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It’s official: Celebrities are the new designers

You’re not imagining it. The hottest fashion labels of our time are from celebrities with a strong point of view, like Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Kanye West.

It’s official: Celebrities are the new designers
Rihanna backstage at a Fenty runway. [Photo: Victor Boyko/Getty Images]

For decades, celebrities used their star power to sell fashion, but the clothes they put out weren’t particularly interesting.

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Remember Mandy Moore’s fashion label, MBlem? Neither do I! It launched in 2005 and almost immediately closed because nobody wanted to buy it. Then two years later, reality TV star Heidi Montag launched Heidiwood, which consisted of skimpy shorts and animal print tops and was universally panned. That was the same year that Katherine Heigl dropped her “fashion medical apparel” line, inspired by her role in Grey’s Anatomy. It was so terrible that it was discontinued after less than 30 days on the market.

And yet, it’s 2019 and celebrities are the driving force behind some of the biggest brands of our time. That’s according to Lyst, which analyzes the shopping behavior of more than 5 million shoppers every month, studying their searching, browsing, and buying behavior across 12,000 fashion brands.

So far this year, Rihanna and Beyoncé have made the biggest splashes. Over the last few months, Beyoncé has increased traffic to Adidas social media platforms and websites by 31% thanks to her partnership with the brand, which will involve her coming on as a creative director. She will codesign pieces for Adidas and relaunch her own brand, Ivy Park, under the Adidas umbrella. All of this has helped Adidas climb to No. 16 in the Lyst Index, a ranking of top fashion labels, up from the 19th spot last year.

Meanwhile Fenty Maison, Rihanna’s brand that lives within the luxury conglomerate LVMH, generated 7 million social media impressions in its first month, and was written about in more than 5,000 articles. And Kanye West’s brand Yeezy is still a top contender in the Index, ranking number 19 (although it has slipped from the 16th spot.) His most recent reflective sneakers sold out within minutes, and his shoes are expected to generate $1.3 billion in sales by the end of the year.

Of course, traditional fashion designers still have an important role to play in the industry. Gucci has been in the top two positions on the Lyst Index for several years thanks, in large part, to creative director Alessandro Michele, who has created a powerful new aesthetic for the brand. Virgil Abloh’s Off-White is in the No. 2 spot, down from the No. 1 spot, thanks to his unique, minimalistic take on fashion.

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But something is fundamentally shifting in fashion: Celebrities are no longer just slapping their names onto products in licensing agreements, circa the early 2000s. Some are becoming credible designers in their own right.

Of course, much like traditional creative directors, these celebrity designers work with large design teams. They likely do not toil over every last seam of each garment, but rather set the overarching direction for a collection and might pick specific colors and fabrics.

And the ones who are thriving all happen to have strong points of view when it comes to fashion. Before launching their brands, they spent years exploring particular aesthetic sensibilities in how they dressed. Rihanna, for instance, has always played with high-low fashion, pairing casual graphic T-shirts with high-end scarves and bags, or wearing luxurious outerwear with ripped jeans. She’s brought much of this aesthetic to her Fenty Maison line. As a cultural critic in The Atlantic pointed out, her creations have “a kind of ethnographic richness and creative depth.” She, and many of her celebrity designers, are contributing meaningfully to the current fashion landscape.

This is good news. The last thing the world needs is fashionable scrubs inspired by Katherine Heigl.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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