I discovered the writings of Teri Agins years ago after picking up a copy of her 1999 book, The End of Fashion. Subtitled How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, that book was a look at how fashion resources were being put more into selling clothes than in creating them. In an interesting way the book foretold the rise of fast fashion.
Now Agins has tackled the issue of celebrity “designers”. Starting with the incredible success of Jessica Simpson, Agins tells about the rise of the celebrity label, and how being a “brand” has become so important in the fashion business.
Not that celebrity labels are new. In the 1930s many celebrities from Amelia Earhart to Shirley Temple had their names on clothes. I have a 1940s dress with a Dorothy Lamour label, and the Gloria Swanson Forever Young label is quite commonly found today. In the 1960s model Twiggy had her name on a label.
But no time in fashion memory has the celebrity label been what it is today. And it’s not just the labels. Celebrities are usually featured on the covers of fashion and women’s magazines. Celebrities are paid to sit in the most desirable seats in the trade shows otherwise known as fashion weeks. And what celebrity does not have his or her own fragrance?
Agins tells how some celebrities, like Simpson, have been wildly successful. On the other hand, she examines why others, like Kayne West, have struggled.
So have fashion designers taken a back seat to the celebrity brands? In many cases yes, but savvy designers like Michael Kors have taken a page from the celebrity manual and have built celebrity-like brands themselves. Kors was able to do this through his appearances on Project Runway. It can be argued that Kors is the Project Runway grand prize winner, with his brand going public in 2011 with a value of $3 billion. It is currently worth around $20 billion.
This is my favorite kind of book – one that not only reveals certain things that might not be obvious to a casual observer of the fashion world, but that also gives the reader plenty of food for thought.