In the current celebrity cult climate, famous people turning fashion designers comes as no surprise. Established fashion critic Suzy Menkes wrote in 2012 that “the idea that anyone can be a designer is not part of the culture”, and this notion stands truer than ever. Entertainers, socialites and celebrities in general have long had a considerable influence on the fashion world — think Jane Birkin, who served as inspiration behind the eponymous Hermès bag and Audrey Hepburn, whose long-term collaboration (in the old sense of the word) with Givenchy had widespread following. Nowadays, however, their influence is deliberate — having discovered the might of the fashion industry, and recognised the potential for creative outlet, celebrities are swarming to it. Whether creating collections in collaboration with established brands, or setting up their own, their success has been (and, we assume, will be) greatly varied.
Both Beckham, with her eponymous brand, and the Olsen twins with Elizabeth and James and The Row are widely and openly celebrated in the fashion community.
It seems often than these people are driven by the pressure to succeed and make the most out of their brand name. Indeed, when it comes to harnessing the power of their fanbase, celebrities and their agents have the right idea — after all, why not use an already established following when launching into a new endeavour. However, in trying to appease their fans, they begin to spread themselves too thin, all to maintain their unfailing popularity. Managing a signing, acting, entertaining career at the same time as trying to design something worthy (and commercially successful), means that instead of devoting themselves completely to a chosen pursuit, these celebrities become the brand and, in a way, sell themselves, rather than their creations.
This is most evident when considering celebrity-to-designer ‘success stories’: Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Both Beckham, with her eponymous brand, and the Olsen twins with Elizabeth and James and The Row are widely and openly celebrated in the fashion community. The most likely reason for that is not only their clear vision and clean, tasteful execution, but also the fact that they are fully devoted to their brand and making it the best it can possibly be. Their brand is as strong as the Kardashians’, in a delightfully classy way: see The Row’s highly curated and aesthetically pleasing Instagram for clothing, interior design, art and lifestyle inspiration. Their non-fashion background is not used as a selling point but instead is simply a quaint detail from the past. The Olsens initially did not want their name attached to the brand, preferring to let the clothing speak for itself in their debut 7-piece collection — maintaining this elusive attitude likens them more to fashion giants like Martin Margiela, who infamously gives interviews only through fax, than Kanye West, whose personal brand not only extends to, but dominates, seemingly all spheres of his very public life.
The main danger, however, of this sort of career progression is not simply the fact that these celebrities are failing to embrace the true nature of fashion and its ability to impact the world with innovative creations based on the cultural and social backgrounds. It lies rather in their financial might — with the resources at their disposal, celebrities would find it easier to rent their showspaces, hire models, create promotional campaigns; something that younger, independent brands are not capable of due to their lack of sufficient funding. What Vogue’s Nicole Phelps calls ‘the celebrification of New York Fashion Week’ is a true problem in hindering new designer talent, and would hopefully serve as a reminder that this development and extreme personal branding is not what fashion is meant to be about.