There are those who firmly believe the celebrity-as-designer craze has lost its luster, but newcomers launching lines this fall naturally believe otherwise.
"I woke up at 5 this morning so I could come in and set up before I started meeting with all the buyers," Paris Hilton said Tuesday from her Los Angeles showroom, where she was showing her product to stores for the first time. Her self-titled apparel line will be launched for back-to-school.
"This has been my dream since I was a little girl, so I am completely invested in the success of this brand," she added. "This is my job; I will be here doing this all the time."
Hilton, who delayed a trip to Switzerland to be in Los Angeles for market week, said she had been involved in each detail of her collection, from picking the right buttons on jeans to developing new marketing ideas. She said she planned to be involved with her licensee, Dollhouse, through every decision. New product, she said, would be available every 30 to 60 days.
"It was really important to me that I be here to explain my vision to all the buyers when they see the clothes," she said. "And seeing me here lets them know that I'm really in this."
And, Hilton insisted, she will be seen wearing her own line all the time.
Michael Stone, president and chief executive officer of brand consultant firm Beanstalk Group, works with Hilton, and with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on their brand, which is sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.
"We see celebrities all the time who walk in here and tell us that they want to have a clothing line," he said. "We always tell them the same thing — you have to put in the time and the work. Some really just don't understand the business. We tell them that they have to come out with new product at least four times a year in the apparel business. If they can't do that, then apparel isn't for them."
Stone said more often than not, the celebrity seeking an apparel line of his or her own will walk right out the door. He said the main reason some celebrity clothing lines flop was because the celebrities weren't as involved as they should be."The Mary-Kate and Ashley brand works because the girls are involved with the design. They stay on trend, and tween girls buy into it," he explained. "The same goes with Gwen Stefani: She does well because L.A.M.B. is part of her career; she takes it seriously, and it shows."
Stone said he could see the Kate Moss collection, being launched next month at Topshop and at Barneys New York, doing well because Moss has fashion credibility. He also said he was intrigued by Sarah Jessica Parker's collaboration with Steve & Barry's.
"As long as they are involved in their lines and the product reflects their style, I could see them making it," he said.
Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys, said the choice to carry Moss' line was a natural one. "We thought it was another interesting thing for us to do," Gilhart said. "Kate has never let us down in terms of style, and she is a great stylist. Kate's style is very much Barneys' style. We completely relate to the design direction that she has given. It is like going into her closet, with items that work on their own or together. And you can see Kate wearing every piece."
Tim Gunn, chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne and Bravo's "Project Runway" task-maker, said his ideas about celebrity clothing brands had changed over time. He said he used to think it was something that was bad for the industry and that the celebrities were taking the attention away from those "real designers" who had the training and the talent.
"I used to have a snobby view of this," he said. "But what I've become aware of is that these brands employ a lot of young designers and they help these designers get their start in the industry. It's become a very positive thing for our industry in that way."
Besides, he said, "anything that generates buzz in this industry, I'm in favor of."
Gunn said he was very interested in Parker's line since she has become known as a true fashion plate.
"She is such a paragon of fashion," Gunn said. "I would think that launching a line has to be terrifying for someone like her, who is so connected to style and loyal to many designers. When she launches her own brand, that brand becomes her and she morphs into that brand. She will become known for that apparel that she has her name on. We shall see."Barbara Bylenga, president of Outlaw, a consumer research firm based in San Francisco that works with Levi Strauss & Co., Converse, eBay and Nordstrom, believes celebrity clothing lines are still money-makers, but are not on the radar of the true trendsetters.
"The trendsetters are never going to embrace this," she said. "With them, it's more about individuality, where they like to create their own looks, not copy the look of a certain celebrity."
She said for the mainstream girl who wants to be a step ahead but isn't quite sure how to achieve that, a celebrity line would be a good choice.
"The perfect positioning for these lines is in the mainstream," Bylenga said. "And for business, that's not really a bad thing."
Erica Salmon, creator of the Fantasy Fashion League, an online game for fashionistas modeled after fantasy sports leagues, just launched an off-shoot called Celebrity Fashion League for the celebrity style-crazed bunch.
"When we first started the [Fantasy Fashion League] site, I found it interesting that we kept hearing that people on the site didn't really know many designer names," she said. "But when it came to the celebrity names, they knew them right away without having to think about it. So I would think that if these people see the celebrity name they recognize on a label, they would automatically be drawn to it."
Salmon said that when she first learned about Sienna Miller coming out with a line, she was wondering how it would sell.
"When I learned that Sienna's line is going to be a collaboration with her sister, who actually does have design experience, I was like, 'OK, now it makes more sense,'" she said. "I do think that fashion experience is still an important element."
That said, Salmon thinks the success of brands like Mary-Kate and Ashley and stuff by hilary duff indicates there doesn't seem to be enough new brands for the younger set of consumers.
"Lindsay Lohan is immensely popular and I could certainly see her getting into something," she said. "I really see more tween celebrity brands doing well. Younger girls seem really into it."Salmon also noted her interest in the DVB brand that Victoria Beckham helms. The Beckhams, David being a major name in soccer, are very popular in the U.K., but have yet to make a major mark in the U.S. Their recent move to Los Angeles could fare well for their brand, but that fact remains to be seen. Victoria Beckham, in an interview with WWD in February, was the first to admit that reality.
"We are passionate about what we do, so let's see what happens. I am the first one to admit, do people really know who we are in America?" she said. "Maybe they do, maybe they don't. We are very realistic about that."
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