Milan's runways may be the epicentre of global fashion this week, but it's Seoul and K-pop fans who are front and centre in the battle for new luxury customers.
Outside Prada's fashion show on Thursday (Feb 23), the biggest squeals of excitement came from fans of Jeon Somi, South Korea's blonde singer with 16.6 million Instagram followers.
The hordes of pushing, screaming fans straining for a view of their favourite K-pop or South Korean film and television stars are expected to come out in force for the duration of Milan Fashion Week – underscoring the strategic importance of the South Korean market to Italian fashion.
"I've been here since 11 o'clock in the morning to see Somi," 20-year-old Italian fan Serena Danimarco said. "I love her, her music, her look."
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She held up a sign reading "Somi I'm so Dumb Dumb for you," a reference to the singer's 2021 single.
Such enthusiasm also greeted the arrival of South Korean actress Song Hye-kyo at the Fendi show Wednesday (Feb 22), which kicked off fashion week.
Fan Giulia, 20, was crushed behind a barrier outside the show, holding up her handmade sign with photos of her idol and an "I love you" written underneath.
"I knew she was coming through the networks of Neverland, one of the Korean Idol fan groups. I am also a Blink, a Blackpink fan!" she said, referring to the chart-dominating girl group named by Time Magazine as 2022's "Entertainer of the year".
Ambassadors of luxury
Luxury brands, whether based in Milan, Paris, London or New York, have been snapping up South Korean stars as brand ambassadors, including at Bulgari, Chanel, Celine and Giorgio Armani.
Jimin, a member of the best-selling K-pop boy band BTS, became Dior's latest global brand ambassador in January, while Valentino announced its collaboration with Suga – another member of the band that is on a temporary hiatus – who plans a solo tour this spring.
Gucci, meanwhile, has seized on Hanni, the lead singer of NewJeans, another South Korean girl group who released their debut single last summer.
Like Dior, which held its first runway show in Seoul last year, Gucci also plans to hit the South Korean capital for its upcoming cruise collection in May.
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A show planned for last November – which would have been the South Korean debut for Gucci's former creative director Alessandro Michele – was cancelled following the Halloween stampede in the city centre that killed more than 150 people.
Sales of Italian fashion to South Korea rose 31 percent in 2022, according to Italy's fashion chamber (CNMI).
Seven out of the top 10 Italian exports to South Korea relate to fashion, the Italian Trade Agency said.
The biggest chunk comes from leather goods, comprising 21 percent of total Italian exports to South Korea, up 5.8 percent over 2021, followed by footwear. – AFP