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How K-Pop Group NewJeans Became an Overnight Fashion Favourite

The all-girl act, which formed last year, were recently signed by Levis, anointed Seoul Fashion Week ambassadors, and individually have contracts with Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry.
NewJeans poses on stage.
K-Pop act NewJeans exploded onto the scene last summer. (Chosunilbo JNS)

Key insights

  • The Gen-Z group is fast ascending in popularity and is on track to match the clout level of elite acts like Blackpink.
  • Unlike many other girl groups which use elaborate costumes and sets, NewJeans styling is pared-back, sweet and natural.
  • The disbanding of boy band BTS while its members complete army service has opened the playing field for new performers.

NewJeans may not have celebrated its first birthday yet, but the South Korean quintet behind hit songs “Attention” and “Hype Boy” has become a need-to-know name in fashion circles.

In March alone, NewJeans’ members Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein, all still in their teens, have inked a global ambassadorship with Levi’s, appeared in a photoshoot for American Vogue, and were appointed ambassadors for Seoul Fashion Week. And that’s just as a group: individually, Hanni represents Gucci and Armani Beauty, Hyein works with Louis Vuitton, Danielle was tapped by Burberry and YSL Beauty, while Minji is an ambassador for Chanel in three divisions: fashion, beauty, and watches and jewellery.

These luxury brands are anticipating hefty returns from hallyu fans, or lovers of Korean music, movies and TV shows. Their numbers exceeded 178 million last year, according to a report by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs-affiliated Korea Foundation, up from 156 million in 2021, and nearly 20 times the fan population 11 years ago. Data from social media analytics agency LaunchMetrics shows that K-Pop stars are regularly some of the top drivers of engagement and subsequently revenue for brands. When Cartier announced Blackpink’s Jisoo as brand ambassador, for instance, that post generated $3 million in media value for the brand, and when BTS attended the 2022 Grammy Awards dressed in Louis Vuitton that appearance was valued at $6.4 million.

Brands have plenty of options: NewJeans is one of more than a dozen acts to launch last year, including Mimiirose, Fifty Fifty and Le Sserafim. All are looking to fill the void left by BTS, which has temporarily disbanded while its members serve mandatory military service. Meanwhile, top acts like Blackpink and Twice are embarking on global tours as the live events calendar returns to its pre-pandemic form.


But because of their softer, pared-back look, NewJeans has benefitted from the fashion industry’s recent turn towards quiet luxury. The moniker NewJeans was chosen because it alludes to jeans being a timeless fashion staple, and is also a double entendre for “new genes,” an indication of their intent to herald a new generation of K-Pop. In short, NewJeans are the kind of performers that brands can harness as a refreshing alternative.

Why Luxury Loves NewJeans

Although their meteoric rise is similar to Blackpink’s and both acts are a multi-member girl group (NewJeans has five members to Blackpink’s four), that’s mostly where the similarities end. When it comes to aesthetic and musical appeal, NewJeans has been charting its own path with a girl next door look and sweet pop tunes since their debut last July.

Instead of high-octane makeup and outfits, the girls are styled as innocent and mostly natural. In the music videos for both “Ditto” and “Cookie,” they wear schoolgirl uniforms, meanwhile in “OMG,” they dance with backpacks in the shape of stuffed toy animals.

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The sets in each of their music videos are relatively simple too, for example, a sports field, or a studio with a bench as the only prop. It’s a contrast to the swaggery dance moves and highly-saturated, CGI-effects-filled music videos that have been more dominant among K-Pop girl groups.

That choice could be due to how young the group’s members are. The oldest, Minji, is only 18, while Hyein is just 14. The cutesy stylings also extend to their dedicated fan app “Phoning” and YouTube channel, where they release the kind of content that could double as a children’s TV show. In various 30 minute clips, they play shop, throw a pajama party, and visit a farm, for example.

Who Are Their Fans?

Brands and events have been lining up to tap into their growing following, a fandom that call themselves Bunnies or “tokki”—a reference to a cartoon rabbit character on the NewJeans album cover.

Seoul Fashion Week appointed the group ambassadors for 2023, succeeding actor Lee Jung Jae of “Squid Game” fame. The organisers pointed to “their daily fashion and stage outfits [which] show this naturalness and bouncy charm in a bright and friendly way,” and coordinated for the group to promote local designers Ulkin, Ajobyajo, and Blr Bluer during the event.

But as important as their home market is (South Korea over indexes on luxury sales relative to the size of its population), it’s the girls’ international appeal that stands out. Musinsa, a leading e-commerce platform that specialises in selling South Korean fashion overseas signed the group in October as ambassadors.


The company, which stocks 300-some brands like Thisisneverthat and Mardi Mercredi, said in the announcement it expects the group to “create a new wave of K-fashion” and that they will “be perfect as a K-icon for promoting Korean fashion brands to the world.”

Musinsa plans to use the campaigns with NewJeans to market in Japan, Southeast Asia, the US and — leveraging the background of two of the girls, Danielle and Hanni, who grew up there — Australia.

In a pairing that seemed destined to happen, NewJeans signed on as Levi’s global ambassadors in mid-March. The denim brand called it “a natural partnership” thanks to the “group’s desire to be as timeless to culture as jeans are to fashion.”

That same month, the group was featured in a photoshoot with the US edition of Vogue, shot by photographer Cho Giseok.

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Because Cho also wears another hat as the founder of the LVMH Prize-nominated fashion label, Kusikohc, his brand saw a jump in social media followers after the Vogue photoshoot.

Lawrence Von Mohl, global brand manager for Kusikohc, said that Asian pop stars tend to cultivate much more intense fanbases in the West, and they’re more willing to spend money to support their idols, even irrationally. It’s not uncommon for a single fan to buy 100 copies of an album to make sure their favourite performer will break industry records.

“The following is insane,” said Von Mohl. “If you go to the big [fashion] shows Chanel, Dior or what not, there’s screams when the K-Pop stars come out, you can barely hear your own voice, and not when a western celebrity runs down the carpet.”

For now, Blackpink is still a rarity in the world of K-Pop in the way it’s been able to capture mass Western mainstream awareness. The group is set to strengthen that further when they perform a headline set at Coachella later this month. They were the first K-Pop group to perform there back in 2019, which was hailed as a major feat at the time. Much of the attention will be back on them with new tour dates, and specifically Blackpink member Jisoo, whose two singles from her solo music debut topped domestic Korean music charts over the weekend.


There’s other competition too from newer acts. Fifty Fifty, another K-Pop girl group, became the fastest K-Pop group to break into the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with their song “Cupid”, and IVE’s music label announced they are about to start marketing the group in the US. IVE member Yujin, for instance, has nabbed an ambassador role with Fendi.

But NewJeans in their first full summer season will already be touring globally at a major US festival. They’re set to take the stage at Lollapalooza in Chicago, compared to the three years it took Blackpink to headline Coachella, indicating they’re strongly positioned to claim a growing stake in the lucrative fashion endorsements market.

Further Reading

Why K-Pop Rules Fashion Week

From Prada to Dior, fashion’s embrace of Korean pop stars is going into overdrive as brands look to Asian consumers to fuel growth.

About the author
Tiffany Ap

Tiffany Ap is Senior Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and covers marketing and the critical China market.

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