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Madonna. Sarah Jessica Parker. Lindsay Lohan. Jessica Simpson. Jennifer Lopez. Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen. Sean Diddy Combs. Justin Timberlake. Beyonce Knowles. Britney Spears. The list goes on and on.

How many of our most popular young — and not so young — celebrities are also talented clothing designers?

It’s uncanny. It’s outrageous. It’s…Liza Minnelli?

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Now I bet you’re expecting me to come down hard on these celebrities for cashing in on their popularity and sticking their names on clothing lines they (let’s be honest) have very little involvement in other than some modeling and personal appearances (and collecting their paycheck).

But I won’t. I don’t see much difference between this and true designers taking credit for the work of their design staff. (We won’t name names)

Most people understand that brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Halston, and Balenciaga are designed by others. They have to be: these designers have been dead for years.

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At this point — when most clothes are made in the far East regardless of brand — does it matter whose name is on the label if you like the clothes? And if you don’t like them, are you going to buy them just because Beyonce is on the tag? (I guess that’s what manufacturers are hoping.)

When did this start, exactly? I know Esther Williams endorsed Cole bathing suits back in the 40’s and later started her own bathing suit company. But that sort of made sense, right? She spent a lot of time swimming.

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And people can be multi-talented and have multiple careers. Tony Curtis was also a painter; Ginger Rogers liked to sculpt; Phyllis Diller has her own brand of canned chili. (That’s not a joke; I’ve tried it.)

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But singer Jessica Simpson has an entire clothing line: shoes, dresses, intimate apparel, luggage, you name it. She is big business Perhaps busy Jessica does have some creative control, but not even prolific Karl Largerfeld could design the amount of stuff she’s offering in her collection.

Then there are people like Kathy Ireland and Jaclyn Smith. These two women are powerhouse brands unto themselves — clothes, home collections, wigs, make up. It’s mind boggling.

Fashion is a crowded world and a celebrity name obviously helps move the merchandise. But it’s only going to fly if the clothes work, right? And it’s going to have to be competitively priced, especially today. Shoppers are pretty savvy and have a lot of options, after all.

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Readers, what’s your take? Would you seek out Britney’s shoes or Jessica Simpson’s because you like the singer behind it or her personal style?

Does the celebrity fashion designer thing annoy you?

Are celebrity fashion designers good for fashion or bad — or just (cynical) business as usual?

Your thoughts, please!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

93 Comments

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    Apr 15, 2011, 09.48 AMby carolyn-s

    OK, since nothing like this is available in Australia (yet) I can say I don’t get it. All the clothing commercially available here is designed by people whose job it is to design clothes, not something else. So I reckon that it is a bad thing. A good friend’s daughter has just spent four years earning a diploma in fashion and textile design, and it sickens me a little inside to think that she might just be using her talent someday for the benefit of a person who got their name through singing, or acting or some other talent that is completely unrelated to design! We should applaud people who have the talent to design, not pretend that it is the work of somebody with a completely different talent. I reckon this trend is cheapening the value of real designers. And since a lot of the higher end celebrities employ stylists to choose their clothing for them and package their “look” together, I don’t see how this qualifies said celebrity to claim ownership of that style.

    2 Replies
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      Apr 15, 2011, 11.48 AMby Peter Lappin

      Carolyn, I agree. But as I reply to comments and think further about this topic, I realize that probably the people doing the lion’s share of the creative work in EVERY large clothing company are not really getting credit for their work, if by credit we mean their name on the label. Somehow, though, when the name on the label isn’t even someone with a fashion background, it seems more insulting (to those whose job it is to design).

      Does that make sense?

    • Profilepic4_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 01.13 PMby carolyn-s

      Yes that does make sense, and I meant to convey that sentiment in my comment, but maybe I didn’t explain myself very well. I was trying to say that I definitely think the designers should get credit for their work, and not some “name” who is famous for some other vocation.

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    Apr 15, 2011, 08.45 AMby varenoea

    Hm… in general, I can’t see how “professional designers” come up with better stuff than others. Some designer clothes are lovely, others are only pointless amusement for the runways which no normal person would/could ever wear.

    I like to see everything people come up with, no matter if they’re designers or celebrities-turned-designers. Anything can be an inspiration, a negative or a positive one.

    And in the end, it all comes down to one thing: if you don’t like a piece of clothing, you won’t buy it, no matter if the label says “Fendi” or “Madonna” or nothing at all.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 11.43 AMby Peter Lappin

      I agree but I just want to throw out that EVERYTHING is designed by professional designers. It’s a question of who gets the credit. A celebrity saying “let’s do leopard-skin platform shoes this season” is not designing anything. Someone else has to do the work. Now this may be just as true of a a company like Marc Jacobs, but somehow the latter feels more authentic to me.

