Interview with Serge CARREIRA (Fashion and luxury expert & professor at Sciences Po)
By Thomas ZYLBERMAN (Stylist & Trends analyst at CARLIN Creative Trend Bureau)
Thomas Zylberman: On the occasion of the launch of house Fenty by LVMH, under the artistic direction of Rihanna, the idea is to focus on celebrities and their brands. Let’s begin by analyzing the historical aspect of said question; who and how created this wave of celebrity brands? Has it all started with the launch of perfumes by Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and others?
Serge Carreira: This phenomenon dates from well before that! We often tend to forget about the perfumes introduced in the 80s by movie stars and numerous artists. Catherine Deneuve, Salvador Dalí or Alain Delon, are just a couple of names that have tried it. Some even lent their name to products nowadays taboo like Alain Delon cigarettes. There is an association between the glamorous world and lives of these stars, of the creative industry in general, with fashion that has the power to ultimately transform celebrities into brands as such. Today, we identify a combination of factors that ushers celebrities, for example great international artists, to be run and managed like real brands.
Parfum Catherine Deneuve
Victoria Beckham Credit Filippo Fior GoRunway
T.Z: From the moment a clothing brand is launched, one also becomes an industrial, even an economic project. Contrary to popular belief, there are not as many examples of successful celebrity brands that design and produce clothes and collections. What other references exist, besides Victoria Beckham, who is truly on top of her game and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon?
S.C: Sean John created by P. Diddy in the 90s is a great example of someone who knew dazzling success in the United States. His story comes in stark contrast to that of Rihanna, whose brand started out from the beginning as a global force with international influence, including beauty and lingerie. Traditionally, celebrities used licenses for derivatives in targeted markets where they were already very strong. In addition, there were certain consumer habits and established patterns that allowed them to put their names on a variety of products. Rihanna created a global brand, effectively reflecting the universe around her persona. Such collections touch an enormous audience that is in a close relationship with her, accented by admiration and loyalty.
T.Z.: In the case of Fenty, Rihanna does not a priori give up her singing career, unlike the Olsen sisters for example, who stepped off their cinematic paths to follow the road to their brand The Row. They substituted one career for another one. Similarly, with her brand L.A.M.B., Gwen Stefani also took a break with the band No Doubt, to focus on her solo career instead. I am under the impression that it is only since Kanye West launched Yeezy that we can talk about a well-established coexistence of two careers simultaneously: one as a performer and the other one as a designer.
S.C.: Virgil Abloh deserves to be mentioned as well. He continues to be a DJ, to design co-branded objects and even to curate exhibitions now. He embodies both a star and an artistic director (Off-White, Vuitton Homme), as far as becoming a guru for his fans. We are facing new profiles, which have been constructed and emerged through the artists’ extensive pool of talents. They present several facets and just cumulate the caps – with these complementary activities coming to feed each other. Rihanna’s base is her singing, but she has always been a style icon with very strong societal and ethical commitments. She is not just a simple singer who makes nice crowd-pleasing songs. She is a person who embodies today’s women and youth, their aspirations, an open and respectful worldview. She is the ambassador of today’s committed generation who has a style all of its own. Despite the skepticism of many professionals, the public naturally followed her other creative ventures because she is one of the models of this radically new style. Everything she does reflects herself and what she stands for. Her line of beauty, Fenty, goes beyond makeup and skincare – it is an extension of who she is, what she does and what her commitments are. Her work oozes authenticity, which is something many brands still struggle with, raising suspicion about their true commitment.
Virgil Abloh Credit Paul Mougeot Hypebeast
T.Z.: In relation to Rihanna’s commitments and what she symbolizes, there are many more projects in luxury groups on diversity and inclusivity. Would it be insensitive – or reductive – to think that the Fenty project is just a laboratory of inclusivity for LVMH?
S.C.: It is a little dishonoring to limit Fenty to its inclusive dimension. Nonetheless, it undeniably enables LVMH to make specific commitments with a considerable result. After all, the group is associated with one of the most advanced figures with the largest audience on these particular topics. I highly doubt that this has been the main focus of this strategic choice. One of the consequences is that LVMH is unquestionably committed to inclusivity through Rihanna. The impact is, without any doubt, much more important with this project than with a multitude of initiatives taken within each House and within individual directorates on male-female equality or on the promotion of diversity.
