“Kanye West’s fashion debut was like being subjected to an hour-long MRI scan — but not as much fun” read one article from The Daily Telegraph, while another one from the New York Times suggested that a tailor be brought into the line.
These snarky quips came in 2011, on the heels of Kanye West’s debut SS12 collection, which saw models teetering down a mirrored runway in everything from silvered python pants to a confusingly enormous fur backpack. Despite filling his front row with designer pals such as Silvia Venturini Fendi and Olivier Theyskens, his initial runway outing was largely panned by critics, who deemed it a misadventure by another Hollywood celebrity trying to carve his name into the annals of fashion history. The label showed one more collection after, before pulling out of the industry.
Perhaps in the days of 2011, few would’ve thought that Kanye would then go on to launch a hugely successful career in fashion with his YEEZY line; or that he would spawn an army of clones wearing shapeless gym-inspired clothing in dusty shades of coral and slate, or that he would launch the trend of “norm-core” that essentially killed the dandy-led menswear scene.
Just this past Sunday, Kanye added invites to a special “church service” to his regular YEEZY show, which was held on Monday. The fashion community gathered in a room complete with a gospel choir decked out in YEEZY neutral, and the online community was flooded with accusations of a new cult on the rise. Good or bad, publicity is still publicity.
Kanye’s meteoric rise in the world of fashion also set some precedence for other successful celeb-fashion crossovers in the years after. There was the Pharrell x Chanel collection, which saw the rapper and producer push his streetwear sensibilities and his love for incendiary colours into Chanel’s hallowed boutiques. Following that, and partnering together with Adidas and Chanel, Pharrell’s NMD Hu sneakers were resold for a cool £30,000.
More recently, Beyonce teamed up with Adidas for an Ivy Park collaboration — the same brand that she created and later bought out from Topshop’s Sir Philip Green after reports of poor working conditions emerged. Upon launching, several pieces sold out within six minutes and the website eventually crashed after the surge in traffic. By the first hour of the collection going live, you were lucky if you could even cop anything at all.
Certainly, the ties between Hollywood and haute couture isn’t anything new. Several big-name celebrities have attempted their hand at running fashion labels: Jennifer Lopez and Sweetface, Gwen Stefani with L.A.M.B., Beyonce with House of Dereon, and the list goes on. Yet few of these brands have hit the successes that today’s celebrity-led labels or partnerships are enjoying.
So the question remains — why is this celeb-meets-fashion formula working? And why now?
We live in different times now, where our obsession over celebrities is even more feverish than two decades ago. The role that social media plays in today’s culture allows us to have a 24/7 feed of every single time our idols step out onto the streets, and by extension, what they’re wearing too.
We’ve created a culture where everyone is obsessed with making their best/worst dressed lists each awards season, and celebrities are trotting out the most dramatic sartorial tricks to show that they are more fashionable than the rest.
We’ve conditioned celebs to ensure that they are always looking their best so that even if they’re going for a coffee run or a dinner date, they need the help of a stylist to pull together a quick outfit.
Perhaps the rise of celebrity-driven fashion projects is also shaped by the growing appetites of the masses. When you buy an item from a brand, you’re also buying into the values and the exclusive world that this brand stands for. Likewise, when you’re wearing a pair of sneakers or a skirt that bears your idol’s name on the tag, it’s about as close as you can get to receiving his/her stamp of approval.
Essentially, it’s an elevated version of the cheaply produced fan merchandise peddled at concerts that you struggle to find a stylish way of wearing after the adrenaline dies down. Rather than a gaudy t-shirt with your idol’s name splashed across the front in garish colours, celeb-backed fashion ventures are a subtler way of showing your allegiance as a fan. And for those who aren’t yet part of the club, these collections hopefully entice you to get to know a little bit more about the celeb behind the threads.
On top of that, it also lets the celebrity remain in the pop culture conversation, even if he/she does not have a new album or movie in the pipeline. Given how quickly entertainment news moves these days, having a fashion collection do months-long legwork in keeping your name in the conversation isn’t a bad idea.
It should be noted that while some celeb-branded collections fly off the racks because of the reputation behind the name, there are a few who’d rather let the clothes take the centre stage.
When Victoria Beckham held her first fashion show, critics were quick to write it off as being a copy of Roland Mouret (the ex-Spice Girl had a penchant for wearing his fitted sheath dresses around that same time). Consistently, and perhaps thankfully, Beckham continued to try again and again, listening to what the critics are saying each season and finding ways to improve her craft.
Today, her collection is a go-to for modern women in search of contemporary separates and effortless evening looks. Her most recent FW20 collection was a confident show of ‘70s-inspired tailoring, timeless dressing and the appeal of grown-up elegance. Victoria Beckham may be a celebrity, and she may be running a fashion empire, but she is by no means a celeb-fashion label.
The Row, which is started by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, is another similar story. While the twins have enjoyed an extremely successful career in TV and film on top of a billion-dollar fashion empire that they started when they were kids to reach out to their fans, The Row is shoulders above in their legacy.
In fact, so far removed is the brand from the rest of the Olsen twins’ commercial past (which included toys, books and cosmetics), that when you mention it, people are immediately drawn to the signature unadorned look that shows up on the runway, rather than the Olsen Twins themselves. At their SS20 show, pieces are designed with their regular-fare minimalism in mind, employing extremely luxurious fabrics in muted colours of cereal, blue and cream to bring out the importance of cut and fit.
So, how long is this wave of celeb-driven fashion projects going to last? No one can say for sure, though recent weeks have brought about even more similar ventures. Just two weeks ago, Tommy Hilfiger launched his collaboration project with F1 racer Lewis Hamilton, which saw supermodels Naomi Campbell and Erin O’Connor returning to the catwalk in sporty, neon-tinged threads. Over in Korea, BLACKPINK’s Lisa is reportedly working on her own fashion line, after intrepid fans found out that she had her name trademarked for apparel goods. And then there’s also Rihanna, who’s LVMH-backed Fenty continues to fly off the brand’s web store.
By the looks of it, we expect to see even more celebrities putting their names on fashion labels.