Celebrities And Their Authority in Fashion
Fashion icons have long been indicative of their era—Marilyn Monroe is the poster child of the 50s, Jackie Kennedy the 60s, and Madonna of the 90s. Meanwhile, the rise of the digital age has been the catalyst for somewhat of a cult-like following, particularly within the latest generation that believes they are all privy to, and have a proclivity for, fashion. In the West, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid have nearly broken social media networks on account of their latest sartorial statements. And beyond the byproduct of their day jobs giving them the perception of heightened authority when it comes to fashion, their celebrity status provides an illusionary exoneration from any wrong-doing.
Celebrities adorning fashion brands have often been regarded as the stamp of approval, both inside and outside the industry itself. When Olivier Rousteing took over Balmain as Creative Director—with already minor trepidation from the critics—he decided to revive the brand with the then radical approach, the “Balmain Army.” The idea of a traditional Parisian couture fashion house hustling out the clothes to actresses, pop stars, and reality stars, was unthinkable. After all, the history of couture was one long steeped in aristocracy and reserved solely for society’s elite. Accessibility and high-fashion are in many ways regarded as oxymorons. But, Rousteing saw something many others failed to—social media was the future of marketing, even in designer fashion. The recent uptick in both the relevance and prominence of contemporary fashion has also seen its fair share of celebrity sightings. In the case of London-based Self-Portrait, it has been the focal point of many Instagram moments vis-a-vis celebrities. The Danish label, Ganni, skyrocketed from minor recognition to all-out It brand after Kate Bosworth tagged herself and gal-pal Helena Christensen in 2015 wearing a faux-fur bomber from the label in 2015.
The phenomena of the celebrity-turned-fashion-icon is by no means relegated to the West. In South East Asia, India in particular, this commodity is the lifeline to success. My tenure as Head of Merchandising in an upcoming luxury brand was a window into the psyche of the Indian consumer and the behemoth that is the Indian market. Bollywood and the regional movie industries circa Tollywood (Telugu) and Mollywood (Malayalam) in many ways is the apex of society. The only (thriving) music industry is that from the movies themselves and music is at the core of any celebration, namely weddings—a £12 billion industry by recent figures. For even those in the most remote areas, a song from the latest Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, or Salman Khan film gains unprecedented recognition and craze. So it comes as little surprise when the term ‘star power’ is embodied by those within the films themselves.
What is most curious is that the following of these celebrity sartorial choices are done nearly blindly. Publications understanding their power of influence leverage the names to improve marketing and boost sales. HELLO! India regularly features ‘airport style’ photos of the A-list names from Bollywood commending style that to the trained eye, would hardly be considered fashionable. Magazines routinely extend the offer of their highly sought after covers to these same actors, seldom moving outside the realm of superstardom despite the lack of nuance or creativity. For brands, this means peddling it to the person with the highest star power or risk your business falling into obscurity. Garments that have been worn by celebrities sell ten-fold, while the remaining items gather dust.
While some may argue that those in the limelight are at times subjected to unsavoury scrutiny, they also currently have unequivocal marketing sway. The most obvious argument is that of the magazines themselves—magazines are a business, and particularly in an industry suffering as much as publishing, it would be foolish to ignore a marketing tool as useful as the big name actors and actresses. However, it begs the question, where’s the line between the expected employment of genuine artistic creativity and displaying a penchant for fashion, and instead having businesses use names as leverage? Particularly in a region like South East Asia where celebrities in many ways are less icon and more idol, there comes little discernment between genuine fashion aptitude and a pseudo-fashion enthusiast.