    • Missing

      Apr 17, 2011, 09.19 AMby varenoea

      Well, if the question is apparently already settled and celebrities are decidedly NOT really designers – and everything is really being designed by professionals – why should “celebrity fashion” be bad for the fashion scene?

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    Apr 15, 2011, 07.46 AMby carottesauvage

    It seems that the Olsen Twins have been immune from ridicule, for some reason. It takes only one editor to like your stuff at Vogue magazine and you are accepted by the world of fashion. It seems that there is a certain consensus about them annoyingly….even BS had a blog about their collection (or Video showing them at work, acting the designer part to the perfection?,Someone can tell, I didn’t watch it)…sigh… I like your posts (on the ‘dissident’ side of things)! When a sewing machine brand uses BS to advertise their products via a contest, you blog about second-hand machines….Thanks for adding a critical insight and a different voice to this site!

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 11.33 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks!

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      Apr 17, 2011, 12.39 PMby peaches2218

      I think the difference with the Olsens is that they do actually have their own style.

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    Apr 15, 2011, 03.34 AMby mlssfshn

    I dislike the illusion it creates. A few years back, I was working in a home dec fabric store and we had several mags on the counter,two of which had articles on Todd Oldham. A customer walked up to the counter and proceeded to “be amazed” by all that he could accomplish and she assumed he never got to sleep. I said no he has licensing agreements, which I then had to explain to her. As I expanded, I saw wonderment turn into shock. She proceed to ask about other Celebrity lines and I confirmed they too were products of licensing. Not everyone understands the nature of the beast and I wish it were more transparent and less misleading.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 05.02 AMby Peter Lappin

      I’m with you — it’s (intentionally) misleading.

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    Apr 15, 2011, 02.57 AMby Lindsay Foucht

    I think if they do something different with it rather than just grab some designs and put their name on it, then I may be inclined to take a look at their stuff. I know SJP opened a line that was sold at Dave & Barry’s — a clothing store where almost everything was under $10. She actually acknowledged that real people can’t spend a ton of money on clothes regardless of who has their name on it.

    From what I’ve seen of the Olsen twins, Lohan, and others… their clothing is really poor quality and I wouldn’t buy it for the world, no matter the name or not.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 05.03 AMby Peter Lappin

      Ultimately if the stuff isn’t well made, nobody’s going to give it a second chance. Don’t you agree?

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    Apr 15, 2011, 02.46 AMby susanne2011

    To be very honest, celebrities having their own clothing line actually put me off buying their clothes. There are too many cases where the clothes in such celebrity lines are of poor quality and not fashionable at all, so that for me: ‘celebrity designer’ = bad clothes. The same goes for perfume, I think the majority of the celebrity perfumes is horrible (Christina Aguillera perfume, anyone?). Maybe because these celebrity lines are often so mass produced and marketed for a big audience (and thus a wide range of tastes), there is nothing left that is unique about them. I admit I am quite prejudiced about this, but I will never buy anything with a celebrity on it, I like to go for the independent labels, and try to support the girls/guys my age who have a cute little boutique with their own clothes, way more special!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 05.04 AMby Peter Lappin

      I agree. There’s something about those celebrity perfumes in particular that just reeks of “cashing in” — no pun intended!

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    Apr 15, 2011, 02.10 AMby urbandon

    Peter, Keep the guest writing coming! Love your articles here. (I think everyone does)

    1 Reply
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    Apr 15, 2011, 02.08 AMby urbandon

    Hate the ’I’m-a-celebrity-and-a-fashion-designer-perfume-maker’ thing. From what I have seen the clothes are crap and the quality crappier. (Like we need more mass produced Chain store/high street/ sweatshop rubbish)

    Funny though you don’t see the George Clooney Suit collection or the Brad Pitt Hair gel line. Are male actors not into this sort of thing? (Paul Newmans tomato sauce excluded) As Nani said-It is empty. (Empty and sad really)

    Still, Karl Lagerfield as an actor could be kinda cool- turn the whole thing on its head.

    2 Replies
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      Apr 15, 2011, 05.06 AMby Peter Lappin

      My understanding is that Justin Timberlake has some kind of clothes line — I think it’s more prevalent among music people. Actors today simply lack the image to pull it off, though of course they are used as models for “luxury” brands.

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      Apr 15, 2011, 10.35 AMby pambox

      there was the completely ridiculous kings of leon clothing line, selling their very own scarves and thing for enormous prices.

