item they wear. BTS has repped outfits from LVMH brands at star-studded events: all seven members turned up for the Grammys in Las Vegas in 2022 wearing head-to-toe Louis Vuitton.
It's not only LVMH: In January, BTS rapper SUGA became a brand ambassador for Valentino, per WWD.
And long before BTS, G-Dragon — the leader of BIGBANG, a K-Pop band that dominated South Korea's pop scene in the 2000s — was one of Chanel's biggest representatives in Asia. The rapper forged a friendship with the late Karl Lagerfeld, and in 2015 walked in Chanel's haute couture show in Paris.
—CHANEL (@CHANEL) July 8, 2015
However, the Arnault family in particular appears to be moving aggressively into the South Korean market.
The reason might lie in the math. Beyond the fact that K-Pop stars come with legions of fans of their own, South Koreans are now the world's biggest luxury consumers, CNBC reported, citing figures from Morgan Stanley. The estimated total value of South Korea's spending on personal luxury goods in 2022 went up by 24% year-on-year. And the average South Korean person spent at least $325 on luxury items in 2022 — far exceeding the $55 per capita spending in China, and the $280 per capita expenses in the US, per Morgan Stanley.
Soo Kim, a business professor at Singapore's Nanyang Business School, told Insider South Korea's competitive environment and the seemingly insurmountable wealth gap are driving the luxury-spending machine in the country. South Koreans collectively ran up a staggering amount of debt in 2021 that exceeded the country's GDP by 5%, but they continue to spend big on luxury goods.
The spending won't stop because branded items help compensate for "constant threats" to the average South Korean consumer's "ego," Kim added. Luxury items also provide a "psychological release" — giving South Korean consumers control over their physical appearance, she told Insider.
"Furthermore, Koreans take great pride in their own citizens excelling in the global arena. Seeing their stars represent these luxury houses would positively impact Koreans' perception of these brands," Kim said.
A targeted move to win over the South Korean market
Experts say there's another big reason LVMH is looking at South Korea: It's the gateway to Asia.
"If you have South Korea, you have the northeastern Asian market," Jacob Cooke, the chief executive officer of WPIC, a Beijing-based e-commerce consulting firm, told WWD in January.
There's also South Korea's cultural clout, David Dubois, a professor of marketing at INSEAD, told Insider.
"Fashion trends tend to be created and adopted in South Korea, before being diffused to other markets in Asia," Dubois said. He added that LVMH's K-Pop promotions are a "continuation" of a long-term strategy to "establish long-lasting footprints" in the South Korean market.
And China, for various reasons, might also not be the prime market for LVMH's products right now.
"With the COVID lockdowns and the recent sentiment against wealth inequality and the overt display of wealth in China, the relationship between luxury houses and the Chinese market is murkier," Kim, the Nanyang Business School professor, told Insider.
Kim said it "makes sense" for LVMH to re-distribute resources to places like Japan and Korea. She also said South Korea is "increasingly known" for its K-Pop stars, movies, and shows in the US — which helps with promotions stateside too.
"I'm sure also it doesn't hurt that Korea receives a great number of Chinese tourists. Once the COVID situation settles, it is possible that Chinese tourists, with their spending power, return to Korea," Kim said. "The investment in Korea could also serve as an indirect way to target Chinese consumers."
Representatives at LVMH did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
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