The rise of the celebrity creative director
By Marjorie van Elven
13 May 2019
LVMH’s announcement of a new luxury house designed by Rihanna is the pinnacle of a new trend: the celebrity creative director. Instead of inviting celebrities to be brand ambassadors or to help design a single collection, fashion companies are now forming long-term partnerships with them, appointing them to roles such as “creative partner”, “creative director”, “creative consultant” and “head of imagination”. While their exact scope of work remains vague, the trend has certainly inspired superstars to launch their own labels from scratch, often with the backing of a major company, looking to establish themselves as designers in their own right.
Celebrities turned fashion designers: a growing trend
Rihanna’s career as a designer started at Puma. The sportswear brand appointed the singer to the role of creative director of womenswear in December 2014 amidst a rebranding process. The strategy paid off: her first branded sneakers with Puma sold out in just 35 minutes. She also helped to boost the sales of female leisure gear, which now account for a third of Puma’s business. A beauty brand (Fenty Beauty) and a lingerie brand (Savage x Puma) later, Rihanna’s midas touch has led the French luxury conglomerate to launch its first fashion house from scratch since Christian Lacroix in 1987, reportedly investing 60 million euros (approximately 67 million US dollars or 51 million pounds) in the new maison.
Two years after Puma announced its collaboration with Rihanna, it was time for Beyoncé to make a similar move. She launched athleisure label Ivy Park in partnership with Topshop (Arcadia Group). After Arcadia’s Chairman Sir Philip Green was struck by a series of accusations of sexual and racial abuse in 2018, the singer jumped ship. She bought back Arcadia’s 50 percent stake in the company and found a new partner, Adidas, who is more than happy to not only relaunch her label, but to announce Beyoncé as a “creative partner” for footwear and apparel as well.
Speaking of Adidas, the German sportswear company is Kanye West’s partner in his Yeezy clothing and footwear line, launched in 2015 after the rapper parted ways with Nike for refusing to pay him royalties for the sneaker designs he helped to develop since 2010. Prior to working with Nike, West launched three sneaker styles with Louis Vuitton in 2009, the same year he failed at launching a clothing line called Pastelle.
Another celebrity tapping into the athleisure trend is actress Kate Hudson, whose brand Fabletics has ambitious expansion plans in the United States. Founded in 2013 in partnership with Techstyle Fashion Group, the same company manufacturing Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line, Fabletics offers premium activewear with new items dropping each month. With annual revenues exceeding 300 million US dollars, according to Forbes, Fabletics aims to quadruple its retail footprint to 100 stores by the end of 2019.
It can be said that former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham paved the way for Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kanye and others to aspire to become respected fashion designers. Beckham launched her label in 2008, six years after giving up her music career. Today, her eponymous label is sold in over 400 retail outlets across 50 countries, with offices in London and New York. An accompanying beauty brand is in the works. The company received an injection of 30 million pounds (39 million US dollars) from private equity firm NEO Investment Partners in 2017.
But the trend isn’t restricted to the realm of fashion. It is also quite usual for tech companies to invite celebrities for creative roles: Lady Gaga once served as Creative Director of Polaroid and Alicia Keys was named Creative Director at Blackberry, the struggling phone maker, in 2013. Will.i.am, of Black Eyed Peas fame, was appointed Director of Creative Innovation at Intel two years prior. He even got his own company badge, pledging to show up in the office at least 60 days of the year. Justin Timberlake was appointed Creative Director of beer brand Bud Light Platinum in 2013, while cosmetics label Elizabeth Arden named actress Reese Witherspoon its “storyteller-in-chief” in 2017.
Why doesn’t it suffice anymore to have a celebrity as brand ambassador? Well, blame social media. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, fans can follow their idols much more closely, which waters down the impact of a single advertising campaign.
Moreover, it’s not for nothing that musicians form the majority of celebrities becoming creative directors: owning a brand or establishing a long-term partnership with a company represents an extra source of income and exposure for the celebrity, at a time when most consumers no longer buy records.
Pictures: Savage x Fenty Facebook, courtesy of Fabletics, Victoria Beckham Facebook, Ivy Park Facebook, courtesy of Intel by Bob Riha, Jr.