Balmain launched the advertising for its Spring/Summer 2014 collection not too long ago with singer Rihanna as the face of the campaign. I’m not going to comment on how questionable of a choice she is to front any brand (save for her own Rihanna for River Island brand, because nothing says Rihanna quite like underwear with a waistband that reads G4Life and Baywatch-like swimsuits for Fall/Winter); I’ll leave that to you. What I will say is this: fashion industry, it is about damn time you stop whoring yourself out. You’re better than that.
Before I go any further–I get it. I am completely familiar with the fact that fashion is, first and foremost, a business, and in our fame-obsessed culture, celebrities sell. This is something Vogue’s longstanding editor in chief (and now the artistic director for Condé Nast), Anna Wintour, dreamt up in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when she started putting celebrities on the cover of Vogue. The evolution from covers starring supermodels to those with glamorous movie stars was pretty revolutionary, and it solidified Wintour’s status as a visionary leader. But things have changed. Models have been used in an ever-decreasing frequency in favor of celebrities (some of which are famous simply for being famous) and we are calling it fashion as usual.
Not only has the dynamic of the celebrity x fashion industry relationship changed and with it, magazines’ cover stars, the once behind the scenes role of editors has changed quite a bit, as well. An array of editors (in the U.S. and abroad) are celebrities now, too, thanks to the usual suspects posing for street style photos, writing memoirs, appearing on reality TV shows, etc. Moreover, they are often spotted cuddling up to rappers, athletes, pop stars, and politicians. The term “fame hungry” comes to mind, no?
In case that doesn’t cast a try-hard shadow on the fashion industry, the front row of most fashion shows is a circus of B-list celebrities with little to no connection to the brand showing. Fashion Week has become such a spectacle that IMG Fashion, the party charged with producing NYC’s bi-annual showings, is implementing stricter rules to limit the NYFW chaos.
Essentially, what we can gather from all of this is that high fashion appears to be bowing down to celebrities (many of which have attenuated connections with the brands, at best) to garner attention. While the celebrity x fashion connection isn’t actually novel (Audrey Hepburn was the face of a Givenchy fragrance in the 1950’s and Hermes named a bag after Grace Kelly), we have arguably gone a step (or 56785 steps) too far.
The underlying notion of high fashion is unattainability and exclusivity. It is about luxury. Maybe it is just me, but Rihanna (no thanks to Chris Brown), Taylor Swift, J. Lo, Jennifer Lawrence, [enter random celebrity here], and the handful of others that have consistently graced the covers of the world’s top fashion magazines do not scream #Fashion to me. The same goes for the celebrities that flock each season to the front row of Givenchy, for instance. For at least the second year straight, the star-studded front row over-shadowed the designs that Riccardo Tisci sent down the runway. Yet, designers, design houses and editors continue to cling to and style celebrities (because what do they actually know about fashion?) as the saving grace of the fashion industry and for what?
The print result is something comparable to an upscale U.S. Weekly, except instead of candid shots and articles about celebrities and their pets, there are Dior ads, editorials displaying Oscar de la Renta frocks, and features on the latest actress, pop star or Sports Illustrated model (hey, Katy Perry, Miley and Kate Upton) in couture gowns or Dolce & Gabbana pieces.
It seems to me that the problem here is the exact reason celebrities are so appealing: we feel as though we know them, that we have some real connection to them and their lives. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, 24/7 paparazzi images and revealing reality TV shows, celebrities are nothing if not accessible. While this works (because people love buying into a character, an actual person, as opposed to a stuffy Parisian design house), it undermines what it is that drives high fashion: exclusivity, unattainability, a prevailing sense of fantasy, whatever you want to call it. It is the reason models are so young and tall and thin. It is why they are all white and otherworldly. (It is not a coincidence that scouts pluck girls out of obscurity and put them on the runway). It is the reason Kim K is not a high fashion model.
So, sure, Rihanna’s wardrobe is fantastic (as indicated by that recent Instagram spree in which she posted images of all of her luxury Christmas presents) and she has a good stylist (most of the time) and she gets invited to awesome fashion events, but it kind of stops there. At the end of the day, we know too much about her, her life, and her scary on-again, off-again boyfriend for her to be an illusive fashion goddess like Freja Beha Erichsen, no?