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Hyunjin: The Prince of Versace

Read our entire interview with the Stray Kids star now.

By Joseph Kocharian

Hyunjin wears cotton poplin shirt; cotton chinos; Barocco jacquard Odissea sneakers; Athena mini tote bag (Picture: Versace, Photography: Angelo Pennetta)

Back in September, I witnessed the phenomenal popularity of K-pop when I attended Paris Fashion Week. The crowds of fans waiting for their idols to arrive to watch a show were so big that they blocked the roads. While sitting inside waiting for the runway to start, I could gauge when a K-pop idol had appeared due to the enormous cheers that erupted outside, rivalling only those heard at the Super Bowl. This is regular behaviour for K-pop fans — they descend en masse on locations where their heroes might be in the hope of catching a glimpse of their idols, or to scream incoherently with joy at spotting their ‘bias’ (the term for a favourite band member). 

With their high production values and equally high-octane energy, eight-piece band Stray Kids are one of the K-pop groups who can command the level of adulation experienced by One Direction and the Spice Girls, and which K-pop acts BlackPink and BTS still enjoy. The band — whose members are Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, HAN, Felix, Seungmin, I.N and Hyunjin — are racking up record-breaking streams and physical sales for their songs, amassing hundreds of millions of views with their dynamic music videos and performing in front of huge crowds in sold-out arenas. In June, their latest album 5-STAR earned them their third number one on the Billboard 200.

On an unwavering, determined journey to the top, they are part of the fourth generation of K-pop, a genre which has steadily taken its place on the global music stage over the past 15 years. With such success, K-pop idols are big business, so it’s no surprise that luxury brands are keen to tap into their star power. Earlier this year, one of Stray Kids’ main dancers, Hyunjin, was welcomed into the Versace fashion family as one of its global ambassadors.

The first thing that happens when I sit down with Hyunjin — often dubbed Prince Hyunjin by his fans — for our interview is that I’m treated to his trademark laugh. STAYs (the name for Stray Kids’ fandom) will know the one I mean: where he throws his head back and gives a melodic laugh full of warmth and joy. As he is South Korean, I attempt to greet him in his native language. (I later learn in an email that this was much appreciated by Hyunjin.) Although I am no linguist, this seems to ignite an initial spark of friendliness that sets the tone for our chat.

STAYs will know that Hyunjin has always been into fashion, and the enormity of joining an iconic, international luxury brand such as Versace has not been lost on him. “Versace has always been at the centre of culture, especially music,” he says. “So being a part of Versace itself as an artist means a lot and made me feel so honoured and also excited at the same time.”

Donatella Versace has been at the heart of the Italian brand since its inception and took over as the brand’s creative director after her brother’s tragic passing in 1997. She has become a legend of the fashion industry and a household name. Like Hyunjin, Donatella has a magnetic warmth, strong character and big heart that has made her beloved in the fashion world as well as with megastars including Madonna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Britney and Cher. For Versace, it’s about taking the time to cultivate relationships with the artists as well as dressing them. 

Hyunjin’s first meeting with Donatella Versace was at the brand’s La Vacanza show in Cannes in May this year. “I was a bit nervous when I met her in person, right after the show, but she greeted me with a warm smile and said, ‘You are part of the Versace family!’ So, I felt better!” he says. “Looking back, it was a brilliant show. The collection itself really matched the beautiful environment of Cannes. I really loved the music as well. It left a lasting impression on my memory.”

Stepping out solo was a little daunting, Hyunjin admits. “At first I felt a bit nervous because I was there without my [other band] members,” he says. There was no need to worry, however, as a flock of famous faces including Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan fluttered around him. Even A-listers are not immune to the lure of K-pop.

Hyunjin wears Barocco jacquard cashmere coat; cashmere sweatpants; Barocco jacquard Odissea sneakers; Athena tote bag (Picture: Versace, Photography: Angelo Pennetta)

“I had met Dua Lipa before, at an event I attended with Felix [Hyunjin’s bandmate], and this time Dua spoke to me first and said, ‘Good to see you again!’ I felt so grateful for that. It felt so good!”

