Fordham Law

Celebrities don't just set the style, they market it

Susan Scafidi in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 23, 2008

Celebrities don't just set the style, they market it

By Nedra Rhone

Lindsay Lohan does leggings. Matthew McConaughey makes laid-back beach gear. Debbie Phelps (mom of Olympian Michael Phelps) endorses clothing from Chico's.

Whether it is a well-known actor, athlete, musician, reality TV star or someone who is famous for knowing someone famous, you can be sure that almost any celebrity with an aggressive agent is looking for a development deal in fashion.

Even as retailers fall short of sales projections in this tough economy, celebrity brands, including several new Atlanta-based arrivals, continue to hit the apparel sector, with no signs of stopping.

"There are so many clothing brands and so many options that celebrities who already have the public eye or ear have the advantage when they decide to create their own brands," said Susan Scafidi, a Fordham University law professor and fashion blogger.

In Atlanta, where the hip-hop industry feeds the roster of celebrities, more than a half-dozen clothing lines are musician-driven. One of the newest entrants, Dallas Austin's Rowdy Collection, is sold in a recently opened Virginia-Highland store that carries everything from Rowdy logoed underwear to leather jackets for men.

Reality TV has also elevated the profile and created new product opportunities for some Atlanta designers, including Mychael Knight of
"Project Runway" and Sheree Whitfield, of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta."

Celebrities, both mainstream and marginal, have a certain glow that fans want to connect with, and the potential for marketing the goods, more than a celebrity's fashion knowledge or even talent, often dictates the success of a brand.

That better explains the teaming up of Debbie Phelps and Chico's.

"Every mom in America was watching Michael Phelps give his mother those flowers and thinking, 'I want that.' If you can get a piece of that by wearing her [endorsed] outfits, there you go," Scafidi said.

Still, slick marketing can boost a brand in the mind of consumers only so much. The celebrity must have a style that others want to emulate, which in the case of the new clothing line Propr, a joint venture between musician Ben Harper and actor David Arquette, is not so readily apparent.

The risk of linking a fashion line to a celebrity is that the popularity of the brand may rise and fall with the fortunes of that celeb's career.

Some brands have remained steady despite those ups and downs, such as Sean Combs' menswear or Kate Moss' designs for Topshop, while brands from the likes of Nicky Hilton and 50 Cent have faltered.

The challenge for a celebrity clothing line is not unlike that of any other line of apparel; in this time of fast fashion, success means learning to adapt and grow with the market, Scafidi said.

And if you happen to be a celebrity, it helps to keep your star status on the rise.