Blackpink's ‘Human Chanel' Jennie vs Exo's ‘Human Gucci' Kai – what K-pop idols really mean to luxury brands in the battle for Gen Z's heart

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

This article is part of Style’s Luxury Column

When Exo’s Kai, one of the most successful K-pop stars of all time, recently debuted his eponymous solo EP, Gucci sent him and his team a coffee cart. The Italian fashion brand wanted to make sure that their most visible brand ambassador’s caffeinated well-being was guaranteed. The cart had two banners, one stating, “Congratulations to human Gucci, Kai, on his first solo album! Eat it deliciously while savouring it (Mmmh-mi).” The second simply said: “Gucci wholly supports Gucci Kai.”

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Gucci sent a coffee car to Kai, and the message it projected was very clear. Photo: @LO3YLOVELY/Twitter

When a forward-thinking brand like Gucci refers to an ambassador as its one and only human reincarnation – aka the “Human Gucci” – it’s more than just a sign of commitment. It confirms to the world that Kai has become the living version of what the brand represents, its alter ego.

As part of Gucci’s 2020 cruise collection, the brand produced a video with Kai, showing the K-pop superstar on a journey of self discovery, finding and expressing himself in different situations. Then in April 2021, Gucci launched Kai’s first collection. It’s another retro take, typical for the brand, in which Kai’s childhood companion, a teddy bear, is featured, symbolising the lightness of childhood and human connection.

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Kai’s capsule collaboration with Gucci sets an influential precedent in the fashion world. Photo: Gucci

The collection has taken the world by storm. Kai showed a superior fashion acumen, his captivating style creating hype reaching from Seoul to Shanghai, Tokyo to Los Angeles and New York to Paris.

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

South Korean performer Kai, a member of boy-group Exo, was chosen to be a Gucci eyewear ambassador. Photo: Gucci

The hashtag #humangucci is currently trending across all social media platforms due to the unprecedented hype around Kai. However, the expression has been used before to describe other celebrity fans of the brand who dressed head to toe in Gucci. Notably, before Kai was the Human Gucci, his fellow K-pop superstars V from BTS and Blackpink’s Jennie were both undisputed Human Guccis, both often spotted in all-Gucci looks, and even called the King and Queen of Gucci.

However, both seem to have moved on to favour Chanel, giving them the shared title of “Human Chanel”. The website Kpopmap wrote that, “While V was usually referred to as the ‘human Gucci’, it seems that V’s liking for Chanel products too has brought competition onto the table.”

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Once a “Human Gucci”, now Blackpink Jennie is known as the “Human Chanel”. Photo: @jennierubyjane/Instagram

The move from being the Human Gucci to the Human Chanel came for Jennie after signing up as an official model, muse and ambassador for the French luxury brand. Jennie since then has actively shared her love for Chanel with her 45 million Instagram followers. On many of her posts, she carries a Chanel handbag or wears Chanel dresses and other accessories. Given her popularity and millions of young followers, Jennie’s posts have a great impact on the Gen Z consumers that Chanel is most eager to reach.

So, it’s not just the battle of the Human Gucci vs the Human Chanel, but also who is the real Human Chanel. And the battle only underlines how critical the Human Gucci and Human Chanel titles are for the respective brands, as they not only help raise brand awareness and drive sales, but they also set the brand’s all-important tone. K-pop superstars are the style icons of our times and being the brand of choice for some of the hottest, most style-building, and most admired stars obviously makes a huge difference among young audiences.

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

In the music video for Blackpink’s breakout English-language single Ice Cream, Jennie sports a vintage Chanel waist pouch and hand warmer. Photo: Handout

It also underlines how critical exposure on social media has become for even some of the most exclusive luxury brands like Chanel. While some iconic luxury brands remain doubtful about social media, often claiming that buyers and social media followers may not overlap, Jennie and Kai show that a strong online presence helps to create desire and awareness of their respective brands far beyond their traditional audiences.

But Jennie’s move from Human Gucci to Human Chanel also highlights a risk. When ambassadors don’t stay loyal over time or support several brands, confusion is likely, and fans may also flit between brand allegiances. This also explains why Gucci is now actively pushing Kai as the Human Gucci, binding him to its own collections forevermore.

forward-thinking brand like Gucci, V from BTS, Blackpink’s Jennie, often spotted in all-Gucci looks, the style icons of our times, Extreme value creation depends on innovation, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter

Song Hye-Kyo, Blackpink’s Rose and Lisa. Photo: @kyo1122, @roses_are_rosie, @lalalalisa_m Verified/Instagram

Gen Z is already the most influential consumer group for luxury brands – and by 2030 they will also be the No 1 customer group. As preferences are built early in life, having a Human Gucci or a Human Chanel will help to solidify these brand choices. K-pop has not only become the most successful music genre of the recent past, but its aesthetics will also influence the aesthetics of luxury brands over the next decade, similar to how the influence of hip-hop has been style-building for luxury brands over the last decade.

Human Gucci vs Human Chanel: it’s not either or, but rather how brands can successfully create a connection with their youngest and thus future audiences. As more brands inevitably jump on this bandwagon, we may soon hear about the Human Louis Vuitton, Human Dior or Human Prada. And here brands will need to be careful. Extreme value creation depends on innovation, being seen as disruptive and influential. More of the same will not help other brands in connecting with Gen Z. Different creative approaches will be needed. And I am sure we will see many great examples. The future has begun.

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