Beyonce shows off her voluptuous curves in a scarlet silk dress. Nearby Rihanna sprawls half-naked, staring longingly into the camera. To the left, Justin Bieber and his cowgirl competitor, Taylor Swift pose for fans.
Who would have thought two young superstars would be side by side not only on the music charts but at the Macy’s fragrance counter. Of course, none of these celebrities are anywhere near the Macy’s fragrance counter on a given weekday afternoon, but their auras and new brands are here in their place.
Throngs of holiday shoppers approach the counter. Some of the perfumes will last longer than the now 15-year-old Michael Jordan’s Jumpman clothing and sneaker brand, while others will more likely mimic Kim Kardashian’s recent fling with Kris Humphries. Speaking of Kim Kardashian — her perfume Eau De Parfum has come to an abrupt halt ever since she tweeted that her marriage was over within 72 days. Either way for now, Bieber, like many celebrities, is out with a seemingly successful new brand.
Probably the best-known early celebrity to identify himself with his own product was Rene Lacoste, in 1933, with a tennis shirt that still bears his name. The modern era of celebrity branding — where a star creates his or her own label or product — began with Jaclyn Smith, star of the original Charlie Angel’s show. In 1985, Smith beat TV rivals to start an eponymous fashion line at a department store.
Since the early 1990’s, Sean Combs, aka Diddy, launched Sean John and Jennifer Lopez created the JLO brand. But, other stars shied away from the prospect of starting a fashion line, preferring instead to watch fans adopt aspects of their personal styles. Rappers Lil Wayne and Kanye West both were trendsetters and their fans sported foxtails or carried a murse, a male purse, to emulate them, but neither saw image as a branding opportunity.
In the last three years the tide has turned as celebrities look for new sources of revenue and brands look for ways to enhance sales in a recession. WalMart, Kohl’s and Target are directly involved in negotiations with the stars and in spearheading new lines, such as the Shaun White brand at Target and the Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, at Walmart.
Bruce Ross, CEO of Celebrity Fashion group, works as middleman among celebrities, fashion designers and retailers. In the celebrity fashion world, sometimes the celebrity approaches the retailer and other times the department stores requests a certain celebrity. It’s a world that needs people like Ross to navigate and negotiate.
“Let’s put it this way, if you are starting out a brand new company and you can do it either with a celebrity or with a random name, you are always going to choose the celebrity. That said, there have been a lot of big name celebrities that have put their weight behind clothing deals that don’t work because the product hasn’t been good,” said Ross. Many of these, including MTV reality star Lauren Conrad’s first clothing line, LC, and Jennifer Lopez’s first line, JLO, eventually fizzled out.
More than a decade ago, celebrities often approached Tommy Hilfiger’s brother Andy Hilfiger, looking to start a brand. In 2009 he launched Starbranding to help negotiate deals between celebrities and retailers. The company has had a huge impact on celebrity branding, starting a new line called Andrew Charles with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and his daughter Chelsea, which is displayed prominently upstairs at Macy’s.
To get more access to the stars, “we recently announced a partnership with Bravado, which is owned by Universal Music, which gives us access to hundreds of music brands,” says Luke Watson of Starbranding. “You can expect many big name rock and roll stars to appear with gear at department stores near you in the not-so-distant future.”
Two main factors account for the growth in celebrity brands. The first is that finally, after years of futility, designers, celebrities and retailers have a better understanding of the market.
“You’ve got to have the right celebrity and whatever the product is, it has to be believable and real. In the past, there are too many examples of celebrities that were not involved in the line or just did it competitively or for the wrong reasons and many of those fashion lines failed,” said Ross.
Second, social media promotion have changed product and made it easier to reach a star’s fan base.
“Social media has been far more persuasive and important than traditional forms of media like magazine or newspapers,” says Ross. “With Lauren Conrad, if we took out an ad in Vogue, you may be able to reach a million readers, but what percent of those readers are actually fans of the Hills? If you use Lauren Conrad’s Twitter instead and skew it right into her fan base, it will have a far greater impact.”
In other words, anyone can start a fashion line, as long as they have a large amount of Twitter followers to tap into.
Back at Macy’s, Mayrene Depaula, a two-year sales associate for the Jessica Simpson perfume line, dealt customers with samples. “I think her brand is expanding. People are buying the perfume because it lasts a long time. People also buy it because it comes with a free handbag. Not a lot of brands have that deal,” said Depaula.
Kardashian and Paris Hilton haven’t fared quite as well: “People do not want to buy anything that attaches a negative image to the product,” Depaula added.
For some resistant consumers though, buying clothes is not about the celebrity brand; it’s about the style and the way it looks.
“I’m not buying this because it’s made by a celebrity,” said customer C.J. Ong, even as he picked up this season’s plaid Sean John shirt and held it up to his chest. The musical accompaniment of Diddy’s hit single “Coming Home” played in the background.
Maybe that’s why free gifts have been added to the mix to boost sales. Jessica Simpson also comes with a complimentary bag, and Sean John’s cologne comes with a watch.
Justin Bieber recently performed at Macy’s in Herald Square in an early Christmas collaboration with Mariah Carey to promote his new fragrance and Christmas CD “Under the Mistletoe.”
Part of the allure of celebrity brands is that people can identify with their idols. Now, Macy’s is fulfilling the fantasies of fans: if Justin Bieber showed up, who might be next?