Fashion Manifesto: Why Celebrities Should End Their Affair with Fashion Design

June 2, 2007 • Magazine

Fashion Manifesto: Why Celebrities Should End Their Affair with Fashion Design

Fashion Manifesto: Why Celebrities Should End Their Affair with Fashion Design

Sat, 2007-06-02 10:00

Joanne Molina, Senior Editor

I quit. I’m finished. Kaput. After this column there will be no more: my days of writing about “celebrityâ€? designers are finished. Whether it’s Victoria Beckam, J.Lo or Amanda Bynes, I’m tired of promoting celebrity over style, and making fashion synonymous with a cause celeb. I refuse to be part of any contemporary Emperor’s entourage who says s/he can be confused with a designer, or literally h/er “new clothes.â€?

And don’t think it’s because I’m self-righteously depriving myself of the pleasures afforded by purveyors of popular culture. After all, Americans have an odd relationship with what they deem frivolous—suspicious and often contemptuous of fashion, art and the elevation of any kind of work that doesn’t fit into a familiar category. I am no stranger to the snide remark connected with my delight with pleasures of the aesthetic sort. And although these stoic Puritanal roots are pervasive, as an author who writes about art, design and fashion I felt compelled to take on an old trend with a strange new twist: the celebrity fashion label.

But don’t confuse this with my fickle intrigue and interest in celebrities who wear designers or designers who create a dress inspired by an actress or hire a starlet to promote their goods (Colleen Moore did this in the ‘20s as did many starlets who gained their fame through cinematic means). Personally, I gave Britney some much needed fashion advice and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see someone taking advantage of their good fortune to acquire unique and interesting goods, support emerging designers and the artisans and craftsmen who work for the more established design houses. With access to travel, time and energy to discover the new—or at least have access to people like stylists who do, it’s fun to see the Bjorks and the Brangelinas of the world in their finest.

No, this is not the phenomenon I’m taking to task. Rather, what’s deplorable and insulting is the rise of the celebrity label (fragrance and beauty brand). First of all, I am of the belief that while people are multidimensional and capable of more than a single achievement, this kind of talent requires, well, something beyond name recognition. Even if you spent years of your life locked in your basement with patterns and fabric and models (who aren’t kept in your basement), you’ve spent time developing skills and actually participated in the trade. What saddens me is the fact that the actual “designersâ€? behind these lines have spent years of their life developing industry skills and find themselves working on behalf of a brand that isn’t even just a generic and perhaps even soul-gutting design house like Liz Claiborne (before Tim Gunn of course). Instead, they find themselves assisting in the development of a person who is likely to have risen to fame because of crotchless photos and repeated tepid performances in films that simply won’t go away. These designers build brands, (which isn’t unusual, welcome to fashion) around an image of a w/oman whose bloated bank account will benefit fifty-fold from their labor. And while it’s true that a designer’s paycheck is without doubt a helpful tool, as is the experience, what would be more helpful to designers is if these celebrities would really take the fashion they admire seriously (call to mind the recent Vogue Poiret opening where most people didn’t know who Paul Poiret was, ahem) and invest in their lines (Sean Combs and Zac Posen are an interesting example of this) or actually insist on paying for h/er work (no more free dresses).

Second (and I only have room for two reasons in this platform) I have to say that as a consumer I am insulted whenever I see some celebrity selling me goods that are supposed to be a “pieceâ€? of her. With the exception of Gwen Stefani, I rarely see a diva actually donning her own garments. I certainly don’t see Jessica Simpson stepping out in her shoes and I don’t see Madonna wearing H&M to any fashionable event, let alone grab her coffee. They wear the items that are supposed to be luxurious, associated with A-list celebrity status and by definition unobtainable — which is antithetical to the cheap, mass-produced goods they sell under their brand name. What fool really thinks s/he is going to really feel like part of Paris Hilton’s world because they buy her sub-par fragrance—and who really wants to?

If you really want to live like an A-lister buy something that will stand the test of time and be proud of your own style – not a cheap imitation. And well, that’s all she wrote.

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