By and  on March 16, 2010

Undeterred by flash-in-the-pan tie-ups like Lindsay Lohan at Ungaro, yet another wave of celebrities is breaking into the fashion game.

In the past few days alone, Madonna unveiled a deal with Dolce & Gabbana to codesign sunglasses stamped with the MDG logo, and a joint venture with the Iconix Brand Group Inc. to launch worldwide fashion-related projects and perhaps even make acquisitions. How she will manage this in the midst of writing and directing a film about the ultimate clotheshorse Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII’s abdication remains to be seen.

Last week also brought news that the mercurial Amy Winehouse has jumped on board with Fred Perry to launch a line due in stores this fall. Then there is Sarah Jessica Parker’s new gig at Halston as investor and chief creative officer.

So what’s the appeal given a trail well-littered with failed celebrity lines?

Aside from having instant name recognition, celebrities now provide apparel companies with automatic potential shoppers thanks to followers on Twitter and Facebook, observers said.

“Fashion is word-of-mouth. When you bring a celebrity into fashion, what they do bring is a pre-existing fan base,” said Andy Sernovitz, author of “World of Mouth: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.”

“Shaun White has 1.1 million friends on Facebook. The average person on Facebook has 100 friends. If Shaun posts ‘Hey, check out this jacket,’ even if only 10 percent click on it and they’ve got 100 friends each, you now have reached 10 million. That’s not just 10 million people who have seen an ad in a magazine, but 10 million people who have heard of it from a friend. That’s huge.”

Last week Olympic gold medallist White extended his Target collection, which his brother Jesse White helps design, to include footwear. Rather than build a brand from the ground up or get a celebrity-type deal with an apparel manufacturer, White said Target enabled him to reach millions of people right away and not have to charge high prices. “Usually these individuals don’t have a ton of cash to blow on $200 jeans, and then go out and skate in them and have them torn to shreds,” White said of his fan base.

A Burton-sponsored athlete since the age of seven, White’s deal with the snowboard label runs through January 2018. He recently expanded The White Collection he designs for the brand. Oakley, Red Bull and AT&T are among his other sponsors, so he was not exactly gunning for more after Vancouver. “The last time I went to the Olympics and won gold, I was 19,” he said. “I actually had a ton of sponsors going into Vancouver. I didn’t feel that just because I was an Olympic athlete, I would be hammering out new endorsements.”

Instead he is focusing on what he already has. During the 292-plus days he spends on the road each year, White checks out stores when he can, as was the case in the midst of a two-day stay in Japan last week. “Do you know what’s bizarre? This whole shopping thing. What’s awesome is now that I’m a Target designer I can wear whatever I want. I basically wear our jeans every day,” White said. “The first time I went into a store, I didn’t even know there were dressing rooms. Literally for years and years, I would just go into a factory and grab whatever I needed out of boxes — that was shopping for me. This is so much better.”

Neil Cole, chairman of Iconix, said Madonna’s new job title is by no means celebrity designer. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Madonna being a celebrity. I really see Madonna as a partner,” he said. “Some of the stuff she’ll be involved with, and some of the stuff she won’t. She’ll do some marketing and production. I respect her as a marketer and innovator of pop culture as much as I do for her product ideas.”

With a number of different initiatives on the works, Madonna is not about to plaster her image on all of them. For example, she is taking more of a behind-the-scenes role with the Material Girl label, which will be geared for younger shoppers. However, where it “makes sense,” Madonna’s name and image may be used, Cole said — as it is in the MDG line of sunglasses codesigned with Dolce & Gabbana. “One of the things that I like about her is that she’s authentic,” said Cole, who also works with Jay-Z on Rocawear. “She’s not going to put her name on anything that is not real. Consumers are really smart. They are not going to buy something just because a celebrity’s name is on it. That’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Jay-Z. You just can’t force something. He only wants to do products that make sense.”

Cole is not alone in his pursuit of entertainment-based fashion hits. Simon Cowell has a long-term global venture with Sony Music Entertainment Group that will include developing branded merchandise for “X Factor,” “America’s Got Talent” and “Britain’s Got Talent.” Last month industry watchers took note when premium denim label J. Brand revealed its new private equity owner included Creative Artists Agency, indicating the Hollywood mega-agents also could be eyeing fashion tie-ups for some of its clients.

While there is no shortage of celebrities whose fashion forays have been belly flops, a few like Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, Gwen Stefani and Victoria Beckham have managed to break through — and it’s these deals that seem to be spawning even more by everyone from models and actresses, to sports stars and reality TV faces.

Irina Lazareanu has pulled together a collection for the Japanese department store Seibu, and next month Twiggy gets in on the game with Twiggy London, an exclusive line on HSN. Cindy Crawford’s jewelry collection, One Kiss, also hits J.C. Penney stores next month, while Heidi Klum stands to leverage some of her “Project Runway” fame with her two new maternity lines. Others cashing in on reality TV fame include sisters Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, and Khloe Kardashian Odom, who have a collaboration with Bebe. The “Jersey Shore” group is bound to be the next to sign some kind of deal.

Now that her Rvca label is up-and-running, model-turned-designer Erin Wasson has just launched a jewelry line in the U.K. Devon Aoki and her brother Steve, a DJ and music producer, will launch DASA clothing next year.

Then there is the proliferation of socially conscious collections, which may or may not have long-term futures. Mary J. Blige and Catherine Malandrino drummed up FFAWN + Catherine Malandrino “T-luxe” tops that benefit the musician’s charity. The pair are already adding accessories. “Harry Potter” actress, Burberry poster girl and Brown University freshman Emma Watson recently launched the People Tree Love From Emma eco-friendly label, while model Agyness Deyn’s new collection for Barneys Japan is also environmentally minded.

As for musicians other than Winehouse and Madonna, even perennial party boy Pete Doherty is collaborating on a jewelry line with British designer Hannah Martin, while Lily Allen has given up the music world to open vintage shop Lucy in Disguise with her sister Sarah Owen. Other music types like Rihanna have hinted at fashion career ambitions. Estelle has said she is willing to intern or consult before launching a signature line or cobranding a collection.

For Watson, a casual conversation about fair trade with family friend Alex Nichols, who is also an Oxford professor and People Tree board member, led to her involvement with the brand. Despite banking nearly $29 million last year as Hollywood’s highest-paid female star, Watson modeled for her label’s catalogue. But her Ivy League course load has kept her away from doing anything formal for the launch.

Deyn said of I Am by Agyness Deyn, “When Barneys Japan asked me to design a line with them, it stuck out from other requests. Go Green Go is a forward-thinking cause that is important for everyone, and will go toward planting trees in inner Mongolia.”

Shoppers can actually look up the serial numbers listed on their hangtags on the retailer’s Web site to see where their respective tree has been planted. The launch coincided with the opening of Barneys Japan’s Kobe store earlier this month. Deyn said the collection is a one-off at the moment, but if it “raises lots of money for the charity, I’d love to support it again in some way.”

Some like Steve Aoki, who is expanding his Dim Mak men’s wear, an offshoot of the record label he launched 13 years ago, just like to earn their keep. Developing the DASA label with his sister will only extend his work week. “I would rather be working in my studio than taking a holiday. It is way more fulfilling than laying on a beach somewhere,” he said.

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