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Friday 24 October 2014

Are celebrity clothing lines out of fashion?

The power of the stars cannot be denied, but do we still care about what they've designed for us to wear, asks Harriet Walker

On the publicity trail for her new book of memoirs last week, American Vogue's creative director Grace Coddington was asked what she thought of celebrity fashion. Her response? "Don't get me started."

It's something of a consensus now, isn't it, that celebrity clothing is pretty much the death knell of cool -- and if the flame-haired oracle says so, we need to listen up.

But apparently, we continue to buy into it -- in the past year, we've had The X Factor judge and ladette loudmouth Tulisa Contostavlos for the mainstream chain Bank; Madonna designing with her daughter Lourdes; Lauren Pope and Gemma Collins of The Only Way is Essex, the latter presenting a range of plus-size clothing for the website Simplybe.co.uk, and from the one-time "star" and "singer/songwriter" Caggie Dunlop of Made in Chelsea.



Queued

If some of these people don't strike you as particularly famous, perhaps that's an answer in itself. According to Mintel, only one in 20 adults admit to shopping with the intention of dressing themselves or their children like their favourite stars.

Gone are the days when customers queued all day and almost all night to get their hands on Kate Moss's first collection for Topshop in 2007. That, surely, was the nadir of the celebrity fashion designer: an icon, if you will, that everyone then wanted to look and dress like, presenting for us an affordable version of her own wardrobe. And if that was the recipe for success, no wonder Lily Allen's collection for New Look -- graffitied prom dresses and trainers -- released a month later bombed.

So whither the Mossy effect? Celeb ranges that aimed to inherit the mantle she set aside in 2010 include DJ Fearne Cotton's line for Very.co.uk, and Emma Watson's foray into ethical fashion for the brand People Tree, but the former has not garnered the same widespread hysteria and the latter, well, that project folded back in March.

Perhaps the reason is that now we're inured to the power of celebrity when it comes to our wardrobes. Thanks to the internet and social media, we the public are far more fashion literate than five years ago: we watch catwalk shows live-streamed; we read tweets from backstage; we buy into collaborations with real, even avant-garde, designers in our droves -- just witness Versace and Maison Martin Margiela for H&M this year, JW Anderson for Topshop last September. If we're going to spend money, then we want our labels to be made by people who know what they're doing -- which is one reason Moss did so well at Topshop.

Similarly, a much-hyped collection for River Island by Rihanna is set to launch early next year. This feels ever-so-slightly less spurious or contrived, because the singer has actually been spotted wearing the label in the past and is recognised as a star with serious fashion points, whether in main street or haute couture.

It's for this reason that brands are still backing celebs: choose a personality well, someone with real credentials, and people will want a piece of it.

The perennially glamorous Kardashians released a capsule for Dorothy Perkins last month; Selfridges has brought on board collections by the rapper Tinie Tempah and Robbie Williams. So maybe our appetite for famous fashion isn't on the wane after all.

"Shoppers are smart," Ryan Crisp, a menswear buyer at Selfridges, says. "They understand when a collection is being sold to them in a cynically driven way. In order to resonate properly, celebrity-endorsed products shouldn't be positioned as mass-market -- it needs to feel premium. It's about buying into something special."

Certainly, this is the direction that Victoria Beckham has taken with her fashion empire. She boasts rave reviews, sell-out collections, some of the most prestigious stockists and glamorous customers in the world, and as of spring 2013, a footwear collaboration with Manolo Blahnik -- if that isn't industry acceptance, nothing is.

Fashion editors go mad for her style and the fact she once had a plastic catsuit and a backcombed bob is entirely forgotten. Mind you, she's tried very hard to leave that behind -- to be a serious celebrity designer these days, customers need to forget that they knew you before you were part of the industry.

It's a far cry from when we used to walk, literally, in our idols' shoes -- these days, we're just after their approval. The conclusion seems to be then, while we initially wanted to dress up as celebrities, now we only wish to dress in a similar way; we've become less literal and our tastes have matured.

Or so we hope. Let that be your watchword: it's OK to buy a coat like Tulisa's (or even Caggie Dunlop's, if you must) but don't buy a coat that purports to have been made by her. Because crooked seams will be the last of your worries.

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