In the wee hours Friday morning, a phenomenon will erupt on the internet. Blackpink, the world’s biggest all-girl group and most successful girl group in K-pop history, will release their first new single in nearly two years.
“Pink Venom,” as the song is titled, has already caused a sensation before its release. The past week of teaser images and videos released on social media have crossed millions of eyeballs and inspired frenzy among their fans, a global audience that — judging from the group’s Instagram following alone — is larger than the population of a mid-sized European country. “Pink Venom” is part of the forthcoming 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 it is leverage 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 record label, members exude a giddy kind of youth that still makes them approachable. It’s this tension that makes their fans, better known as “Blinks,” feel fiercely connected to their cause.
And that loyalty is resulting in big business for the brands that Blackpink members Jennie, Lisa, Rosé and Jisoo choose to wear or hold 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 that 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 to them a lot for inspiration.” She too has pushed through multiple production runs of designs worn by the girls.
In the six years since their debut, each Blackpink member has individually signed jewelry, beauty and fashion contracts that are each estimated within the seven-figure range. Lisa, with the biggest Instagram following at 81 million strong, holds contracts with Celine and Bulgari; Jennie is signed with Chanel and promotes its fashion, accessories and fine jewelry as well as designing glasses 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, Tiffany & Co. executive vice president for product and communications, said of the group: “Blackpink has an enormous global audience who are influenced by their style. We have seen the impressive success of K-pop and K-drama across the globe. Korean talent have been a fixture in our culture and continue 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-story-high billboard of her face over its flagship scaffolding as it undergoes renovation.
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 fanbase. She has the ability to engage with her audience in an authentic and personal way, which has been amazing to see. Through our partnership, we’ve been able to reach a new audience globally and look forward to continuing our relationship with her,” he said.
In 2019, a luxury accessories brand told WWD that Blackpink’s record 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 during the pandemic. Another high-level luxury publicist told WWD that they estimate an appearance by one Blackpink member at an event to cost in the “high six figures.”
But according to data released by Launchmetrics, that might be a bargain.
Jennie’s appearance at the Chanel show in March was estimated to generate $3.6 million in media impact value. Dior also saw a big boost that month when Jisoo attended its fashion show and posted an image 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 look has 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 moments for big brands and emerging labels alike.
It is understood that Park is tasked with overseeing everything from the girls’ more relaxed airport paparazzi snap looks to collaborating with stylists on magazine cover looks that need to be YG-approved.
But when Blackpink started, their fashion was devised by Kyoung Won Choi, who met with WWD earlier in 2018 as she was preparing the group’s tour of Japan.
Choi spoke of YG’s early intent to set a new K-pop paradigm with Blackpink, using fashion as a broader 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 nowhere near the competition. From a styling perspective, I have full support — usually for a new band there isn’t a big budget but YG has connected me 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 after it — it creates a phenomenon,” added Choi of the group’s influence.
Gildas Loaëc, cofounder of Franco-Japanese label Maison Kitsuné, attested to this. Jennie has been photographed in Kitsuné’s clothes at airports or while relaxing at home and this has, “made a snowball effect. After that, other K-pop talents started wearing our clothes and then we were also seen on different Korean TV dramas. Those shows are very popular across South Asia as well as Japan,” he said. The Jennie effect helped contribute to Kitsuné’s sustained success across Asia, including Korea where it now has 25 stores.
Hee Sun Choi, stylist for the K-pop group Itzy, told WWD in 2019 that over the years, “Fashion is more and more a really vital part of K-pop. I can tell, I’ve been working as a stylist for a long time and the budget for fashion has increased tremendously. It means that companies are aware of how important a group’s image and fashion is 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 for good measure. The balance between these elements is carefully adjusted to suit the tone of single releases; with a poppy song, they’ll look cutesy while a thumping dance track will often result in the girls wearing edgier, distressed clothing.
It’s understood that, unlike traditional celebrity dressing agreements, Blackpink’s stylists purchase their clothing from brands and stores outright. The girls’ slight frames require heavy alterations for a proper fit. There is also the issue of making them onstage dance appropriate, and so undergarments are often sewn into costumes to avoid any wardrobe “malfunctions.”
Pink Venom’s promotional imagery represents the first time a brand has singularly dressed all four Blackpink members at once. For the honor, Park worked with pop music’s preeminent costume-maker: Mugler.
Mugler 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’ve never experienced anything like it — it can feel like they’re more famous than Michael Jackson.”
“It’s a great impact for us, most things they wear immediately sell out. It just happened to really work out — we dressed them in my new collection that hasn’t come out yet and I just happened to do a lot of pink for the first time. It was important for each girl to have a different take but the color unified them at the same time. The brief was pink ‘Hunger Games,’ Cadwallader said of working with Park on the looks.
When Pink Venom is released Friday morning, it will provide the first real metrics of how Blackpink’s popularity has ballooned 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. That’s really captivating to people; each girl is beautiful in a different way — there is a lot of appeal for people.”