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    Apr 15, 2011, 01.46 AMby Robin Denning

    You had me at Esther Williams. For her, yes, I will buy a swimsuit. Otherwise, well, I don’t much care whose name is one it.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 15, 2011, 12.51 AMby midget

    Nani… you may find this interesting. I work in a company that produces and markets goods on behalf of a couple of our local stars. One approached us becasue, like you say, she woke up and decided to “be a designer” . The other star we actually approached because we wanted to leverage on her popularity. Now the interesting part. The star who approached us put her heart and soul into creating her pieces ( albiet her ideas took a lot of work by us to massage them into something practical) where as the star we approached basically dunped a whole lot of other designers “product” infront of us and told us to “tweak it”. You are right Fashion is business, we use each star as much as they use us…its called synergy. Where does that leave " trained" designers….with a steady job in our company, hapily practising thier craft with a regular pay check.

    3 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 01.04 AMby Peter Lappin

      I guess my question would be whether the designers feel like they’re getting the credit their work deserves. A paycheck is nothing to sneeze at of course.

      It’s like being a fantastic ghostwriter, I guess. No one knows your name.

      With fashion, though, there’s a sense that these celebrity brands are crowding out smaller independent companies, and as a result there are fewer opportunities for designers to establish themselves under their own names.

    • 9170ab63b72b733c9d2308d858c9803e380b1535_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 07.23 PMby midget

      Doh! Peter tried to reply to your comment but instead “marked it as inappropriate”
      Very sorry – newbie mistake : )

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      Apr 15, 2011, 07.59 PMby midget

      Peter, hmm interesting point. I will ask our team, I’m guessing that you’ve probably hit on something there.

      Do creativity and a need for recognition always go hand in hand?

      I don’t think we have that sense so much here in
      NZ. Two reasons 1. We tend to be fairly proud of all our local celebs as they tend to be top notch artist and all-round talented folk. Also,2. being on the underside of the world means only a few bits and bobs from US “celebs” make there way to our shores – so not the same market impact that you guys seem to be experiencing.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 10.21 PMby peaches2218

    I think the celebrity designer lines are, in some way, similar to the celebrity-inspired pattern lines by Simplicity, McCall, and Butterick. There is some sense of cohesiveness in a celebrity line, just as there is in any line from most design houses. I think the main idea of celebrity lines is to attract the attention of consumers who like a particular celeb’s personal (or personal shopper’s, in some cases) style and want to imitate it or incorporate elements of that style into their own wardrobes. My guess is that a celeb’s biggest influence in the design is saying, “I would wear that” or “There’s NO WAY you’d see me in that!” It’s true that in many cases a familiar face attracts people to certain products initially, but I certainly don’t think the name is enough on its own—the designs have to stand up for themselves, even if it’s just on the trendy, disposable clothing playing field.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 14, 2011, 10.54 PMby Peter Lappin

      I agree with you, Peaches. I’m just not sure that’s made clear to the young people who are (primarily) their target audience. One could argue that it’s a little misleading.

    • Pc310016_large

      Apr 17, 2011, 12.47 PMby peaches2218

      I agree that there are a lot of people who don’t think critically about what the read, see, and buy. Young people who, as you rightly mention, Peter, are generally the target market of these lines, tend to fall into that category. With that in mind, the marketing of celeb lines could be considered misleading, but I maintain that I don’t have a problem with it. The Britney Spears line for Candies, for example, is a line that at any other moment they probably would have released anyway (and maybe already have, since a lot of companies release similar but revamped designs in different seasons). Spears is just a face, and she’s there to get someone who might not ordinarily think of the Candies brand when she’s looking for shoes to consider it. Having a celeb’s face on a brand of shoes is for me exactly the same as having expensive, fast cars or more-than-half-naked anonymous models. Neither has any more to do with the shoes than the celeb, but there they are. Those are both examples from actual shoe ads, btw. I think they were Sketchers.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 09.52 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    Gwen Stefani is probably the one celeb designer who has the most credibility in my eyes…she has sewed her own clothes in the past and the L.A.M.B. line is well done, and her design input is obvious. Not only that, she wears her own line, and she never steps out of the house with a platinum hair out of place. Not one. She never lets her root show either. I’ve yet to see her without make-up either! She’s really more old-style Hollywood than any of these other stars.

    3 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 14, 2011, 10.23 PMby Peter Lappin

      Hmmm….never thought of her. Interesting!

    • Mlonghs_large

      Apr 15, 2011, 03.17 AMby mlssfshn

      I totally agree! I respect Gwen.

    • Missing

      Apr 15, 2011, 05.39 PMby amandaloschiavo

      You are sooo true, thas the only one I could think of too!

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