Meeting Sivan led to a new music collaboration. “With Troye Sivan, we took a picture together, so I felt we were getting closer to each other, then [after the show], he contacted me, and I had an opportunity to feature on his music with the song, ‘Rush’,” recalls Hyunjin. “It was really fun, and I am looking forward to another chance [to] make [music] together.” 

It’s a sentiment shared by Sivan, who has spoken about being up for more music collaborations with Hyunjin. After meeting him at the Versace show, Sivan was quite vocal about being smitten with the K-pop star and went on a social-media spiral, watching Hyunjin perform and noting in particular that he was blown away by his dance skills. 

Performing is, after all, where Hyunjin shines. He draws your eye to him with intricate movements that he makes look effortless. Animal emojis are often allocated to K-pop idols, and Hyunjin’s is a ferret — it’s not just that he resembles one with his facial expressions, but because of the fluidity of his movements when he dances. (He’s also known as ‘dumpling’ to his bandmates and team members, who in mischievous moments will joke about what would be the perfect temperature to cook him at.)

Hyunjin’s dance finesse led to him trending at this year’s VMAs, where Stray Kids performed their track, ‘S-Class’. Those unfamiliar with the band were trying to find out the identity of the “fine-ass ponytail guy”. It was, of course, Hyunjin. Another moment from the evening that went even more viral was footage of Taylor Swift in the audience watching Stray Kids. After an initial reaction of jaw-dropped astonishment, she could be seen bopping along. Taylor’s appreciation of Stray Kids’ performance didn’t go unnoticed online. As I write, the Swiftie and STAY fandoms are flooding an Instagram post of Donatella’s with enthusiastic ‘Taylor x Hyunjin’ comments.  

“It was an honour even being [at] the same venue as Taylor!” says Hyunjin. “After the performance at the VMAs, people told me, ‘Have you seen this video! Is it real?!’ It felt surreal! I hope I could be with her at another event if there is an occasion or opportunity.” 

As he told me this, I was thinking about which Reputation (Taylor’s Version) track would best suit a collab with Stray Kids. I cannot promise that I won’t launch an online campaign with the STAYs for the eight-piece to collab with Swift on either ‘…Ready for It’ or ‘I Did Something Bad’.

Versace has created bespoke pieces for him for all of this year’s milestones, including the VMAs. “I also felt grateful to Versace,” says Hyunjin. “They gave me lots of support with my outfits, like Lollapalooza in Paris to the recent (Stray Kids) Dome tour, so I feel really pleased to be with Versace in every single way and [for] important moments.” 

Hyunjin’s first Versace duty was starring in its Holiday campaign, which came out in early November. “I was super, super excited” he recalls. “Since it was my first fashion campaign, it was much more meaningful. They took good care of me at the photoshoot, so I could feel really comfortable, and they gave me a lot of inspiration and support. I was really happy to be there.” Donatella dressed him up in everything from a shimmering wool and Barocco lurex double-breasted tailored jacket to an acid-green wool coat. Which was his favourite?

“All of the outfits were so unique, interesting and beautiful, he replies. “But I especially loved the long-length coat with the Barocco print on it.” 

It’s easy to see why Versace sought out Hyunjin as an ambassador and model for its Holiday campaign. His beauty is so perfect that once, on a live video stream, he asked earnestly, “Shall I remove the filter?” He then tapped away on the screen for a few moments before realising that there was, in fact, no filter on at all, and that he was simply looking flawless.

