Can You Buy Personality? $1 Billion Says You Can

As the saying goes, “for the right price, anything is for sale”, and apparently you don’t have to shell out very much to get a piece of someone else’s personality.  For $69.99, you get the self-effacing, sarcastic and open relatability of Jessica Simpson.  Want the sexy and fierce Kardashian spirit? It’ll cost you $99.99.   Apparently, Mandy Moore has so little/unidentifiable personality that no one was willing to pay even a meager sum to adopt it as their own.  Wondering where I am going with this?  Three words: celebrity fashion lines.

If you are a avid follower of UpMyAli, you know the significant role collaborations play in the democratized world of fashion.  Luxury brands, usually inaccessible or alienating given the expensive price tag are constantly looking for  additional revenue streams to cover the higher costs of raw goods (click here to read a previous post discussing this issue), labor and logistics.  In short, collaborations with international retailers provide major income to luxury brands as they allow the masses to get their hands on the brands DNA  (the distinctive attributes differentiating it from the competition) via a watered down,volume produced collection.   One of life’s truisms is that everyone wants to be part of the cool crowd and belong.  So,if it only costs $59.99 to gain entry into the subtly sexy, sporty world of Stella McCartney for Adidas or the Lanvin for H&M refined chicness, all the better.

But what happens when the “designer” is not really a designer, but rather a celebrity? What are they bringing to the table that would make retailers jump at the chance to work with them?  In one word? Personality.   America’s obsession with celebrity is clearly evidenced by the 24/7 news cycle of gossip journalism and the proliferation of celebrity reality shows. I mean why do we need to see the Kardashian sisters accompanying each other to get bikini waxes? Because it makes them seem like normal people, that’s why.  There is even an entire section in  Us magazine showing celebrities doing mundane activities (they buy thier own groceries!), in some futile attempt to prove they are really just ordinary people with extraordinary jobs.  Okay, right.  However, the idea that we all want to feel like we know celebrities and and some way are alike, is true enough and its the linchpin to successful celebrity brand building.

It is also the basis for one of fashion’s biggest Cinderella stories. Who would have thought that the girl who said “If the label says ‘Chicken of the Sea’ is it still tuna?” would come to represent such a fashion powerhouse with her Jessica Simpson brand. Macy’s was the first national retailer to carry the Jessica Simpson brand  with its introductory footwear collection (in a licensing deal with Vince Camuto, founder of Nine West), and in less than six years, the brand has expanded into 22 different licenses and is poised to break the $1 billion mark. While the MTV generation was laughing at Jessica on Newlyweds, smarty pants Simpson was strategically planning how to get the last laugh.  She was smart enough to figure out that her likable personality was far more marketable than her voice or her acting chops (Employee of the Month anyone? It was too painful for words.) As it turns out she was right. En masses, girls go to the mall to get their piece of Jessica Simpson-ness via a great handbag, towering platform pumps, a pair of jeans, the must have fall cape, or intimate apparel (guess she chose to do lingerie right after John Mayer referred to their sex life as “sexual napalm”- that’s an endorsement if ever I heard one).  I can honestly say I never thought the day would come when I would open WWD (contrary to what Elle Woods says, WWD is the real fashion bible) and see Jess on the cover, a spot usually reserved for names like Gucci, Tom Ford, Prada, etc:

Well done Jess. I guess it doesn’t matter if she can’t squeeze into the super short denim cut-offs she wore in Dukes of Hazard, she can just make new, bigger ones out of $100 bills!

The Kardashian sisters have also been very successful in whoring themeselves out by endorsing every product possible leveraging their personalities and penchant for style through a design collaboration with Bebe.  Having established a particularly sexy, bombshell style via their E! entertainment reality show, constant photo ops while out on the town and legitimized to some degree by the Dash boutiques they own and operate, the Kardashians were poised to mass market their appeal. Creating a capsule collection of tight jumpsuits, short rompers and skin hugging dresses, the sisters proved they were a desirable brand as evidenced by the 100% sell through on the majority of the styles.

So strong is the relationship between personality and brand performance, that the dearth of the first leads to the the downfall of the latter.  Case in point? The disastrous Mblem. collection by Mandy Moore.

I mean, really. Mandy Moore is an okay singer, a better actress, but I cannot come up with even one attribute that uniquely describes her. Without that, there is no brand because, what are people buying into?  What are they aspiring to or obtaining by purchasing Moore’s apparel?  Compound that with the line’s awful styling and anyone could have predicted the doom of Mandy’s apparel venture:

Saraliously?! Are three t-shirts ( all with competing necklines) needed to accomplish the California cool layered look? Don’t even get me started on the faux-leather white belt.

There are so many other examples of celebrity fashion lines that can support this thesis, I could wax on for days. But I am sure you all have other things to do in life, as do I. Like, hunting down fashion’s biggest violators.

If you have a favorite celebrity that you feel should enter the fashion arena, we want to hear from you.  Post a comment below, you never know who is reading. It might just show up in the window of your favorite store sooner than you think!

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