SInce everyone is a journalist/blogger/stylist nowadays, it's great to be grounded by the real mccoy, Suzy Menkes. In case you didn't catch her article in the Times magazine yesterday...
Clockwise from top: Getty Images (4); Wireimage; Getty Images.
Now when should I start my “Suzy” collection? I have all the credentials: I’ve sat front row at a gazillion fashion shows; I’ve rubbed platform soles with countless celebrities. Victoria Beckham smiles at me and has even shown me her new daughter, Harper Seven.
Would it take any more to turn me into a fashion brand?
The idea that anyone can be a designer is now part of the culture. Celebrities, stylists and enthusiasts on “Project Runway” are all aiming to join Karl & Co.
It all started with celebrity endorsements. No one really imagined that Jennifer Lopez was cutting and stitching the outfits that bore her name when she first introduced J. Lo in 2001. It was just a branding exercise, like Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. or Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds.
The rise of celebrity magazines through the 1990s brought fashion and fame together in a way that hasn’t stopped. Suddenly, it was not enough to put your name on a middle-priced line to sell at Macy’s. Stars in the front row at fashion week wanted to join the elite club of designers.
While many of these star brands were flaring out, other dedicated followers of fashion were starting to take the slow road. Victoria Beckham is an example. When she won Brand-of-the-Year at the British Fashion Awards last November, even her most cynical critics took notice. Backed by Simon Fuller of “American Idol” fame, and with her and her husband David Beckham’s successful perfume behind her, “VB” began to work as a business. She made slender, classy dresses in her own image and sold them at high-end prices, with just a showroom presentation and no big runway event.
The approach was mirrored by other smart celebrities. With their fame as twin actresses, the Olsen sisters could have signed on to any fashion collaboration. But instead they started the Row with none of the bells and whistles associated with a celebrity start-up. The clothes were chic with a youthful twist, and made from the best fabrics.
L’Wren Scott was also wrapped in the aura of fame, through her partner, Mick Jagger. First known as a Hollywood stylist and costume designer, in 2006 she produced a line of elegant outfits that did not hang by a thread to anyone else’s glamour. Soon stylists came out of the shadows and into the limelight of their star clients. Rachel Zoe has dressed Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Cameron Diaz and Anne Hathaway. Then her boho look became marketable. She starred on a reality show and a fashion line followed.
Lady Gaga and the editor/stylist Nicola Formichetti seem to be joined at the hip. Not only can Formichetti take some credit for the infamous red meat dress, he’s also reviving the Thierry Mugler label with a runway assist from Lady Gaga.
Now, it’s possible for a star and a stylist to drag a brand in to the 21st century. But as a fashion editor, I have to ask myself whether taste and style are really a match for creativity and experience? Sometimes I get mad thinking how tough it is for talented young creatives to get financing while stars are lavished because they’re already famous.
But is the celebrity cult such a new phenomenon? Coco Chanel used her aristocratic lovers and their connections to help build herself a business. And back in the ’80s, I used to see the Nefertiti profile of Jacqueline de Ribes in YSL’s front row; a society figure, she took to designing under her own noble name. Some of these socialite brands have actually thrived. Diane von Furstenberg and Carolina Herrera both started as glamorous society figures — and just look at them now! The way Tory Burch is developing her business, she too could have her name in lights for the next 20 years.
But there are warning flags, as when the über-stylish music mogul Kanye West decided to introduce a collection last fall. The full-on glamour might have worked in New York, but on the Paris runways it just seemed derivative.
What do “real” designers think of their celeb competitors? Mostly they say, “Don’t give up the day job.”
Alber Elbaz, who, by way of Israeli design school, an apprenticeship at Geoffrey Beene and a stint at Saint Laurent, has repositioned Lanvin as a red-hot brand, put his reaction to pop stars-turned-style gurus like this:
“And maybe I should sing?”