Celebrities & Diffusion Ranges: An Analysis

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The Kardashians, who have designed a capsule collection for Bebe

How involved are celebrities in the design of their diffusion ranges?

In a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph, renowned fashion designer Zandra Rhodes criticised the stars who put their names to fashion collections, stating “they have taken things out of their wardrobes — by Balenciaga or some other brand — and had it knocked up by the chain, which is why [some of these] places lost a lot of their designers.”

If indeed Ms. Rhodes is correct, are such collaborations necessary? In a world of seemingly endless opportunities for consumption, are these ranges needed to ensure a brand remains visible to the public, or are they simply further adherence to the modern cult of celebrity?

Zandra Rhodes: Role Models From World of Fashion Fail Our Children

Of course, it’s fairly obvious to suggest that celebrities don’t know what they’re talking about. For example, the placement of Lindsay Lohan as creative adviser to established fashion house Emanuel Ungaro – and the resulting, devastating criticism of her first collection – has done much to damage the idea of bringing in a famous name to enhance a brand’s standing in the public eye.

It certainly seems as though every ‘celebrity’ in LA has turned their hand to designing – from Paris Hilton to J.Lo to… well, virtually any mainstream hiphop artist you care to mention. It is almost as if there is some kind of ‘fame hierarchy’ in place, in which different forms of talent are considered more reputable than others, and everyone is just trying to move up the food chain – reality TV stars want to sing, singers want to act and just about everyone wants to be a designer.

However, the fact remains that much designer fashion remains blissfully out of reach for many – and lest we forget that diffusion lines, as well fragrances, underwear and other less expensive but nonetheless branded items are where labels get their lion’s share of income from. Fashionistas (myself included, sometimes) may sneer and turn their noses up at overtly-branded diffusion T-shirts and other rudimentary items that are given astronomical price tags because of conspicuous logos, but thanks to the twin miracles of consumer capitalism and mass media, a three-pronged fork of self-definition through possession, a push towards instant gratification and commodity fetishism strikes many consumers straight through the heart – and often the wallet – leaving them powerless to resist.

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Items such as fragrances are where fashion houses make most of their money

More importantly, however, it keeps the accounts of major fashion houses nicely topped up, so that they can continue to operate and produce more ways for people to feel like a part of something aspirational through consumption.

This may sound cruel, but unfortunately that is the way in which a capitalist society works. During my time at university I learned that fashion, rather than being a fluffy little ‘optional extra’, is actually a crucial pillar in ensuring that the economy continues to flourish. Many would fail to see the connection, as I did; fashion is not just about catwalk shows and haute couture, but deals with creating desirability for almost every consumer goods item you care to think of, from mobile phones to soft furnishings. Due to its cyclical nature, it ensures that objects are not replaced when they cease to be useful, but when they cease to be ‘fashionable’ or desirable. Fear of exclusion is a powerful thing, and many will maintain their consumption habits to remain within the group.

Not always as easy as it sounds though. Contrary to many people’s belief, and the sheer mountains of damning evidence, the general public is not stupid, particularly since the recession. Consumption habits have completely polarised; yes, you still have people queuing endlessly at quick-fix disposable stores such as Primark, but you also get people making much more informed choices about where they spend their money. As a result, companies have to coax and persuade people to buy their products – which is where advertising comes in, although that is a topic so vast in itself I won’t be going into it. Another way is through celebrity endorsements, which brings me neatly back to the aforementioned diffusion lines.

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Elle Macpherson, whose Intimates range, forged in a partnership with Bendon Limited Apparel, remains one of the most popular celebrity-endorsed lines

Celebrities are so explicitly public property these days that in many cases, a personal investment of emotion is made by the member of the public. How many times have you heard someone expressing strong feelings towards a celebrity, both positive or negative, despite the fact that they have never even been on the same continent, let alone met? The same applies with fashion collections. By attaching a known face to the brand, people can make an emotional connection between their feelings for that person and the brand they are associated with. Furthermore, if that celebrity is known for being particularly stylish, people can attempt to emulate their style by buying clothes that they supposedly designed.

When you look at it like this, I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether the celebrity in question sat down with the head designer and a pad and pencil and conceptualised the entire collection from scratch, or merely turned up one day, cast their eye over a bunch of potential designs and signed off the ones they liked. In the same way as you wouldn’t expect a musician that endorses Pepsi to be any good at making drinks, or a footballer that promotes certain foods to be a good cook, why expect an actor to actually be able to design?

How involved are celebrities in the design of their diffusion ranges? Well, as long as you like the clothes, what does it matter?

James

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