Unpacking the rise of fashion houses appointing celebrity Creative Directors
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1. Why are fashion houses and brands doing this?
It is a reflection of how the marketing & more specifically, the digital marketing landscape has evolved. Traditional celebrity partnerships carry less weight than they once did due to an explosion of social media-driven advocacy. An Instagram post will convert some but won’t create a legacy.
Appointing a celebrity as a CD aims to break free from this seemingly transactional relationship. Celebrities, particularly those with a visionary capacity, can influence the fabric of your brand in a much deeper & more meaningful way as a CD.
2. Have you heard of any examples other than Pharrell Williams and Nigo?
Other success stories involve Rihanna being CD of Fenty, part of the LVMH family. Kanye’s creative relationship with Yeezy is well documented, both the good and the bad.
3. How does this differ from the traditional celebrity endorsement and red carpet exposure, etc?
The relationship moves beyond ‘paid for’; as a creative director, the celebrity is responsible for guiding the company's creative vision. This can involve designing collections, developing marketing strategies and guiding the overall creative tone of the brand. The celebrity's involvement becomes intrinsically tied to both the successes & the failures of the brand.
4. When does it work best?
When the relationship between the creative direction, brand and celebrity becomes blurred. Rihanna is Fenty, and Fenty is Rihanna. The brand only takes on meaning from the creative vision of the celebrity.
It is also vital to ringfence what the celebrity is responsible for. They need a team around them that is capable of bringing their vision to life in practical terms. For example, an expert in garments & materials that can bridge the gap between vision & reality.
5. What are the risks? What should luxury fashion houses avoid?
Blending the brand too closely with the creative direction of the celebrity also presents risks. In this regard, Kanye’s relationship with Yeezy presents a cautionary tale. Yeezy & Kanye were indistinguishable; the brand & the line of products was bound entirely to Kanye’s vision. In simple terms, Yeezy was Kanye.
So what happens when that celebrity takes a few wrong turns & is all but cancelled in the eyes of the public? The brand suffers. Reports of $1.1 billion of unsold Yeezy stock highlight the commercial and financial dangers of a brand becoming over-reliant on a celebrity.
It is also worth noting that such hires don’t always generate a positive sentiment; sometimes, it can feel like ‘faux entrepreneurship’. How much does that celebrity know about the industry? Do they have the technical skills or expertise to help run a fashion house? To minimise the risk of negative publicity, it is important to ensure the brand-to-celebrity fit is authentic from a creative perspective. Get this part right and shout about it. This will ensure consumers view the relationship with a creative lens first before considering any practical considerations.
6. How do you see this trend developing?
The trend has played out in front of our eyes, both the good and the bad. This provides a blueprint of what success looks like for fashion brands considering appointing celebrities as CDs. I expect fashion houses to be even more selective & curated with their approach to appointing creative directors. Why? Because the risks are catastrophic, however, the upside is business-defining. Focus on the creative value the celebrity can bring, but equally try to create a world in which the brand can also exist outside of the celebrity.