So when did Paris Fashion Week, once something of a decorous affair, become a paparazzi madhouse with Kim and Kanye at its center? And how did songstress-turned-reality TV star Jessica Simpson make multiple millions selling her Daisy Dukes at Macy’s?
Teri Agins, the brash, funny veteran Wall Street Journal reporter, wonders the same thing. Her new book, Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers investigates.
Yahoo Style: I was thinking about the mini controversy that surrounded the Kim and Kanye Vogue cover earlier this year. What was your reaction to that?
Teri Agins: The first thing I said was ‘Clever! Look at that clever Anna [Wintour], she’s tapped into the zeitgeist again.’ Anna is very savvy there, she knew that it was going to be exciting and controversial. For almost a week, Vogue was everywhere [in the news]. And I think she did it in a clever way because she put the two of them together, so she validated them as a pop culture curiosity without quite giving Kim Kardashian validation as a fashion person on her own.
YS: Now Kimye show up to Paris Fashion Week like royalty, swanning around.
TA: They really did hijack the runway [this season.] Derek Blasberg tweeted that he was at a show where Kendall was on the runway, Kim and Kanye were in the front row, and Kanye was on the soundtrack. But I think a lot of designers might not invite them back because it upstaged the shows. It was ridiculous. I remember when Paris Hilton caused a lot of noise, in her hey day, when she was coming to the shows. People went crazy. And eventually she was kind of on the ‘do not invite’ list because it was such mayhem. People get very curious about [certain celebrities] but then they eventually do move on.
YS: What does a designer get out of having a celebrity in their front row? Does it really make an impact?
TA: It’s become so common to have stars in the front row that if you go to a show [as a journalist] and nobody’s there, the first thing you think is ‘This show is not that important. There’s not even a Real Housewife or some TV anchor here.’ But conversely, you go to a Michael Kors show and you see Gwyneth Paltrow and Catherine Zeta-Jones and all of those people, you think, ‘This is a hot show.’ It’s a marketing tool and it affects your mood going in. But now a designer almost can’t not invite celebs, because it starts to look like something is amiss.
YS: You write about how the Olsens and Victoria Beckham have avoided the pitfalls of being seen as cheesy celeb brands. How did that happen?
TA: The first shows that The Row did, they were really quiet. And Victoria Beckham did the same thing, very small, low key, industry-driven shows. Victoria knew she had something to prove. She had to overcome being a Spice Girl, being a WAG. Even though she could bigfoot it into the fashion schedule with all this money she was like I’m going to tiptoe in the side door because I want to comport myself in a certain way and get taken seriously. With the Olsen girls, they work really hard. They are very serious about what they do. And they’re not friendly, at all. I didn’t interview them for the book. They have that aloof thing. And so they don’t give a million interviews and keep reminding everyone that The Row started with the twins who were on Full House. It’s smart, you just think about the clothes.
YS: How does a young designer carve out a name for himself, when he now has to compete with these big stars?
TA: These are my frustrations with young designers. I wish more of them would spend more time working for other fashion companies. I know they don’t want to hear that. Now more than ever it’s harder and harder to really make an impact. You need connections, experience with marketing, with production, with using the right factories. I say, do it on somebody else’s money, make your mistakes and learn. These are life experiences you need to have first. Winning the CFDA Award is not the same as winning the acceptance of the public. Think of someone like Michael Kors, who was out there for 20 years before anybody knew his name.
YS: But then Project Runway obviously helped him get even bigger and turned him into a star too.
TA: Oh yeah it did. He told me he went to this mall after Runway started and all these teenagers were going nuts for him; it was a whole new market for him. Previously he had been more about this mature woman. Now even designers have to have a public persona. But he was at a certain level before he was able to get to that point.
YS: But what about celebs whose lines don’t really make it, like Sarah Jessica Parker with Halston, or Beyonce with House of Dereon?
TA: With the Halston thing, I always thought that was going to be a horror show. Why do we need to revive Halson just because it’s a brand? It has no resonance with most people. I’m not going to blame SJP, I mean Beyonce didn’t do well either. She was doing a thousand other things. You cannot do this with one eye shut. And I think Beyonce’s almost too aspirational. She has not been roughed up [by life]. You look at Beyonce and you say, she doesn’t have my problems. She’s got a nice figure, she’s got a beautiful baby, her husband is Jay Z.
YS: So it helps to have a little bit of relatability.
TA: Jessica Simpson is making oodles of money in fashion. She has the advantage that she hasn’t had any morals issues, she’d not getting into trouble. But her first marriage didn’t work out and people see her weight problems and they think, I get that. And when she paired with Vince Camuto. That was really genius because they are a big operation. He is Mr. Shoe. They know what they’re doing.
YS: You write about going into a department store to smell Justin Bieber’s perfume, and how bad it smelled.
TS: There’s no accounting for taste. As I wrote about in the book, a woman at Macy’s told me people don’t even smell the tester before they buy this stuff. Look at all the people who bought Mary J. Blige’s perfume off of HSN. I mean, it’s not a smellevision. It’s marketing. But Mary J. Blige has a huge fan base. And she’s someone who has experienced a lot of woe. That whole thing about people being kind of bruised is really powerful because then people think, I’m on the level of a celebrity.
YS: In the end, are celebs in the fashion business a good or a bad thing?
TA: This book is just an explainer, I don’t say this is a good thing or a bad thing. The tension in the story is, say you’re a creative designer: of course you’re going to ask, ‘Should these celebrities be able to become the shiny object just because of their name?’ If I were a creative designer, I would be jealous that people can waltz into the industry like that. But if you’re going to get mad at that, you may as well get mad at Forever 21 or Zara. I shop at Forever 21, and I’m almost 61 years old. The reason why Jessica Simpson can do this stuff, is that she can do things on economies of scale. If you’re too small, and you don’t have that instant name recognition, it’s really hard to carve out a space for yourself in between a Jessica SImpson and a Zara.
Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers by Teri Agins, $21, amazon.com