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When it comes to the selling power of celebrity-branded fashion, retail consultants and marketing researchers can debate the economic merits all they want.

Stars kept tossing their hats into the marketplace this year. Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé Knowles, Macy Gray and Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day were among those who got into the act, personally rolling out their collections at trade shows this year.

And this was also an inaugural year of sorts for celebrity fashion vets Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez, who flexed their superstar status on the runway.

“I don’t care about critics or any of that stuff,” Lopez told WWD two weeks before her New York Fashion Week debut in February. “At the end of the day, consumers will decide if they like it and if they want to buy it or not.”

Consumers buying celebrity brands make up 10 percent of the $175 billion apparel business, according to NPD Group, up from 6 percent three years ago. Even NPD’s findings that celebrities influenced only 9 percent of Americans’ apparel purchases the year before was nothing to sneer at: It was a threefold increase from 2001.

And the number of bold-face brands is only expected to rise as entertainers measure their worth not simply by gold records or Grammys, but by whether they warrant their very own fashion label, as well.

Hilary Duff used her 18th birthday, Sept. 28, to announce she would be heading her own fashion and lifestyle company targeting the tween and junior markets. (She also confirmed that she signed a multifragrance deal with Elizabeth Arden.)

Managing Duff’s brand happens to be Robert Thorne, the former manager of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and founder of their Dualstar Entertainment Group.

The 19-year-old twins announced in October they are taking control of their $1 billion global company and focusing their efforts on a better fashion brand, along with boosting their home, beauty, management and entertainment divisions. In January, the pair acquired full ownership of the company, founded in 1993, and became co-presidents.

“We’re getting older,” Mary-Kate Olsen said in a WWD interview. “We have more things to say. We want to accomplish more things in our company.”

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

So, too, Sean “Diddy” Combs, who, six years after breaking into fashion with his Sean Combs men’s line, finally launched his women’s collection, Sean by Sean Combs, to more than 1,000 screaming fans at Bloomingdale’s at its New York flagship last month.

Combs was supposed to introduce the women’s line at the September runway shows in New York. But the sole celebrity under the spotlight that week was Stefani, showcasing her L.A.M.B. label at the Roseland Ballroom. She launched a second brand, Harajuku Lovers, a month later at an after party for her concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The lower-priced collection of track pants and T-shirts is licensed with manufacturer Jerry Leigh Entertainment.

Lopez ushered in the trend with the introduction of her Sweetface collection, including $400 cashmere sweaters and mink furs. There were looks, too, from the far lower-priced JLo by Jennifer Lopez clothing and fragrance brand, which racked up sales of $325 million the year before.

Like Combs, Knowles opted out of launching her House of Deréon at September’s New York Fashion Week. She did, however, go with a smaller holiday collection and introduced it during a brief visit at the Project Global Tradeshows in Las Vegas.

Also at Project that week was Timberlake, hawking his new William Rast line of sportswear.

Las Vegas, specifically the MAGIC trade floor, was also the launching pad in February for “American Idol” host and radio DJ Ryan Seacrest, The Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am and Gray.

“I think it is amazing that people have responded so well to celebrities,” Jessica Simpson said. “In a lot of ways, it puts you in a great place as a role model.”

If Simpson meant in terms of playing mogul, she’s on target.

Aside from a successful beauty line, Dessert Beauty, Simpson personally introduced Sweet Kisses, Princy by Jessica Simpson and a namesake collection at February MAGIC.

In August, Greenwich, Conn.-based Camuto Group paid $15 million to control the master license for the Jessica Simpson fashion brand. (And, like Tina Knowles’ key role in her daughter’s enterprise, Simpson’s mother, Tina, is also integral.) Wholesale volume for the contemporary label is expected to reach $100 million in the first year after the sportswear launch late next year.

Still, the junior Princy label hit a snag later in the year when manufacturer Tarrant Apparel Group responded to retail consolidation, denim saturation in the marketplace and quota safeguard measures by slashing its full-year forecast for revenue and net profit. During a conference call with financial analysts on Nov. 10, Los Angeles-based Tarrant Apparel Group said that for 2005 it expects net profit of $2 million to $2.5 million on revenue of $210 million to $215 million. It previously had forecast net profit of $9 million to $12 million on revenue of $240 million to $250 million. Tarrant also said during the call that Charming Shoppes dropped JS by Jessica Simpson, which was launched as a denim-only celebrity brand at the chain. Barry Aved, Tarrant’s president and ceo, said the company is in discussion with other large-volume middle-market retailers who would support the brand as a multiple category and collection.

Not surprisingly, while many of these multitasking stars seem to have it all, doing it all at once is a headier proposition. Stefani and Simpson each said they are taking a break from their other gigs to focus on their fashion businesses.

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