Options for brands and designers seeking to benefit from celebrity exposure

May 11, 2012

Design houses and brands often foster associations with high profile celebrities as a way of raising their profile.  As the interest in celebrities and the concept of who is a “celebrity” has evolved so have the ways in which brands and designers can take advantage of the contents of style and gossip magazines.  It can be a match made in heaven, for example, Alexa Chung and Mulberry. 

Recently Kate Middleton was credited with amongst other things generating £1 billion for the high street and enhancing the fortunes of Reiss, L K Bennett and Burberry, as women sought to recreate her style.  Equally, London based brand Issa was brought to wider attention as the designer of the dark blue wrap engagement dress.  If the Duchess of Cambridge is seen in a product, that product quickly sells out! 

There are many ways to take advantage of this trend – both through formalised affiliations and/or using exposure in the media to enhance your business.

Get your chosen celebrity on board

The appointment of brand ambassadors

For example, Charlize Theron for Dior, Emma Watson for Lancôme and Natalie Portman for Chanel.  The traditional approach usually, focuses on advertising campaigns, appearances at specified brand events and wearing the brand at red carpet events.  Aspinal of London have just appointed Mollie King from the Saturdays as their ambassador with her own bag to boot.  Will the Mollie Satchel prove as desirable as the Birkin bag, only time will tell?

The key with appointing a brand ambassador is to ensure that in addition to popularity, they embody the values of your brand.  Any agreement should include provisions to allow a brand to exit the relationship if the status of the celebrity is impacted, the illustrative example being Tiger Woods who went from hero to zero overnight.

Collaborations  

Perhaps, the master of collaboration is H&M, which has worked with a number of designers, such as Jimmy Choo, Versace, Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Sonia Rykiel.  David Beckham fresh from being voted the Sexiest Man Alive, showed off his range of bodywear and following that Marni produced a collection.

A collaboration can increase exposure of a brand and open up new markets, while limiting the stock available will seek to manage any dilution.  Further, the restricted amount of products available in each collection meant that in H&M’s case huge crowds queue for the opening, raising the profile of the range, H&M and the brand or designer with the majority of ranges selling out quickly and pieces going on to be offered on eBay for many times their retail value.

In order to achieve the objective of a controlled collaboration, it is important for any contract to clearly define the scope of the sale and distribution of the range to be produced.

Celebrity clothing lines    

The number of collections produced by a celebrity have substantially expanded since Kate Moss produced a range for Topshop in 2007.  Some celebrities, such as Nicole Ritchie, Gwen Stefani and Liam Gallagher, have even founded their own labels to produce their ranges.  The more favoured approach at the outset is to enter into association with high street retailers and produce a capsule collection, for example, Emma Bunton is designing a children’s range for Argos, Geri Halliwell has produced a range for Next and Kelly Brook designed a range for New Look.  Jessica Simpson recently faced allegations of copying when one of the shoes in her collection was alleged to look too like an earlier Christian Louboutin design. 

As with the model followed by H&M, the combination of an established name with an established brand or celebrity seeks to ensure interest, sales and ultimately commercial success.  As above, any contract governing the relationship between the retailer and the celebrity will need to clearly define the scope of the range to be delivered but also require the celebrity to attend and undertake minimum number of promotion events to launch and raise the profile of the range.  In addition, as with a brand ambassador, any retailer will want provisions to allow it to end the partnership quickly if the celebrity becomes involved in any scandal or negative publicity.

Associate but not collaborate

“As worn by”

If the aim of the brand is to bring to the buying public’s attention that a celebrity has been wearing their brand, then it does not necessarily need to have the celebrities permission or pay them.  As a simple rule, if a celebrity has chosen to buy your products because they like them and is then seen out and photographed in them this will have the effect of publicising the brand or design.  However, you need to be careful how close an association you suggest to consumers.

In the US Courts BB Dakota fell foul of Summit Entertainment, the owners of the Twilight brand.  BB Dakota had produced a jacket that was worn by Bella Swan in the first Twilight film.  The jacket had been taken out of production but obviously on release of the movie, BB Dakota saw an opportunity and relaunched it.  So far so good. 

However, BB Dakota’s used the stylised Twilight logo, and renamed the jacket as the “Twilight” jacket it also used copyrighted images from the film in its promotion.  This in the US Courts view went beyond what was reasonably necessary to identify the jacket as the one being worn in the film.

English and US law differ in detail but the underlying principles are similar.  Identifying a product “as worn by [celebrity]” may not lead to legal difficulties but it is important to ensure that permission is obtained to use any images and that the manner of promotion is not such that it suggests you and the celebrity are in some way associated with each other.

“In the style of”

“In the style of” was the original ASOS (As Seen On Screen) concept.  ASOS’s business has since grown beyond this, but the demand for products that reproduce the look of something a celebrity has worn is still strong.  Showing products which could be worn to create a “boho” look, “sporty couture” or “Great Gatsby” look is one approach, creating your own interpretation of a particular design is another.

However, there is a fine line between being “inspired by” a particular design and copying that design.  One being ok the other being a potential problem. 

An urban myth in the fashion industry is that if you change five things then you will not infringe.  However, it’s not the number but the overall effect, if the design of the product ultimately looks the same then you may still be on the hook.  This is more difficult when you are actively trying to retain something of the original.  A better way forward may be, rather than adding elements, to simplify the design, in order that while retaining some aspect of the original, it comes closer to products that have previously been available on the market. 

A balance needs to be struck between the two to move the product far enough away from the original but still maintain a link to it and this is unlikely to be without some level of risk.


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