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Obsessions are funny. Not ‘ha ha’ funny, mind you. Just bizarre how long they linger in your memory bank, long after the initial intoxication has subsided. One of my earliest fashion infatuations was a pair of grossly ill-fitting, cropped, Mary-Kate and Ashley-branded jeans I’d procured from ASDA. (Gen Z readers, bear with). Of course, they didn’t feel bad at the time. The actual design was of little significance. What mattered was that they were Olsen Twins Jeans. Et voilà! A short cut, quite literally, to bring me closer to people I had idolised for years on-screen by way of sartorial association.
Jump to the present, and celebrities’ insatiable thirst for putting their name on anything from alcohol brands to water, perfumes and just about anything else that can be bottled, is thriving. Because, seemingly, being famous for only one thing is passé in 2021. It’s all about spreading your portfolio, far and wide, baby. Enter Kendall Jenner, a.k.a. the poster girl for career polyamory: influencer, model, reality TV star, tequila brand owner and, as of this week, creative director for luxury e-commerce site FWRD (part of the REVOLVE Group).
'I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business,' says Jenner, whose start date is mere days away (September 8, for the curious). 'As FWRD's Creative Director, I am excited to help curate the site's offering with emerging designers and brands.'
Yet, this winner-takes-it-all M.O. has irked a helluva lot of people watching from the virtual side-lines. Most of the ire stems from the idea that the hire is nothing more than a badge of faux entrepreneurship, rather than a credible professional win to be celebrated. As one Twitter user said: 'In terms of more nuanced commentary, I just find it so iffy that you can just up and become creative director of a luxury brand with 0 experience in that field.' Friends of mine jeered at the fact she’s not in need of another sizeable pay cheque (with a net worth of around £30 million, they’re not wrong). Surely, she has…enough? Enough status, followers, embeddedness in the fashion industry at large? Is it disallowing someone else who had previously held that role at another company to give it a go by proxy? All these things may be true. Still. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
'People love to hate a celebrity appointment, but they continue to happen because they’re good for business,' the Business of Fashion journalist Alexandra Mondalek, tells me, noting that creative director roles at luxury fashion brands have experienced a seismic shift over the last few years, to broaden their appeal. Today, a fashion degree is less a marker of (potential) success in a CD role than a candidate's Instagram Rolodex, personal engagement, and aesthetic. 'Some of the most celebrated creative directors have become celebrities in their own right, so the lines between celebrity and creative are really pretty blurry.' And at any luxury brand that may also offer couture, she says, 'there are skilled garment workers who can execute a CD’s vision, even if they themselves cannot stitch a thread. Revolve has successfully built its business around influencer marketing. This is an evolution of that foundational strategy.'
In other words, KJ isn’t vainly attempting to model herself on being the next Cristóbal Balenciaga (who, by the way, was famously un-public facing, never came out to bow after a show and only gave one interview in his entire career and that was only after he had officially retired). Uh huh. Her formal duties, as detailed on FWRD’s website, are exquisitely broad (or purposefully vague, depending on your level of scepticism) including overseeing the 'look and feel of the site, curation of brands sold on the site, monthly edits of must-have trends, styles, and looks, as well as marketing ideas, brand partnerships, and brand activations.'
Drumroll for the bottom line. If Jenner can leverage her 186 million strong Instagram following to platform fashion brands that may have been less visible before, that’s surely a good thing? Regardless of one’s personal antipathy towards her, or the Jenner family and what they may represent in the cultural ecosystem.
Sometimes it feels too easy to knock down a celebrity or social media star (same thing, folks) for joining the fashion bandwagon. Which seems a tad callous if you dig deeper through time. Style has always held up a mirror to society, it’s as much about storytelling as it is a piece of fabric. Intertwining itself within the world of music, art, literature and celebrity, style is a whole narrative, built on excitement, envy and mystique. And you and I, we buy into that visual biography.
Take Cult New York label Fiorucci - from the very beginning, in the 1970s, starry figures were unashamedly woven into the brand's DNA. Madonna would perform at their parties; Grace Jones would model their clothes at Studio 54; Brooke Shields helped decorate a store in Milan. These women were the unofficial creative directors at the time (subtracting any social media footprint, of course). And let's not forget the Mary-Kate and Ashley denim. These were all the original influencers. See where I’m going with this?
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