Fashion’s gamble on celebrities with style

Singer Lana del Rey is the latest star to promote a fashion brand. Annmarie O’Connor scales the highs and lows of celebrity collaborations.

IT WAS only a matter of time before Lana del Rey lent her retro style to a fashion campaign. The ‘Video Games’ singer can now be seen as the face and voice of Swedish high street chain H&M in a multi-tiered ad campaign including a slick mini-film of the chanteuse crooning ‘Blue Velvet’.

This isn’t the first badge of honour for the 25-year-old either whose surname inspired this year’s must-have Mulberry bag.

Del Rey is just one of many celebrities whose image has been co-opted by retailers looking to cash in on a good thing. River Island pulled out the big guns last month announcing an exclusive 2013 design collaboration with Barbadian popstrel Rihanna; while Italian sneaker brand Superga snagged muse-of-the-moment Alexa Chung (who most recently designed for Madewell) as its face and creative director.

With British and Irish high street sales at their lowest since 2009, the battle to reclaim footfall has never been more pressing. As the Olsen twins, Kimora Lee Simmons and Jessica Simpson become billion-dollar design doyennes, the fashion math is obvious. The question is whether retailers can run the risk of reprising a formula that seems to have reached saturation point.

Anne-Marie Boyhan, editor of Whatshewears.ie is optimistically cautious. “I think it’s really important that the celebrity should be a good fit for the brand,” she stresses. “Kate Moss for Topshop was a marriage made in heaven. She didn’t just put her name to it as she was wearing the label before they collaborated.”

Indeed the supermodel’s four-year design partnership (2007-2010) with Topshop set the standard for high street-celebrity collaborations, raising sales for the store, according to reports, by up to 10%. Badging a brand with a credible ambassador seems to have kept the British chain fashionably black where others have been left red-faced. Emma Watson for People Tree, Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony and Yasmin Le Bon for Wallis capsule lines have all been discontinued; despite its ‘designers’ having covetable sartorial nous.

Where failing footfall has affected high street margins, internet sales have conversely risen 14.3%t to £493.3m in Britain alone. Asos.com (As Seen On Screen) - the popular fashion and beauty e-tailer - has gained near cult status with its clothing offering based on outfits first worn by celebrities. The online store’s group sales were up 31% to £137m last quarter boasting

16.6m unique monthly visitors and 4.7m active customers from 160 countries. Averaging an upload of 1,500 ‘in the style of ’ garments per week, that’s a de facto warehouse filled with nofee celebrity endorsements. Clever.

Online store Littlewoods (littlewoodsireland.ie) is equally well-versed in giving good face with Holly Willoughby, Fearne Cotton, Colleen Rooney and Jameela Jamil creating branded collections for the retailer. Hitting a range of demographics from curves to cool girls, the celebrities are undoubtedly well-matched to their customer base. British TV presenter Myleene Klass is the latest to join the Littlewoods line-up with a 24-piece collection reflecting the different roles of a working mother. Indeed, the former Hear Say singer is no stranger to the branding game, having promoted M&S in various campaigns since 2007; not to mention a successful

Mothercare line to her credit.

It seems that the conflagration of high street and celebrity is reaching a critical mass, as stylist Courtney Smith explains. “Every girl walking down the street wants to emulate their pop or TV idols ... I do feel that it’s misrepresented though; how much say do these celebrities really have in the designs?”

The business model, although highly copied, hasn’t always proven as profitable. Stylistpick.com is one such example.

Expanding on their offering of affordable accessories curated by hip stylists, the brand launched their first celebrity ‘designed’ shoe collection in 2011 with singer Cheryl Cole. Dubbed “As wearable as they are fierce”, the collection of pumps, sandals and ankle boots seemingly fell short of their promised practicality. Reports of a fault in the singer’s ‘Your Royal Hotness’ studded heels (£79.90) led the company to email customers about alleged faulty stitching.

Cole’s sophomore offering of t-bar sandals, courts and ankle boots, which dropped in July, takes inspiration from sweets with innocuous names like Toasted Marshmallows, Dip Dab and Black Jacks. Hopefully customers will find this sugary line less of a bitter pill.

H&M, whose vast celebrity designer credits include Madonna, Kylie and David Beckham looks set to launch an exclusive accessories capsule with fashion director at large for Vogue Japan - Anna dello Russo. Available from Oct 4, the capsule of jewellery, shoes and bags is tipped to follow in the sell-out footsteps of its predecessors, if only for the weight the Italian native holds with tastemakers in the fashion blogosphere.

Taste - sometimes there’s no accounting for it, which can make the business of brand ambassadors a tricky one. As Courtney Smith points out, “If any girls from the cast of Geordie Shore ever come out with a fashion collaboration, it would be a major low point for high street designs. Nobody wants to see a sheer mesh crop top and leopard print hot pants with a muffin top hanging out.”

If the cast of The Only Way Is Essex is an accurate barometer (Amy Childs for Lipsy, Lauren Goodger for New Look, Lauren Pope for Little Mistress) that could well happen sooner rather than later. Whether the currency of celebrity ever looks set to devalue is anyone’s guess.



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