What makes a successful celebrity designer?
This season’s New York Fashion Week set social media ablaze with two collections taking the spotlight- Rihanna’s debut line with Puma and Kanye West’s latest addition to how own brand, Yeezy. These artists certainly know how to create hype. Rihanna chose Gigi Hadid, NYFW’s most talked about model, to close the show. Kanye put on a spectacle in front of 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden. But can these celebrities move past the hype and build a respected fashion house?
Compared to the Yeezy extravaganza earlier in the week, Rihanna’s FENTYx PUMA show was a humble affair. Not that it didn’t include drama, the event was held up by 15 minutes waiting for supermodel Naomi Campbell to arrive. The collection itself was an ambitious yet feasible entry into the luxury fashion industry. Rihanna brought her bad gal aesthetic to life, featuring thigh-high stiletto sneakers, crop tops galore and oversized fur coats worn as dresses. Her gothic athletic wear was accompanied by heavy crosses, platform creepers and black lipstick. Rihanna described the collection as “if the Addams family went to the gym, this is what they would wear.”
The FENTY x PUMA collection received mostly positive reviews from fashion critics. Most made comparisons between the collection and current Japanese street style, a potential lack in original thinking. But overall, fashion critics received her first collection well, giving her credit for personifying her own unique style into the collection in a refreshing way.
In a review for Vogue, Chioma Nnadi writes “When it comes to tapping into her fashion instincts though, it’s clear that Rihanna moves at lightning speed, never second-guessing herself, even when her most daring looks are paprazzi’d from all angles.”
But some critics are a bit more speculative, analyzing the influence of Puma on the collection. Jessica Irendale of Women’s Wear Daily writes, “The look felt like her unfiltered, or, more accurately, filtered through Puma branding — the intention is a mutually beneficial commercial enterprise. Many items featured either the Puma logo or Fenty in vaguely Japanese script. The lineup was well-merchandised for the seemingly bottomless market for gritty street sweats and bomber jackets. “
The collaboration may be the reason for an incredibly marketable collection.
The Yeezy Season 3 show was a bizarre trip into Kanye West’s mind, his own ego materialized. The two-hour event also served as a listening party for his new album, The Life of Pablo. The entire Kardashian clan was adorned in coordinating outfits, a mix of Balmain and Yeezy, with an abundance of fur and sparkles. Tickets were being auctioned online for up to four figures. Booths around the arena were selling $40 tee shirts and $90 sweatshirts.
Hundreds of models stood stationary around the center of the arena, some on top of tent-like platforms, including a celebrity appearance by Naomi Campbell. At the end of the show, he even previewed a video game he created, illustrating his deceased mother ascending into heaven. The inspiration behind the collection, including the physical layout of the show, was based around an iconic image of the Rwandan genocide taken by British photographer, Paul Lowe. The show was another collaboration with performance artist Vanessa Beecroft.
The clothing was typical of the Yeezy brand. Tight bodysuits and heavy outwear accompanied by Yeezy Boost sneakers. His color palette shifted slightly, moving from primarily neutrals to vibrant earth tones. Most critics agree, the show was not necessarily about the clothes. In a review for The Cut entitled “Relax Kanye, You’ve Won Fashion, Music, Everything,” Cathy Horyn writes,“The show’s problems were of a different sort, and in a way they reflect the general state of the fashion world — in particular, the sense that an experience often begins with delight and almost always ends with a feeling of nothingness.”
Getting into the fashion industry has been an uphill battle for West. He began showing collections at Paris Fashion Week, which never went over well with the critics. His collaboration with Nike, creating his first cult shoe Air Yeezy, sold well but Kanye switched to Adidas for more creative freedom. He then created the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 which sold out in mere minutes. According to Kanye, he is still struggling, alleging that he is $53 million in debt due to his fashion brand.
Abandoning your persona as a celebrity may be the key to gaining credibility in the fashion industry. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen have completely immersed themselves into the fashion world, hiding their names under the brand, The Row. The Row is accepted as a credible brand, winning awards from the Wall Street Journal and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. While Victoria Beckham’s brand may be named after herself, she downplays her fame in her collections. She is now a staple of New York Fashion Week and has won Designer Brand of the Year in 2011 at the British Fashion Awards.
“Celebrities like the Olsen twins and Victoria Beckham have found this perfect harmony to exist in the fashion world. They’re taken seriously because they’re not seen as actresses or Posh Spice anymore,” said Shaun Cole, professor of fashion cultures at London College of Fashion. “To be successful, it should be about the clothing and your work ethic. Nothing more. And I definitely think Rihanna is doing it better than Kanye.”