His looks are only part of the reason that Hyunjin attracts such a large fanbase. The man who can perform intricate choreography effortlessly is the same person who is simultaneously adorably clumsy and playfully melodramatic with his bandmates. Social media is filled with content examining and curating his smallest nuances: how he dances happily when eating something he loves; a particular dance move that’s idiosyncratic to just him; how he crinkles and closes his eyes when he laughs; how he pronounces his bestie Felix’s name. Not to make any STAYs jealous, but I got the ‘throwing-back-of-the-head laugh’, the ‘peace signs’ and the ‘tiny-hand wave’ all in one interview…

It’s Hyunjin’s easy charm and warmth that enables him to connect with his STAYs. The day after I interview him, he is on one of his frequent Instagram live sessions, happily chirping away at 6am with his fans. Fashion is one way in which he bonds with them. He got too hot at one point, so changed into a white and blue Versace top, saying how much he liked it and how cool it was. “When I purchase a new piece, I try to share my outfit with my fans,” he says.   

Almost a week after our chat, he drove fans wild when he visited the Versace Ginza store in Tokyo to film content for the brand’s Holiday campaign. His unannounced appearance there made the national news in Japan, due to the sheer volume of fans who crowded the streets waiting for him. In typical Hyunjin style, he could often be seen peeking from the rails on the first floor and crouching down by the store’s giant glass window, doing heart signs, and checking that his fans weren’t too chilly waiting out in the cold for him. There is still a humble, appreciative shock on his face as he observes the scene, as if he can’t believe that so many people would turn up to see him. He’s perhaps the only person in the world who can’t fathom the enormity of their star power. 

Hyunjin wears cotton poplin shirt; cotton chinos; Barocco jacquard Odissea sneakers; Athena mini tote bag (Picture: Versace, Photography: Angelo Pennetta)

He’s not the only member of Stray Kids with an eye for fashion. When it comes to style, each of the band members has their own distinct look, which loyal STAYs love documenting. Whether it’s a caked-up Bang Chan in tight PVC trousers and midriff-skimming crop top or HAN in the hottest oversized skater and streetwear brands, the fans have dedicated accounts curating every item of clothing and accessory. Seungmin’s preppy wardrobe with oversized blazers and outerwear and Lee Know’s 90s-style slogan tees, oversized shirts and cropped preppy jackets bring a lot of minimalist, chic cool to the band’s aesthetic. Changbin takes any opportunity to show off his gym gains with skin-tight, sleeveless designer numbers or tees with rolled-up sleeves paired with shiny PVC trousers. Felix has talked about loving the blur between womenswear and menswear, and I.N’s penchant for a good piece of knitwear and a luxury designer item all add individuality to the band.  

There is, of course, cohesion and overlap in their styles too. For example, Hyunjin and Felix have matching Homaika resin rings that they both wear often. Hyunjin gifted one to Felix when he was looking for a new ring, and Hyunlix (the ship name for their friendship) STAYs are on constant alert to see if they’re wearing them or not.

Hyunjin tells me that if he were to borrow clothes from another member, it would be from I.N. “He’s really into fashion,” he says. “I normally ask his opinion before I buy a piece. I might borrow clothes from I.N if there was a chance to.” 

But fashion isn’t the only thing that sets Stray Kids apart.

Headed up by leader Bang Chan, Stray Kids, unlike most K-pop bands, produce and write their own songs. In November, they released an extended play, Rock-Star. “I wrote a song for this album. The title is ‘Cover Me’. Since I wrote the song, I really like it, and I wish more people would listen to my song,” Hyunjin says of the track. 

Showcasing Seungmin, Bang Chan and Lee Know’s vocals, ‘Cover Me’, released in early November, has soaring high notes and a cascading melody to match the emotional lyrics. It’s a slower-paced, thoughtful track that’s already popular with STAYs. Hyunjin has chatted with fans and shared some of the production process, including why he asked Felix to sing the intro to the song and the more melodic parts because of his appreciation of his band mate’s singing voice. The pair’s bond is evident even in Hyunjin’s song-writing. 

Hyunjin has written tracks for the band before — most notably, the incredibly passionate ‘Red Lights’, complete with sensual music video. Apparently, the lyrics he originally wrote were quite bold and were toned down by Bang Chan for the final version. He takes a moment when I ask if he would ever consider releasing the original for the fans who feverishly ask for it, before answering with a mischievous giggle. “I think it might be difficult to release the song, so it will be kept as a memory between me and Bang Chan!” 

