When I was talking to my colleague Ruth, our resident Hallyu expert and Inquirer Super K editor, about my upcoming trip to Seoul for the Hermès’ event called “Hermès Parade,” a global presentation of the French luxury house’s home collection, she asked that I please let her know if there would be Korean stars in attendance.
Don’t get your hopes up, I warned her. I’ve covered many of Hermès’ major events abroad and I’ve not once seen celebrities or entertainers in attendance. It’s not like other luxury brands, I said, whose guest lists are comprised of big stars and influencers.
Hermès is a lot more low-key that way—it does not pay celebrities to shill for the brand, I pointed out. Just consider its ad and marketing campaigns; they’re always centered on the product, never on a known face. If a celebrity is present at their event, it’s more likely that they’re a customer of the brand, not a paid endorser.
But, I said in jest, who knows if they invited RM? RM aka Kim Nam-joon, of course, is the art aficionado leader of the global phenomenon BTS, whose love for the visual arts is well documented, including with a feature in the New York Times.
That’s why it came as a surprise when I spotted the veteran lead actor Ji Jin-hee, (“Dae Jang Geum,” “Designated Survivor: 60 Days”), 51, being interviewed during the Seoul event last Monday, held at the aT Center, an exhibition venue in Gangnam that was transformed for the night for Hermès.
Then a few steps away was Kim Nam-gil (“Pandora”), another popular male lead star, who, like Ji, now belongs to the category dubbed by fans as “ahjussi oppa,” which roughly translates to handsome older actors (FYI Gong Yoo and Hyun Bin, both over 40, belong to this group).
It was a knee-jerk reaction when I approached Kim, 43, whose crime thriller miniseries “Through the Darkness” I’m incidentally watching now on Netflix, and asked for a selfie. He gladly obliged and even led me away from where we were standing, as Hermès performers took their place in our spot.
A bespectacled Chun Jung-myung (“Love Alert,” “Glory Jane”), 42, whom I initially didn’t recognize, also gamely obliged with a selfie.
Whoa, they’re so approachable, I thought; this is in stark contrast to when I last covered an event in Seoul, where a major actress was the brand endorser, and the Asian press who were there to cover were categorically prohibited from taking her photo.
My celebrity radar kicked in, and I went on to scour the massive venue for K-stars. For Ruth, I told myself. (I sent her videos and photos in real time.) RM was nowhere in sight, but no matter.
Schooled by Ruth on Hallyu etiquette, I knew enough not to invade the stars’ personal space—and never to physically touch them. (In hindsight, it was Kim Nam-gil who put his hand on my shoulder. Ruth said, that’s fine. Hah!) The well-heeled guests, many bedecked in Hermès, were also respectful, as the stars’ handlers politely declined most requests for photos. Instead, there was a home vignette for the Hermès performance where the celebrities posed for photos.
There was Younghoon, 25, of the boy band The Boyz, who blew up Inquirer Lifestyle’s Instagram—his group is performing in Manila on April 11.
There was also actor Jung Hyun-gyu, 25, of the dating reality show “Exchange 2” aka “Transit Love 2,” who even reposted our Instagram post to his 801,000 followers.
Another veteran lead familiar to K-drama fans, Yoo Ji-tae (the Professor in “Money Heist: Korea”), 46, arrived with his actress wife Kim Hyo-jin.
The power of Hallyu is such that even a quiet luxury brand which does not rely on celebrity marketing can, perhaps, in one way or other, benefit from star power, in the home of Korean wave.