Free Speech: Hadley Freeman On The Age Of The Surprisingly Good Celebrity Designer
Celebrity fashion collection. In the none too distant past—just last year, some might say—this phrase conjured up cheap vests and bad jeans, probably knocked out by some factory in the Philippines and then adorned with the diamanteé signature of a bubble-headed famous-for-being-famous twentysomething and then sold to tabloid readers across the land at around the $75 mark—a price that is too expensive for what the product is, but expensive enough to scare away the teenagers. After all, went the thinking, serious fashion customers wouldn’t buy clothes with names like “Kim Kardashian” or “Jessica Simpson” on the back label. Therefore they should aim for the In Touch-reading demographic as opposed to the Vogue-ers. Proper fashion connoisseurs want proper clothes by proper designers who have been trained properly, not people who were last spotted at the end of a paparazzi lens leaving Starbucks. So the thinking went. But note that past tense. Nowadays, having a famous name—one more famous for wearing clothes than designing them, mind—is no longer seen as an impediment to becoming a high-end fashion designer. Against all odds, I think we can thank the Olsen twins for this. Balenciaga-wearing fashion pioneers they may be today, but few could have foreseen this turn of events when they were being balanced on John Stamos’ knee in Full House. Their two labels, The Row and Elizabeth and James, had the shocking temerity to be more about quality than transparent marketing, as their anonymous brand names and high prices suggested. Even more surprisingly, serious consumers seem to be buying them, meaning that they have already far outlived the usual six-month lifespan of most celebrity fashion labels. P. Diddy (Daddy?) could reasonably claim to be here, too, with his suits and jeans lines. But it’s Victoria Beckham, in point of fact, who hits this trend with skill that is almost as impressive as her sense of timing. Her recently launched line of dresses is being sold in select department stores next to those by her friend Roland Mouret as well as Valentino and Givenchy. And with their classic cuts, high quality, and, again, high prices (with some up to $2,000), they fit in with that company just fine. No matter what you think of La Beckham—and opinions range hyperbolically in my office—these dresses really are proper, so much so that U.K. Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has ordered one. Meanwhile, Kanye West has never made any secret of his interest in high fashion. (The fact that he has cited Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air proves, to me at least, that he has a truly discerning eye.) So news that he is planning to come to Europe to study fashion design is not all that surprising. And that he is allegedly doing so via an internship at Louis Vuitton is even less so. Some in the industry have complained that this is a hugely unfair turn of events, with untrained celebrities leapfrogging over hardworking unknowns. But the fact is, with the current state of the industry, surely we should be grateful that someone is making jobs for aspiring cutters and pattern-makers, whether it’s Victoria Beckham or Karl Lagerfeld. Instead of getting hung up on who made what and who they are, the public is now assessing the clothes on quality alone. In a crazy, very roundabout way, the success of Posh, the Olsens, and the rest in the fashion arena proves we are getting less name-obsessed, not more. Yes, their names (and deep pockets) gave them an advantage over other newbie designers, but undeniably in some cases (e.g., the former Posh Spice), the clothes are selling despite the name on the label, not because of them. How’s that for irony?