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Rosé from Blackpink in a Tiffany & Co. campaign. Big names in luxury are increasingly looking to the East for their celebrity ambassadors instead of choosing Western actors and singers.

BTS for Louis Vuitton, Blackpink’s Jisoo for Dior: why luxury brands are choosing Asian celebrities as their global ambassadors

  • A slew of Asian-fronted campaigns for luxury brands marks a move away from picking stars that meet traditional Hollywood standards of beauty
  • Experts point to the pandemic as one reason for the move from Caucasian-centric advertising and the importance of Chinese customers in luxury as another

Julia Roberts baring a toothy grin for Dior and Cate Blanchett looking sultry for Giorgio Armani. Keira Knightley gazing at the Eiffel Tower for Chanel and Rihanna lounging on a trapeze for Balmain.

Until recently, the highly lucrative role of celebrity ambassador has largely been reserved for a particular type of person.

Luxury brands tended to pick actresses and singers who are household names in the United States and Europe to be their global ambassadors. They command a far higher fee than their regional peers, and their faces are displayed on billboards and in magazines around the world, not just in their home countries.

In a move that illustrates just how much culture has changed in the last year, K-pop group BTS became house ambassadors for Louis Vuitton last month. They will work with the brand to promote its clothes and accessories around the world.
BTS wore outfits by Louis Vuitton to the Grammy Awards earlier this year.
“I am delighted BTS are joining Louis Vuitton. I am looking forward to this wonderful partnership which adds a modern chapter to the House, merging luxury and contemporary culture,” Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s men’s director, said. “I can’t wait to share all the very exciting projects we are working on.”

Abloh’s use of the word modern is interesting. BTS has a huge Gen Z following but, more than that, they represent a move away from traditional Hollywood standards of beauty and they show that Abloh has a new vision for the label’s future. The label’s global Instagram page is now filled with BTS photos, including images of the group wearing the brand to the Grammy Awards earlier this year.

BTS are far from the only K-pop stars to join the luxury fashion world in this way. Last summer, Rosé from K-pop girl group Blackpink starred in a global campaign for Saint Laurent and this year has been appointed a global ambassador for Tiffany & Co. Fellow band members Jisoo and Lisa have followed suit – Jisoo is now fronting the Dior Cruise Collection for 2021 and Lisa has been appointed a global ambassador for Celine.

However, although the South Korean doll-like aesthetic has made beauty brands around the world a lot of money, it’s not just Korean stars who are being made celebrity ambassadors. Armani Beauty has named Chinese actor and singer Jackson Yee as its new global ambassador for make-up and skincare, while Japanese model Koki was recently made one for Estée Lauder.

Given such a rapid change in a short space of time, could this slew of new Asian-fronted campaigns be related to the pandemic?

Rosé from Blackpink starred in a global campaign for Saint Laurent last year.
Jackson Yee in an Emporio Armani campaign.
Yes, says Rocky Chi, a luxury expert at London-based Melody Communications. “ Without Europe’s largest luxury buying demographic – Chinese visitors – able to travel to Europe and buy from their bricks-and-mortar stores, sales have plummeted and brands have had to confront the fact that their biggest proportion of customers come from Asia.”

Charlie Gu, a marketing expert based between Shanghai in China and San Francisco in the US, agrees. “Asia, in particular the Greater China region, has made an important contribution to luxury brands’ bottom line during Covid-19,” he says. “So it is no surprise that brands are elevating Asian celebrities to global ambassador status to drive excitement within the region, with the hope of ramping up the sales.”

Some of these Asian celebrities are not yet widely known in the West, but for some brands this is simply the inverse of the problem they had before – that many Hollywood stars were not particularly famous in China but were still plastered on billboards around the country.

Lisa from Blackpink in a Celine campaign.

With the rise in popularity of Korean beauty routines and the dominance of Chinese customers in the luxury world, it makes sense for brands to focus on what Asian clients want, and simply hope the West catches on.

“The global appeal of K-pop and the growing recognition of Asian talents in Hollywood might have also contributed to this new phenomenon,” adds Gu. “This year’s Academy Awards were indeed a groundbreaking year for Asian talents. Given that these Asian celebrities tend to attract a young audience, selecting them as global ambassadors might also help bridge the age gap of luxury spending in the West and help brands expand their appeal to a younger demographic.”
Adding to this is the push in the US to move away from Caucasian-centric advertising. Anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed during the pandemic – such as the horrific shooting of eight people (including six Asian women) in Atlanta in Georgia on March 16.
Japanese model Koki was recently made an ambassador for Estée Lauder.
The rise in hate crimes has led to the hashtag #StopAsianHate trending on social media. In solidarity with the Asian community, prominent figures in fashion including Anna Sui, Phillip Lim and Susie Bubble have spoken out on the importance of promoting Asian designers and models, and have been pushing for more diversity and inclusivity in advertising.

“Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of Asian representation in fashion,” said designer Jason Wu in an article in March for fashion magazine Vogue. “It is more important now than ever that we stand up as a community to push for change and acceptance.”


Hopefully, with Asian celebrities finally fronting a diverse range of campaigns, that time has now come.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Asian persuasion