That's Entertainment: A New Fashion Focus As Celebrity Takes Over
By Lauren DeCarlo
NEW YORK If the winner of "American Idol" can snag a Grammy, could it be that one day soon the winner of "Project Runway" will be named the CFDA's Designer of the Year?
It's not too far-fetched, as Kelly Clarkson's Grammy on Wednesday night showed. The worlds of fashion and celebrity are becoming intertwined more tightly than a Gordian knot. And nothing illustrates that better than today's schedule at New York Fashion Week: The day starts with a show for "Project Runway" a program that most people in the fashion industry find excruciating and downright embarrassing, but where demand for show tickets is so great, a spokeswoman said, some senior editors might have to stand. It progresses to a Sweetface presentation by Jennifer Lopez at noon and ends with increasingly iconic Karl Lagerfeld's first-ever New York show for his Lagerfeld Collection and Karl Lagerfeld labels.
More and more each season, celebrities whether at the helm of a collection, like Lopez or Stefani, or seated front row have continued to steal the spotlight, while reporters from magazines such as Us Weekly and People have become show regulars. Retailers and fashion editors appear to have become mere extras in the flashbulb spectacle that is fashion week.
As Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth and vice president of its owner, IMG, said recently of the shows and IMG's decision to transmit them live on the Web: "This is really about the entertainment value and the energy and buzz of it."
But this season, collections with celebrities at the helm are noticeably absent from the runways. Gwen Stefani isn't reprising her L.A.M.B. show of last season, Tina and Beyonc Knowles are still holding off on doing a runway show for their of House of Deron label and Diddy is more focused on publicizing his new fragrance with the Este Lauder Cos. than doing a women's show.
That doesn't mean the celebrity fashion bubble has burst, however. Instead, celebrities are using their know-how to publicize their own brands any way they can. They are multimedia creations anyway, so why not use different media to publicize their fashion lines? And they get the kind of air time few actual designers can grab.
In lieu of a runway show, the Knowles' House of Deron collection was featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on Nov. 11. On that same day, retailers claim to have completely sold out of the collection.
"The plan for us was to always take baby steps and not come out strong until we were ready," said Tina Knowles, who, mid-fashion week, was heading to Los Angeles with her daughter and co-creative director instead of taking in the shows or, better yet, participating. "When we do a runway show, I want it to be spectacular," she said of the House of Deron collection. "Look at the people you're in the company of [during fashion week]. I think there are other avenues and I think we were creative in how we launched. We didn't come out too grand.
"When you have a fashion show, you don't really get to talk about the details and say, 'These jeans are constructed with darts and are made for curvy girls,'" Knowles said. "It was an invaluable experience to go on 'Oprah.' That worked really well."
A visit to "Oprah" which is also a venue for tried-and-true designers, like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld, whose upcoming shows are due to be taped isn't the only vehicle stars are using to increase buzz around their collections. Last February, when Lopez had her first-ever Sweetface show at Bryant Park, MTV shot behind-the-scenes footage of the singer/actress/designer for four months prior to the show, capturing Lopez at every stage from design room freak-outs to castings to her final bow. On Feb. 24 last year, MTV aired "Jennifer Lopez: Beyond the Runway."
"That show was on MTV about 50 times," said Andy Hilfiger, president and co-founder of Sweetface Fashions. "Our business took off. Everything from shoes to perfume. That was major. Millions of people see that. The people that go to the fashion shows are the editors, buyers and celebrities. Customers don't really see the fashion shows, so that was amazing."
Lopez isn't worried that industry insiders might take her less seriously because she's not showing. "I don't like to put the pressure on myself, the design team or the company," she said on the eve of her presentation. "We should do it when we're ready to do something fantastic and spectacular. All of these other big fashion houses do two or three big shows per year and that's great for them. I like to take it slower. We have to work within our own parameters and do what's right for us."
Hilfiger said Sweetface likely will show again at the tents next February. "We always say we're going to do one show a year," he said. "I think it's important to show at the tents. I was a little surprised to see that some other people weren't showing," he said, referring to other celebrity-run brands, "but I don't think there's anything wrong with them not showing. Celebrity brands are not used to one show after another. It's a big thing for them. They're also probably looked at a lot closer than somebody who shows every season. It's a big media thing. There's a lot of competition in the tents."
But Hilfiger also promises the Sweetface presentation today will have the same pop as Lopez's show last year. His team from the premiere show has returned: Alex Betak, of Bureau Betak, is the show director; Charlotte Stockdale is styling, and John Pfeiffer is casting the presentation, which, Hilfiger anticipates, will have an attendance of about 400.
"Last year we debuted Sweetface with our JLo line and it was this big, over-the-top event," Lopez said Thursday. "We defined what the image finally was. This time, I wanted to do something a little more special and in an intimate setting."
The collection, Lopez said, is inspired by "Fifties and Sixties rock 'n' roll glamour." Skinny-leg pants in plaid, denim and superfine corduroy reflect the street-edge appeal that's at the core of the collection. "Sweetface is really a combination of high and street-edge fashion. People can expect to see the sensibility we presented last year, but definitely a lot of growth," Lopez said.
"This presentation is for editors and buyers," Hilfiger said. "It's not about having celebrities in the front row. That's the difference," he said. "Jennifer is the celebrity. This is about the lifestyle of Sweetface."