Next, I ask him what his favourite song from Stray Kids’ entire discography is. “I would say it is ‘God’s Menu’,” he replies. “I think it’s a symbol of Stray Kids as it implies the beginning of our band. It reminds me of the beginning, so it’s one of my favourite songs.”

The band has sub-units called ‘rachas’. Hyunjin, one of the main dancers of the group, is part of ‘Danceracha’, along with Felix and Lee Know, who take care of the choreography. It’s important for K-pop bands to convey their music creatively through physical performance, and it’s no different for Rock-Star

“I have to say, it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest choreographies I have done,” he admits. “It also requires a lot of skills and energy, and I must say the performances will be really explosive and will be really good for big stages.”

Being part of Stray Kids is long hours and intense work for the octet, but they are a tight and protective group. Like a formation of migrating birds, they fly around the globe together, shielding each other from the swirling chaos and turbulence that comes with being megastars. Refreshingly, they’re not afraid to show their feelings, even in front of their sold-out crowds. On stage, they will take each other under their wing, comforting and flocking around a member if he bursts into tears, sharing the moment if someone is overcome with the enormity of what they have achieved, often setting one another off crying in the process. When on a break, sitting on the floor, they lend their shoulders and laps to their bandmates, so they can grab any moment of sleep they can. They snap keepsake photos of each other when enjoying some downtime or visiting a new city and also bake and cook for each other (Felix’s brownies are a band favourite). All these moments have made them into a tactile, emotionally affectionate group (even the often wise-cracking Seungmin yields to a hug from Yongbok Felix) whose friendships have been documented on YouTube channels, TikTok and other socials over the years. This close bond helps them get through their never-ending schedules. 

With the hard graft comes a lot of laughter. When he’s working on choreography, I ask who’s the most fun to teach a new dance to. Hyunjin’s answer should come as no surprise to STAYs: “I would say Changbin! Changbin is hilarious, and Changbin is a naughty boy! He’s always making the mood really happy. The choreography itself is really hard, but at the same time it is really exciting, so we felt that every moment we [practised] the choreography was like a festival.”

Hyunjin wears Barocco jacquard cashmere coat; cashmere sweatpants; Barocco jacquard Odissea sneakers; Athena tote bag (Picture: Versace, Photography: Angelo Pennetta)

In the rare moments of downtime, Hyunjin likes to draw and paint. “Normally, I draw objects or scenery, but when I want to express my feelings, I try to draw portraits. I also concentrate my energy on the drawings for around five or six hours and that time makes me sit still, so I really love that,” he says.

When I suggest it must be hard for the band members to carve out alone time during their schedules, he says, “Yes, you’re right. I have busy days, and I get stressed from the noises or sometimes things are physically challenging, so I appreciate this time to be myself and sitting still.” 

His laughs hits me again when I ask if he has ever drawn any of his band members.

“I haven’t drawn one of my members, and I will not draw my members, as I see them every day. Why bother drawing them in my free time?” he jokes. “But seriously, I really like giving them my drawings as a gift, so I draw their birthday flower as a present and I will do that from now on, but I will not draw their faces.” 

Then he exclaims: “Ohh. Actually, Changbin asked me to draw him!” This seems on-brand for Changbin, as his star sign, like mine, is Leo, and we love a picture of ourselves, or even just our reflection in the mirror. 

How much free time the fans’ favourite ferret will find to paint in the near future is unclear, as Stray Kids continue their determined climb to the summit of the music world, while supporting each other like family as they move towards their common goal. But it’s clear from Hyunjin’s first friendly hello and wave in our interview, to his very last appreciative touch on email that he’ll not lose his kindness and appreciation for his fans along the way. Perhaps these attributes are the reason Donatella and Hyunjin gravitated towards one another. These shared qualities mean he fits right into the Versace family.