T.Z.: On how to present and market the products and collections, Fenty breaks away from the official calendar by choosing a method of releases / drops at regular intervals like brands such as Supreme do. This approach is contrary to Victoria Beckham’s or the Olsen sisters’ strategy, who have both adopted the dominant seasonal pattern.
S.C.: When Victoria Beckham or the Olsen sisters changed their career path, they have crept into the system to earn their legitimacy and place. Outside the limits of their fame, the fact of coming from another creative universe could have been an obstacle. In Rihanna’s case in particular, there was a choice between acting as a traditional Maison or experimenting with other systems and models. The combination of her product and her singularity corresponded rather to this second option. Supreme presents a similar case, who by the very nature of their products do not have the need for a catwalk with models etc.
T.Z.: LVMH possesses real expertise on art and on the way to revive beautiful but sleepy houses with historical heritage. However,apart from Christian Lacroix, who unfortunately did not endure, the creation of an ex-nihilobrand is not the group’s specialty…
S.C.: Good point! But the completely innovative dimension of the Fenty project certainly explains this ambitious initiative. One of the reasons behind the failure of Christian Lacroix is most definitely the question of timing. Was it, in itself, actually viable to create a fashion house in 1987? Was Christian Lacroix’s vision of the world not already out of step with that market and that reality? In Fenty’s case, it is a question of experimenting with a completely new model with different means. We are talking about pure and hard entrepreneurship here, on a safe bet, as shown by the success of Fenty’s collaborations with Puma or its lingerie line. This success stems from the fact that it is an approach far-flung from LVMH’s traditional heritage brand rebranding. It is an opportunity for LVMH to challenge itself again – to completely reformulate their expertise.
Christian Lacroix Credit Julio Donoso GettyImages
T.Z.: Can we talk about a win-win alliance, in the sense that Rihanna will benefit from LVMH’s excellence and expertise, while simultaneously allowing the group to explore new business and artistic models through the creation of this brand?
S.C.: Admittedly, LVMH is exploring a new territory here and questioning its methods with Fenty. Nevertheless, this model will not necessarily work for other houses within the group. Maisons like Dior will continue introducing innovation differently. Fenty will, in all cases, permit LVMH to become a reference in a market where it was previously absent. And that is not to be underestimated. This is a powerful strategic move for the leading international luxury group – comparable to the acquisition of Bvlgari in 2011, which granted it the consolidation of its position in the jewelry market.
Alexa Chung Credit Getty Images
Stephanie de Monaco Credit PurePeople Abaca
T.Z.: We must not forget influencers, it-girls who become fashion designers. I am thinking of Alexa Chung, for example, a TV presenter, model andit-girl-turned-fashion-designer, a sort of precursor to today’s Instagram influencers – like so many “well-born” English girl. Can a certain socio-cultural heritage help in the world of fashion design?
S.C.: Being born into and literally bathing in a plethora of creative circles – ranging from contemporary art to fashion, luxury, music and film – obviously increases the desire to express oneself. Alexa Chung is a modern type of muse, a strong personality capable of translating her personal universe into products – and herself into a brand. Yet only few it-girls among the most popular ones manage to create their own brand. Most remain at the stage of mere collaborations. Still we are witnessing a multiplication of initiatives resulting in many original models. Carine Roitfeld, an example that deserves to be cited, is an internationally renowned fashion designer who, thanks to her unique and consistent style, has managed to launch a perfume and a fashion brand to be able to express her universe in its entirety. This new type of business / creative model does not even have the purpose of being presented on a podium. She will rather opt to have her collections presented during events, digital campaigns, through mainstream media… Several influencers have launched their beachwear collections this summer – as a first step before moving into fashion, we must not forget the glamorous and rebellious swimsuits of Stéphanie de Monaco in the 80s!
T.Z.: A beautiful analogy to complete the circle – everything started in the 80s and everything ends there too. Thank you again, Serge Carreira, for your enriching insights!