The lifestyle of Sweetface encompasses more than just clothing. A small offering of handbags, jewelry and shoes will be presented today, as well as jewelry. It's beauty, however namely Lopez's fragrances that is at the core of her business.
"Fragrance is a global license," Hilfiger said. "It's in countries I've never even heard of. From airports and airplanes to all of these countries, it's everywhere. Sportswear is just in the States and in our store in Russia, though we have a bit in Canada and South America."
When Lopez launched Glow by JLo in September 2002, she racked up first-year global sales of $100 million. Lopez's current stable of scents totals five. The raging success of her fragrance business has prompted a swarm of celebrities to enter the beauty category. A mlange of superstars such as Britney Spears, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, David Beckham, Kimora Lee Simmons and Enrique Iglesias have followed her lead. In many cases, these fragrances generate retail sales of $50 million and more, making them key royalty earners for the stars whose names are attached.
The anticipated wholesale volume for the more designer Sweetface collection, on the other hand, is expected to total $3 million this year. "We're keeping it small and special," Hilfiger said. Everything JLo including the young contemporary and denim-based sportswear collection, jewelry, handbags, fragrances, lingerie and sunglasses tops $400 million in sales.
At the Seven New York boutique in SoHo, a downtown boutique favored by fashion editors, Sweetface is doing so well that Joseph Quartana, buyer, has ordered it again for spring since most of his fall stock sold out completely.
"I was pleasantly surprised by it," Quartana said. "The prices are reasonable, the quality is insanely good and it's spot-on trend-wise." Sweetface shares the floor with collections such as Proenza Schouler and As Four.
Last season, pieces such as the sateen disco jumpsuit sold out immediately at Seven and were quickly reordered. "The fits are extraordinary and I was impressed by the retail price range. The most expensive item was a fur-lined hooded vest with Swarovski crystals. It retailed for $650," Quartana said.
His interest was sparked after the Sweetface runway show last February, and he picked up the line after he saw brands like Jeremy Scott and Bernhard Willhelm, which he already carried, trending more toward urban-inspired fashions.
"I think the future of New York fashion is the celebrity brands," he said. "They have the most impressive show production. Her show was bigger than Calvin Klein."
The fact that Sweetface isn't showing at the tents this season hasn't dampened Quartana's zeal for the collection. In fact, he's expecting the presentation to live up to his expectations.
"I heard they spent three-quarters of a million dollars on this presentation," he said. "It should have that same punch."
Quartana said he looked at Gwen Stefani's collection, L.A.M.B., and thought it was "cute," but he wasn't entirely convinced just yet.
"I want to see the next collection first," he said.
Unfortunately, Quartana won't have a chance to see it during this fashion week. "The reason we're not doing [a show] is because of Gwen's pregnancy and her tour," said Ken Erman, president of Ska Girl, L.A.M.B.'s licensee. "She deserves a break."
A second show will happen, but for what season remains unclear, and the show, according to Erman, may not be at the level as the first one last September. But there are other plans in the works to increase the brand's visibility; for example, Stefani wore a dress from the L.A.M.B. couture collection at Wednesday night's Grammy Awards.
"We're in the midst of doing things," Erman said. "We're not just sitting around."
One look at Henri Bendel this week would prove Erman correct. Currently, the collection is hanging in the windows and the atrium at the Fifth Avenue specialty store.
"We actually thought since she wasn't showing during fashion week that it would be nice to have her represented here," said Ed Bucciarelli, president and chief executive officer of Henri Bendel. Bucciarelli said L.A.M.B. has been doing "phenomenally," for Bendel's, and the fact that Stefani, an international celebrity, is behind it is an added bonus.
"It's so well designed and so well merchandised," Bucciarelli said. "That label is wonderful for us. It's very much in sync with the Bendel girl. It's young and hip and has lots of personality."
Though he didn't know for sure, Bucciarelli presumed Stefani's pregnancy and the scheduling of the Grammy Awards were likely the reason she wasn't showing at the tents. But he remained unfazed. In fact, Bendel's is opening a permanent L.A.M.B. shop on the second floor at the end of this month.
Erman, however, sees the importance of showing during fashion week. Last season, the L.A.M.B. show was the second-highest viewed show on style.com.
"I think it's important for brands, but we didn't start our brand with a fashion show. We worked on the product and selling it to high-end clientele.
"We had built a very strong distribution that fit the brand from Day One without the fashion show. The actual fashion show was a great enhancement for the brand," Erman admitted, "but it solidified what we were doing and it solidified Gwen."
At the House of Deron, Knowles' first priority is to have the consumer embrace the product, while a runway show takes the backseat, at least for now.
"I really don't want to be pretentious and say that I wouldn't want to have a big show," said Knowles, who puts in 12 to 14 hours a day working on the collection. "But a lot of people do a show for the hype. We're not in a big rush.
"I'm hoping we can do a show in September," said Knowles, who quickly added, "but I'm not committing to it."
In the end, though, will it matter if they don't? If Beyonc does "Oprah," wears her clothes on the red carpet and gets prominent play in the weekly celebrity magazines, more consumers are likely to see those images than will see photos of her line from any runway show. That perhaps explains the clamor to get into today's "Project Runway" show. Asked earlier this week at the Azria Collection show what others she was attending, actress Anne Hathaway said the one she was really looking forward to was "Project Runway."
"I'm addicted to it," the actress said of the show hosted by Heidi Klum.
For the time being, at least, Hathaway has no plans to launch her own line.