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Asian Celebrities Were Fashion Week’s Biggest Influencers

Updated: Mar 19

K-pop and soccer stars, actresses and singers — the fashion week A-list increasingly hails from South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.

This season, when throngs of fans screamed from the crash barriers outside a Paris fashion show or jostling photographers and gawkers wielding cellphones triggered a commotion at a front row, the center of attention was rarely a Hollywood actress or British rock star. Instead, the most frenzied scenes — and online clicks — were ignited by Asian celebrities, whose dominance on the fashion week celebrity circuit hit new heights.

At Dior, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence, both ambassadors for the brand, watched as crowds went berserk for the pop idols Jisoo from Blackpink and Mingyu of Seventeen, both of South Korea; the Filipino actor and model Pia Wurtzbach; and the Chinese singer Xin Liu, whose fan army, clad in ice blue and clutching signs, later followed her all over the city.

The Chinese actress Yang Mi snagged a prime position between Michael Burke, the chief executive of the LVMH fashion group, and Pascale Lepoivre, the chief executive of Loewe. At Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton, the biggest screams greeted Rosé and Lisa of Blackpink; at Acne Studios, fans went wild for a shirtless Johnny Suh, the Korean American singer, flanked by the J-pop star Mandy Sekiguchi and members of ILLIT, the latest band to emerge from Hybe, an agency that represents K-pop acts, including BTS.

Fashion brands have cultivated relationships with key Chinese and South Korean ambassadors for more than a decade. But in a volatile luxury landscape with a stagnating North American market, Southeast Asia has become increasingly important. Data from the consulting firm Bain & Company predicts regional sales growth of 4.8 percent in 2024, with Thailand expected to grow the most thanks to its local consumer base and tourism from neighboring Asian countries. Now many fashion houses are doubling down on celebrity partnerships from that region, especially with stars from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In a world obsessed with celebrity, the right endorsement by the right face at the right time is the most powerful marketing move a brand can make. Competition among brands to sign contracts with famous names is increasingly fierce and expensive.

“We look for the best in class in their field, be it acting, singing or sport, and also people we know can really personify the look and aesthetic of Burberry,” said Rod Manley, the chief marketing officer of Burberry, about its criteria for a brand partner, adding that Asia accounts for more than a third of Burberry sales.

After a celebrity’s fashion week appearance or a social media post by a star wearing branded product, fashion companies scrutinize online impressions and engagement, as well as photographs and content across social and traditional media platforms and geographical markets to quantify the value of their investment.

“When it comes to Asian celebrities and platforms, some of these numbers are astronomically high and reach more than Western ambassadors,” Mr. Manley said, “especially when they have a new project like a TV series coming out, which doubles the impact of having them associated with the brand.”

Launchmetrics, a data analytics and software firm, uses an algorithm it calls Media Impact Value to assign monetary value to posts, placements and articles. Last season it found that a single appearance by Jisoo of Blackpink at a Dior show accounted for 14 percent of total media impact value (or $8.1 million) for the fashion house.

In comparison, Western names like Robert Pattinson accounted for $2.7 million and Jennifer Lawrence, $4.5 million. (Dior declined to comment for this article.)

Mr. Manley of Burberry added that unlike their Western counterparts, celebrities from South Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries are usually more amenable to interacting with their fans and view it as part of their job, spending significant time taking selfies and signing autographs before or after an event.

Asian celebrities also draw big crowds in the region, he added. “You sort of expect a scene at fashion week,” he said, “but when we do a store opening in Asia and invite stars, thousands of fans will descend on that shopping mall compared to say 100 elsewhere. It’s just not on the same scale.”

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