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First the Olsens, then Posh, then Lindsay, Kate and now SJP. Celebrities could soon refuse to get out of bed for less than a top design contract.

This story first appeared in the January 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

From the design atelier to the executive suite, celebrities are sweeping into the fashion world faster than they can change for the red carpet. The latest is Sarah Jessica Parker. The “Sex and the City” star is joining Halston as president and chief creative officer, the company confirmed to WWD.

As part of the arrangement, the actress will own an equity stake in the firm, joining a group that includes investors Harvey Weinstein and Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo. She will also have a seat on the Halston board alongside Weinstein and chief executive officer Bonnie Takhar. The unique arrangement will give her an integral role in shaping the strategic direction of the iconic brand — and could change the way celebrities look at future fashion deals.

“I think this is a brand new kind of business model and it illustrates how serious I am about this position,” Parker told WWD in an exclusive interview. “I think it’s wonderful to feel invested in something.

“I tend not to just endorse something,” she added. “I like feeling the stakes.”

Parker has been talking to Halston’s board since the early fall, and admitted that she has had “many, many conversations to arrive at where we are today” and “asked hundreds of questions of the people on the board that I was speaking to, and obviously Bonnie.”

It is unclear how much Parker invested in Halston, or if she put any of her own money toward it at all. Parker and Halston officials declined to disclose details of the contract, but it is understood the actress has a long-term commitment to the brand. Halston, for its part, saw a perfect fit in Parker.

“We had launched our Heritage collection, and the dresses had appeared in ‘Sex and the City 2,’” Takhar said. “Sarah Jessica has always had a love for Halston and we have always looked at her as a great American style icon. When all of this surfaced, we sat down and had a conversation. With her history of having had a successful business with Bitten, and her interest in getting involved in the fashion business, we talked about how we could work together and have a meaningful business relationship.”

Her new role at Halston is going to require a serious commitment of Parker, who will be juggling her movie career with the demands of Seventh Avenue. That said, based on her background outside of movies, Halston executives are confident Parker will be able to contribute. She became a fashion icon in her 12-year stint as Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City,” and, with the help of the show’s stylist, Patricia Field, has worn practically every major designer label. Her low-cost Bitten line for the now-defunct retailer Steve & Barry’s was largely considered a success, as are her several forays into the fragrance world with Coty Prestige.

While Parker isn’t about to scale back her acting career, she stressed she doesn’t view her role at Halston as a part-time gig, and noted on several occasions that she is fully committed to the project. She doesn’t draw the comparison, but her attitude sounds similar to that of Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, whose lines are among the current standouts at retail in the celebrity fashion arena.

Asked why she would be qualified to be president and chief creative officer of a fashion firm, Parker didn’t mince her words. “I would say it’s a good question and it’s a fair question,” she said. “You could make many arguments to why I am not qualified. I would say that I am very aware of the enormity of the titles, and how important they are, and my response is that they [the board] felt confident in their decisions.

“I know I come to the company in a rather unorthodox way but I’m not the first to be president of a company without the traditional background,” Parker added. “Others have been successful in those endeavors and I do so hope I can be as well.”

And she has no doubt that she has a lot to learn. “There is a huge amount I don’t know and I am very candid about that, and I am excited to learn. There are going to be things that come up that I am equipped to deal with and answer and respond to, and there are things that I will be happily mentored on by Bonnie. I have no allergy to learning.”

Parker has already done some research on Halston, and she particularly finds his aim to democratize fashion appealing. It’s a notion she hopes the brand will continue with her on board. At Halston, she hopes to bring “good manners, a point of view that is inspiring, that is hopefully smart, and an incredible passion and excitement and enthusiasm, as well as some experience of what I know about women, that having been pretty much the focus of my role in ‘Sex and the City.’”

She can already talk business like the best of garmentos when it comes to the Heritage line.

“The Heritage line is going to be initially established as wholesale, but our long-term idea in terms of licensing, when it’s relevant and legitimate, is to open it up with partnerships that we think are right for the company, and we have started having those conversations,” she said.

Parker’s title implies that her responsibilities could one day even extend to the designer level at Halston — though not for creative director Marios Schwab’s first runway outing during New York Fashion Week next month. Parker and Schwab have met, and she has seen his sketches, but that’s where the actress’ involvement began and ended.

