Instant brand recognition is something even the most highly skilled marketing firm can’t buy, so when celebrities from the music, film, or even (and sometimes especially) reality TV worlds enter the fashion industry, they’re arriving with a kind of head start. What they lack, however is fashion and design world cred — it’s hard, at least at the outset, to take seriously a line launched by the least likeable member of a ‘90s-era girl group. And yet former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham is one of a handful of celebrities who’ve managed the transition from red carpet to runway with both critical and financial success.
From Jennifer Lopez’s recent collaboration with Coach to Rihanna’s star-studded and industry-shifting Savage x Fenty lingerie line presentation earlier this month, celebrity name recognition currently brings something extra to the table in a struggling industry that’s had to make major changes to the way it operates during a global pandemic: it acts as an insurance policy.
After designer Beckham, who’s been operating her eponymous fashion line since 2008, faced a backlash for accepting government furlough loans at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she handed the cash back and pivoted to create a small Spring 2021 collection devoid of any ‘runway only’ looks. “I can honestly say there’s genuinely nothing I won’t wear here, and that’s not always the case with a runway collection,” she told Vogue. As practical as that sounds in austere times, it’s a move more readily available to a brand backed by a billionaire power couple whose names themselves have major, cross-industry bankability.
Meanwhile, The Row, the award-winning label with unlikely child star founders Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, turned the pandemic fashion predicament into an opportunity to pioneer the ‘stealth luxury’ fashion trend, eschewing obvious ostentation in a time where it could be considered offensive (or more so than usual). Their team focussed on simple silhouettes in understated colors but fashioned them from some of the most exclusive fabrications on the planet (think: organic, single-batch silks produced by Japanese artisans). The shapes and tones telegraph comfort in the time of COVID (while the price tags do the opposite) but if anyone can convince us to relinquish our sweatpants next spring, it will be the Olsens.
As if aware of the amount of time many of us are spending in bed (both sleeping and streaming), Rihanna harnessed her star power to partner with online sales and entertainment giant Amazon for her latest Savage x Fenty presentation, working within pandemic guidelines to produce a show that was part performance, part sales pitch. Her latest lingerie presentation featured stints from artists like Bad Bunny, Travis Scott, and Rico Nasty, while Bella Hadid, Paris Hilton, Cara Delevingne, Irina Shayk, Demi Moore, Lizzo, and Drag Race all-star Shea Couleé did the modelling work. For the first time, the line also included underwear for men, opening up yet another sales demographic in which to market herself and her product.
If a label doesn’t start out with a celebrity name, they’re often more than willing to pay to borrow one. It’s a sales and design strategy that Coach has opted for more than once, with limited edition lines of products designed by (or at least inspired by) the celebrity names they cite. Coach’s most recent collab with J.Lo was preceded by partnerships with Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and big-name visual artist Keith Haring. Beyoncé partnered with Balmain for a three-piece charity capsule collection based on her Coachella performance. Kanye West teamed up with Adidas to make high-end Yeezy-branded sneakers — which introduces another important aspect of the celebrity branding game. The rise and fall of a star’s popularity can be tied to a rise and fall in brand appeal. When West released the 2017 version of his fast-selling sneaker, it retailed for $300. A summer 2020 shoe, released amidst a string of controversial (and sometimes offensive) public statements made by the rapper, was priced at just $75, a caveat emptor for labels and fashion collectors alike.