Meet the K-pop stylists working with BTS and BLACKPINK

Written by on 14/03/2022

K-pop stars do not simply exist. There are whole ecosystems built around them, ensuring they sing, dance, act and look perfect at all times. An integral part of their team? A well-connected, visionary stylist. The fashion and K-pop worlds have a symbiotic relationship, and in the past few years especially, global luxury fashion brands have raced to either cast the genre’s stars or ensure they sit front row at their shows. Just last month, BLACKPINK’s Jennie appeared in Calvin Klein’s SS22 campaign, while YoonA from Girls’ Generation graced a recent magazine cover wearing the Miu Miu set — she’s an ambassador for the brand, after all. As are BTS for Louis Vuitton, members of EXO for Gucci, Aespa for Givenchy, BLACKPINK’s Jisoo for Dior, Rosé for Saint Laurent, Lisa for Celine and Jennie for Chanel. The list goes on.

When you’re constantly in the public eye, looking good is imperative. It’s why K-pop stars employ top stylists — people like Youngjin Kim, Wook Kim, Minhee Park, Kyoung Eun Rhee and Fwanwook Jung; whose collective client list includes CL, BTS, SHINee, AESPA, BLACKPINK and Beenzino.

As anyone working in fashion will attest, being a stylist is so much more than just picking out great clothes. Rather, a close collaboration based on excellent communication, ultimately helping a celebrity to express their best selves. We visited the aforementioned creatives in their studios to discover more about the difference between being a fashion stylist and an idol stylist, as well as the partnerships at the heart of their careers.

stylist youngjin kim sits behind his desk with a skateboard behind him

Youngjin Kim 

Seoul-based stylist Youngjin Kim has been obsessed with fashion since he was a child, saving up his pocket money to buy magazines. “It was so special to me,” he remembers. After majoring in photography at college but leaning into the looks just as heavily, somebody suggested he give styling a go and well, the rest is history. These days, he’s working with BTS, but can also be found dressing the likes of NCT 127, Super M and Daniel Kang for cover features, campaigns and album artwork. 

What was your entry point to styling?

I worked as an assistant to [Korean actor] Jin Oh Jeon’s stylist for about five years and came to understand the overall system of the Korean fashion scene. Looking back, that time was so precious; time that brought me to this moment, I guess.

Tell us about the type of work you do.

Styling for albums and projects such as “My Universe” by BTS and Coldplay is receiving tremendous attention on a global scale. Whenever I style an idol group, I think of a designer creating a collection. I mix and match clothes from different Japanese brands such as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, and I express my own aesthetic with styling to fit each concept. I also style various editorials for fashion magazines. I consider myself a fashion stylist, and when I first took on the role of an idol stylist, I was proud of demonstrating what kind of visuals could be created if a fashion stylist takes on an idol.

two mannequins stand in a room

Of course, a stylist doesn’t just ‘style’. You’re often a bridge between celebrities and brands — a look you introduce to an idol could quickly become a trend.

Exactly. In many cases, celebrities or models with good momentum are recommended to brands or magazines, and if the celebrity is an ambassador of a fashion house, they communicate more closely with the fashion brand.

What do you think is the most important thing in styling?

I try to combine the latest fashion trends with classic items. For instance, I like pairing Levi’s denim and casual sneakers with a Saint Laurent blazer. As details are crucial for men’s clothes, the overall outfit is often impacted by details such as perfect length and sleeves.

Do you have a favourite brand or designer?

I’ve always loved Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, which has had a huge impact on me as a stylist. I have such respect for a person who has accomplished what they’ve wanted to do for a long time — I think Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are both great in that regard too.

stylist wook kim sits behind a glass desk with a leopard statue by his side

Wook Kim

When you’re winning awards for your work, you know you’re onto a good thing. Just last month, Wook bagged Stylist of the Year at the 11th Gaon Chart Music Awards. The work in question? A series of music videos including SHINee’s “Don’t Call Me”, Taemin’s “Advice” and Key’s “Bad Love” — visuals boasting an eclectic selection of streetwear, grunge, PVC suits and chain-strewn balaclavas. For Wook, collaboration is everything. “I want to help my artists deal with their thoughts about what kind of energy they have, what they want to achieve and how to grow into a better artist,” he says. “For me, styling is sort of picturing the future together.”

Tell us about your journey into styling.

I’ve been captivated by sneakers since school, which naturally led to an interest in skateboarding and a job in the streetwear store Casina. After a military discharge, I started styling Swings from Show Me the Money 2, and soon after, I did the same for the idol group EXO’s debut. I managed to become a stylist without first being an assistant.

So who have else you worked with?

I’m in charge of styling Aespa, Kai, SHINee, Woods, EXO and SuperM, but they’re currently on hiatus. I’ve worked with all three of the major entertainment agencies in Korea — SM, YG and JYP, though mostly with SM. The process involved in a musician’s comeback is like a team in which everyone’s opinions are flexibly reflected — there’s no top dog and underdog.

tidy shelves full of candles, jewellery and a pair of clean sneakers

What do you think is the most important thing in styling?

I try to see the bigger picture, beyond just my tastes. I respect everyone’s opinions, and I also want to create the best results as a stylist based on the given situation. This is because the future of the artist is as important as great styling. I want to help my artists deal with their thoughts about what kind of energy they have, what they want to achieve and how to grow into a better artist. 

Do you have a favourite brand or designer?

I like BONBOM and I also look forward to Cost Per Kilo every season. Among international brands, I like Luis De Javier and La Lune — their silhouettes are very aggressive, which is what makes it attractive. I’m also looking forward to more Kenzo by Nigo.

And what’s next in your career?

