Musicians have long been a driving force in fashion. At a time when the Beyoncés of the world now command a presence alongside fashion show staples like Anna Wintour, it’s clear that musicians have staked their claim on the fashion industry like never before. Some have even dared to step out from beyond the flashes of the front row to make a name for themselves on the runway. As with any musical endeavour, there have been hits, misses, one-hit wonders and those that have risen to platinum status in the sometimes-fickle, all-too-critical industry of fashion.
Two names that stand out for successfully transitioning their musical careers into fashion franchises are Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson. Launching their respective lines in 2001 and 2006, both singers created lifestyle brands that include everything from clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry and other affordable goods for teens and women at American department stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s. While this isn’t exactly high fashion, both musicians have steadily built their brands. Lopez took home the top spot on Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100 List this past year, with earnings of over $52 Million in one year, coming from not only her music and TV deals, but also a large portion from her Kohl’s fashion line, signature fragrances and product endorsements, evidence of the power and success of her brand. Meanwhile Simpson’s collection hit an estimated $1 billion in sales at the end of last year, making it the first celebrity line to reach such heights. Perhaps realizing that her talents in fashion outshine her singing successes of late, the new mother recently announced the expansion of her maternity line, which marks the 24th line in her fashion empire.
What is it that makes these two musicians so commercially popular in such an impenetrable business? Fashion editor and brand consultant Benjamin Setiawan says it’s all about making your line accessible. “Musicians may be able to sell out stadiums, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their clothing will sell out in stores or hold on to real estate at top retailers. A musician can capitalise on their clout by focusing on the mass market and having lines that are easily accessible online and at department stores.”
Victoria Beckham graced the pages of many a fashion magazine for her sophisticated, daring-yet-accessible style choices before taking up the helm of her own line. With the help of celebrity friends like Eva Longoria donning her designs, her collection of body-slimming looks routinely sell out at high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Serving as both designer and muse for her brand, the always-impeccably coiffed and styled Beckham is much more well known these days for her posh brand than for once being known as Posh Spice. The chic wearability of the clothes, coupled the sharp and classic public image Beckham projects (which most women who buy her clothes would love to emulate; handsome husband and adorable sons included), it’s no surprise that her career as a designer has been such a success. Beckham knows this better than anyone. Of her Spring 2013 collection, she says, “There’s not one thing out there that I wouldn’t wear myself.” The designer will launch her own website in the spring where her clothing will be available for purchase.
Gwen Stefani stepped into a new creative spotlight with the launch of L.A.M.B. in 2003. At first just a collaboration with LeSportsac, the line, which is an acronym for Stefani’s first solo album, has garnered much attention at New York Fashion Week for several years in a row for its high-energy runway presentations. If any musician has knowledge of design, it’s Stefani, who comes from a family of seamstresses. When she first started touring, she made many of her own outfits. L.A.M.B. continues to create clothing that reflects the singer’s personal sense of style and her connection to music. Her unique ability to sell what might not be considered mainstream fashion sets her apart from other celebrity designers. Despite her strong fashion aesthetic and talent with the thread, these days she admits she is less hands-on with the brand. “I’ve learned to delegate,” she says. This is hardly surprising, considering her music commitments – including the release of a new No Doubt album, “Push and Shove” in September 2012 and their North American tour.
While female musicians have stepped into the designer ring, so too have the men. In 2006 Justin Timberlake launched William Rast with his childhood friend Trace Ayala. Named after a combination of their grandfathers’ first and last names, the line of denim and casual wear for men and women has maintained a steady stream of success. With his foray into fashion proving worthwhile, Timberlake proves he’s more than just a renaissance man, but a bona fide entrepreneur as well.
With what could be considered one of the most highly anticipated clothing line debuts in the past few years, Kanye West’s womenswear collection DW brought much hype and little else. In a classic case of smoke before the fire, the critics (and there were many) were harsh. One review compared its debut to an MRI scan, while New york Times’ Cathy Horyn suggested he hire a tailor, “so clothes might fit.” Many in the fashion industry speculate about the reasons for West’s failure to hit the mark. High price points, a lack of direction, and far too high of expectations are just some of the reasons cited. While he didn’t show at this year’s Paris Fashion Week, it’s too soon to tell if West will continue to pursue this foray. For now, he still maintains his status as a style icon, pushing the boundaries with his own fashion choices. This past December the rapper turned heads appearing in concert in a Givenchy leather skirt.
With so many taking a so-called fashion risk like these musicians have, the correlation between the two industries has become clear. Both are driven by a desire to be creative, and both require great risks in order to make one’s mark. In a culture where celebrities become tastemakers whether they like it or not, the two worlds of stardom and fashion are closely intertwined. For those musicians who are brave enough to take on the runway, it’s not an easy walk. In the words of one critic from the International Herald Tribune in regards to Kanye West’s debut, those looking to make the venture themselves should take heed: “Everyone can love fashion, but not everyone can be a designer.”
Other musicians who’ve tempted their fate in the fashion world:
– Bono: In 2005 the Irish singer launched Edun, an eco-friendly, socially-conscious line that promotes fair trade in Africa. Bono’s commitment to aid the continent has led to a successful endeavour that promotes the use of organic materials. The line has partnered with Diesel to launch a denim line that will hit stores this spring.
– Liam Gallagher: From band to brand, the one-time Oasis member dipped his fingers into the fashion pot in 2009 with Pretty Green, a menswear line that’s been described as clothing for the “mods.” With stores in England, the brand has yet to make its jump across the pond.
– Pharrell Williams: The songster’s Billionaire Boys Club includes shirts, coats, jackets, hats and shoes for men sold in limited quantities at high price points.
– Black Eyed Peas: Both Fergie and will.i.am have put their names on separate namesake lines. Fergie’s shoe line caters to the stylish woman on a budget, while will.i.am’s clothing line matches in line with the futuristic style the singer exhibits onstage.
– Avril Lavigne: Known for her punk-girl look, it was no surprise when Lavigne debuted Abbey Dawn, a lifestyle brand that mimics her rock ‘n’ roll style.
– Sean Combs: Leaving his stage name behind, the rapper known as Puff Daddy (or P.Diddy or Diddy depending on the day) expanded upon his empire in 1998 with his own clothing line. In 2004, he was named Men’s Designer of the Year by the CFDA, an award that goes a ways in proving one’s worth in the industry. Today the brand commands a presence in Macy’s department stores.
– Yoko Ono: Her recent collaboration with New York boutique Opening Ceremony has resulted in a 52-piece menswear collection. The collection is based on drawings she gave to John Lennon as a wedding present in 1969, so as should be expected, it retains that same level of Yoko engagement with the bizarre and unique.
Article by Liz Hazzard for The Untitled Magazine “Music” Issue 6