The Dawn of Celebrity Designers

While Paris has been bubbling over with fashion week excitement, Dover Street Market and Galeries Lafayette have been equally abuzz.

Earlier this week, the British concept store and the Parisian multi-brand department store announced that they were releasing two exclusive collections: the latest release of Fenty by Rihanna for the latter, and the first collection by American transgender celebrity DJ Honey Dijon for the former.

Following the launch of Rihanna’s namesake brand, the debut of Honey Dijon's eponymous collection is just one more example of how celebrities are invading the fashion scene as designers – even though they may have no formal training. But should we care? It would seem that we have entered an era where the designer's role doesn't (only) belong in the studio. Representational duties have increased significantly: the head of a fashion house is its figurehead, its ambassador, not to mention its living incarnation. No wonder Balmain prominently includes Olivier Rousteing – who has, on his own, nearly as many followers as the Maison itself. Welcome to the age of the celebrity designer – or should we say designer celebrity?

However, this is not entirely new: 1970s It-girl Gloria Vanderbilt made a name for herself by launching an eponymous perfume, and later releasing her own line of denim with a signature swan embroidered onto the back pocket. This was followed by full lines of clothing, accessories, and leather goods, amongst others. Later on, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Sarah Jessica Parker all launched fashion brands. Not to mention Lindsay Lohan, who briefly – and quite catastrophically – headed Ungaro. Tyler, the Creator designed pieces for Converse; Pharrell Williams has had innumerable collaborations with labels; while Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami created a bag for Louis Vuitton.

Today, it's not much of a surprise that singers are, more than ever, gleefully stepping in as creative directors. After all, they have a profound mastery of the key qualities required: a vision, a visual identity, an aura, a force-field of influence – and, of course, their enviable ease at public appearances. As for the rest, an army of less visible designers will be in charge of translating the star’s identity and public image into clothing.

Take Victoria Beckham, for example: she doesn't claim she designs the clothes; her claim, instead, is the myth she embodies – a story of girl power, reinforced by her evolution, maturity, and growing refinement. The Row, designed by the Olsen Twins suggests a tale of rebellion against the capitalist system. Interestingly, after being best known for acting as a cheerful infant in Full House and later as sexualized teenagers, they went the other way and began creating austere, intellectual garments.

What is different today is that these stars with newly-discovered aspirations are actually beginning to garner respect as creative directors. As the lines between public and private, fashion and merchandising are blurred, so are the frontiers between the role of celebrity and celebrity as an intermediary between the actual customer and the fashion atelier. A relatable yet unattainable face; they are both behind and at the forefront of the brand. Recently Zendaya paired up with Tommy Hilfiger, after Gigi Hadid, creating preppy classics that she embodies, representing the ideal all-American girl. To some extent, the clothing itself has become secondary in our digitalized worlds, and the celebrities or celebrity designers who wear them are all that matters. The importance of craftsmanship may be diminished in the process – but hey, who cares if it looks cool on Instagram?

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