I will work hard and do my best in styling, but I also want to try some other fields such as launching a brand.

stylist minhee park sits on her phone at her desk

Minhee Park 

Minhee Park, who just so happens to be married to Wook Kim, is the legend behind BLACKPINK’s inimitable style. Her and the girls have been collaborating for five years now, a longstanding relationship centred around trust and mutual understanding. “Communicating with artists is the most important thing,” she explains. “No matter how cool your style is, if it doesn’t suit you, it’s useless. So I always talk a lot with the artists.” Going firmly against the advice to not work with loved ones, Minhee brought her husband on board to collaborate on BLACKPINK’s Lara Croft-inspired looks in the video for “Kill This Love”. With 1.5 billion views on YouTube and several awards, the results speak for themselves. 

What can you tell us about your styling journey, Minhee?

I’ve dreamed of becoming a stylist since I was in middle school, so I majored in fashion design in college. I was really into the work of stylist Kyungwon Choi and so I recklessly sent her an e-mail, which is how I started assisting. The funny thing is, the first set I worked on was for BLACKPINK, and we’ve been together for five years now. As the four members are each ambassadors for different fashion houses, I’ve also travelled around the world and had various experiences with them.

the corner of a room is filled with colourful pairs of womens shoes

BLACKPINK are pretty unique in that sense, right?

Exactly. Jennie is an ambassador for Chanel, Jisoo for Dior, Lisa for Celine and Rosé for Saint Laurent. When they gather under the name of BLACKPINK, they give off another charm. I strongly believe that they’re a unique group that expresses various colours. They’ve pulled off diverse concepts so far, and they will continue to do so in the future.

What do you consider the most important element of styling?

Communicating with artists is the most important thing. No matter how cool your style is, if it doesn’t suit you, it’s useless. That’s why I talk a lot with artists as a stylist. I find out their charm and what style they’re pursuing, and help them express that through styling. I feel like I can look at a certain styling now and be able to tell whether the stylist is close to the artist or not.

Do you have a favourite brand or designer?

I tend to collect a lot of references, so I will choose a look that catches my eye these days, rather than just picking out single brand or designer — Blumarine and Fanci Club. Poster Girl, which I’ve been watching with interest for two years, is also cute, and Kim Shui is pretty cool too.

What’s next for you?

BLACKPINK of course! All the members have a great sense of fashion, so I learn a lot as a stylist through their opinions, and I want to increase synergy in the future. Other than BLACKPINK, I want to style an actor, which was my first dream.

a smiling woman wears read lipstick and double denim

Kyoung Eun Rhee

Once Fashion Editor of Elle, Kyoung Eun Rhee is now a stylist for a selection of young breakout Korean actors. When she’s not busy doing that, you’ll find her producing and art directing editorials and campaigns for brands and magazines like W, and Louis Vuitton’s BTS-starring AW21 campaign.

What kind of work is on your CV?

I’ve previously worked as a visual director and stylist for KUHO and Lucky Chouette. Last year, I worked as a producer on Louis Vuitton’s AW21 campaign featuring BTS and several models, and now I’m in charge of styling for [Korean actors] Esom, Hojeong Lee and Seol Lee. I’ve also planned editorials for Piaget, Ferragamo, Cartier, etc. I’m frequently working with magazines like W, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.

Last year you won ‘Fashion Stylist of the Year’ at an event organised by the Korea Fashion Photographers Association.

It was such an honour. It’s even more meaningful because it’s an award given by photographers, indispensable colleagues to editors and stylists, who have worked together for over 10 years. I did various things last year, and all three actors that I’ve worked with were busy filming their dramas, which filled me with pride.

a still life of an old motorola flip phone with charms on it, with a pair of wired headphones

Do you have a favourite brand or designer?

Miuccia Prada. It’s so cool that she has created her own world. I’m into Rotate Birger Christensen these days too — I put one of their dresses on Seoul Lee for the latest Busan International Film Festival.

What’s next in terms of career goals?

I would like to shoot with photographer Roe Ethridge, and I really want to meet and interview the Olsen Twins and Chloe Sevigny, whom I personally consider to be the most perfectly dressed.

stylist fwanwook jung stands in front of some busy rails of clothing

Fwanwook Jung

We’ve got another Editor-turned-stylist over here. After a stint as Fashion Editor at MAPS magazine (then High Cut and W), pink-haired Fwanwook Jung currently works as a stylist, visual director and creative consultant for predominantly rap-oriented artists. He also has his own sports casual clothing brand, CA. “Styling that fits the character is so important,” Fwanwook says. “I try to understand the concept well while expressing my taste based on that concept.”

Tell us about some of the artists you style.

I’ve been in charge of styling Beenzino for a long time now. I’ve also styled Changmo and Kai [from EXO], as well as CL’s advertisements and editorials. As Beenzino and I have been together for a long time, I know his tastes real well. He prefers clean, elegant styles to challenging ones.

You’ve been a part of Korean streetwear culture from the start. How have you seen it evolve?

Street fashion [in Korea] has a broader meaning nowadays, but at one time, it was just a few friends who used to ride their skateboards together. It was really surprising that the music we loved, and fashion brands like Supreme and Stussy started trending.

a tidy desk with a camera, supreme knick-knacks, a wooden fan and a marlboro box on it

And who are your favourite brands or designers today?

I’ve loved Undercover for a long time as It’s kind of rock-y and sometimes good at expressing a street or military mood. New brands like Post Archive Faction and XLIM are also cool.

What’s next on your creative wish list?

I want to style actors. I’m only working with musicians right now, and of course I like working on cool styling that fits the music; but I also want to try a cleaner, more high-end style with actors.

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