“That is his domain, and he was quite far along in the process when I came into the conversation,” Parker said. “I know as an actor it is not a process one interrupts. He has to be allowed his freedom to do what he feels is right and good, and authentically and organically his point of view…and I am excited by that. There is no point in hiring somebody and then undermining them, and nor do I have any interest in doing so.”

She is no stranger to a design environment and working as part of a team, given Bitten and her successes in the fragrance category. According to Andy Todd, former president of Steve & Barry’s, she takes a hands-on approach when it comes to fashion.

“She understands fashion,” Todd recalled. “She doesn’t have a degree in it, but her experiences in life and her personal taste we found were phenomenal. We talked to her every day, met with her once a week and went over all the designs with her.

“It was the fastest merchandise that turned over in the store,” he continued. “As soon as we received it, we sold out of it. Bitten sales were the highest of any celebrity line that we had.”

But Parker is joining a long line of celebrities flocking to the fashion world in a second wave of the phenomenon that saw the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Eve, Beyoncé and more launch apparel lines — often with little success. Among the current flock are the likes of Lindsay Lohan, whose appointment as artistic adviser to Ungaro continues to generate controversy; the supermodels Kate Moss, Eva Herzigova and Natalia Vodianova, and even TV personality Alexa Chung, who has just signed a deal to do a line with the J. Crew Group subsidiary Madewell (see story, page 8).

French accessories firm Longchamp has tapped Moss to design a signature line of handbags with the same prestige-but-accessible positioning as its principal collection, with Kate Moss for Longchamp bags retailing for about $750. Moss, who already designs a line for Topshop, revealed the Longchamp news together with Longchamp’s artistic director, Sophie Delafontaine, in an interview in this week’s French Elle. The brand, which has used Moss in its advertising campaign for four years, plans to unveil the project on Jan. 27 at an event during Paris Couture Week. It is understood Moss has a long-term contract calling for two collections a year, with the first arriving in Longchamp boutiques and select department stores starting next month.

Etam Group, meanwhile, last week revealed it had signed Herzigova to design a series of collections for its French fast-fashion chain 1.2.3. The first collection, comprising around 30 references, will be unveiled during Paris Fashion Week in March. The line will be sold in 80 of 1.2.3’s 300 stores starting in early April. Herzigova has also signed to be the face of 1.2.3 for the next two years. The brand’s spring campaign, in which she is featured, is due to roll out in 1.2.3 stores immediately as well as in glossies in Europe and the Middle East.

Etam Group already counts Vodianova in its fold, as the brand ambassador for Etam Lingerie for which she also designs a signature lingerie line: Natalia pour Etam (“Natalia for Etam”).

Vodianova’s second collection for Etam Lingerie will be presented at a glitzy catwalk show at the Ritz hotel on Jan. 25, during couture week. Following the event will be an intimate dinner and a concert by Mark Ronson at the Hotel d’Evreux, Place Vendôme. Secret guest performers are said to include Charlotte Gainsbourg and Rihanna.

Experts said the appetite for bringing established models on as designers for brands and retailers is a no-brainer, given their longevity as industry clothes horses, and not forgetting their influence on consumers. But, beyond a pretty face, possessing a personality, a real interest in the project, “an eye” and a discerning dress sense count among vital credentials for being hired for the job. Credibility in the eye of the consumer is key for the formula to work.

For potential models-turned-guest-designers, meanwhile, the luxury of being paid to creatively express themselves without the hassle of managing production and distribution structures also has its appeal.

According to Laurent Milchior, Etam Group’s co-managing director, that was the case for Herzigova, who had to wind down her signature swimsuit line upon the birth of Herzigova’s son, George, in 2007. “They arrive with desires and ideas and we help build it.…For us, the results show both in marketing and sales — it’s a win-win situation.” The biggest risk, he said, involves alienating the customer.

“Picking someone with an eye and a knowledge for fashion — and not all models have that — is essential, someone who has credibility and a design impulse,” he said, adding that both Vodianova and Herzigova have displayed shrewd industry savvy and a keen hands-on approach to their roles. For example, Vodianova was recently spotted shopping for lingerie fabrics at the Interfilière Evolution Days trade show in Paris.

“There are very few models who are capable,” commented Robert Ferrell, director of Marilyn Agency, which represents Moss and Herzigova, among others. There has to be a real interest, especially on the side of the guest designer, he continued, while for the brands it boils down to wanting the experience of someone who has the eye.

“It’s not a lark, and it shows in the product,” said Ferrell. “We all saw the Ungaro fiasco with Lindsay Lohan and that’s the elephant in the room.”



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