Veteran style scribe Teri Agins has covered the business and the buzz of the fashion world for more than two decades at the Wall Street Journal, where she pens the popular Ask Teri column. Known for her incisive commentary on everything from couture trends to marketing mishaps, she just wrote a new book, “Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers” ($28, Gotham Books).
It catwalks through the trend toward actors and singers morphing into fashion entrepreneurs, delving into the good (the Olsen twins superlative, simple garments for The Row), the bad (Lindsay Lohan as a brand ambassador for Ungaro) and the just plain bizarre (there are dozens of Paris Hilton accessories shops in the Middle East and South America). We chatted with her about the star-studded read just before she appears in DC October 20 to chat about it with Washington Post fashion reporter Robin Givhan at Mazza Gallerie
Why did celebrities get so interested in fashion?
Blame it in on the internet! It created all these new media channels that needed to be filled with information. It made celebrities get bigger and bigger, and they started to say, ‘Hey, I can be a designer too! I’m an arbiter of taste, and I have an army of social media followers.’
Isn’t a lot of it about money, too?
Yes — the bigger issue is that famous people are trying to find ways to monetize their fame. They’ve been robbed of money by reality shows, and there are no more $20 million paydays in movies. So if you are somebody famous, you want to get paid for your fame.
Some celebs just dabble in fashion, but what about the ones who really become known for it, like the Olsen twins or Victoria Beckham? What are they doing differently from say, Lindsay Lohan or Justin Beiber with his cologne?
The difference is they are doing it full time — it’s not just something on the side. Fashion is a full time job. And with The Row, the Olsen girls really found white space. They knew there was a critical mass of affluent women who wanted really cool basics — the perfect leather leggings, a perfect T-shirt.
What happens if celebrities do an endorsement or a deal, and it doesn’t turn out well? You talk about a collaboration between the Kardashian sisters and Sears that ended up being pretty dismal.
Well, I don’t think it hurt their brand. And the last time I checked they were doing another collection for kids with Babies R Us (Kardashian Kids ). So yes, the product was kind of shabby at Sears, but the Kardashians brought in eyeballs to look at Sears like never before. None of those girls would’ve walked into Sears unless it was to buy a grill or washing machine. So that did work. It got people in the door.
The book also talks about how traditional designers — Michael Kors, Tom Ford — have realized they, too, have to be celebrities to sell their clothes. Why is that key?
I think Michael Kors is a great example — he was an immediate impact on his business after joining “Project Runway.” He went on it hoping to make some noise, and he suddenly had a young group of adoring fans. Now most of these designers are savvy — they know they have to have a celebrity factor in their wheelhouse. It’s about getting people to care about them and see them as a person.
You talk a lot in the book about how we’re a dress-down nation now. How has that changed fashion?
Dress down nation happened when dress codes went away in the late 1990s. It meant people were spending less money on clothing, because casual wear doesn’t go out of style quickly, and it isn’t expensive. And the fashion industry had to figure out how to keep people buying. So they created expensive handbags and zeroed in on shoes. And in turn, you know see celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker with their own accessories lines.
To hear more from Teri Agins next Monday, purchase tickets for her Washington, DC event online .
Post by DC Style Factory stylist, Jenn Barger. Jenn has 13 years’ experience working as a fashion journalist in the nation’s capitol. Her DC Style Factory clients include professional Washingtonians looking to add unusual, funky pieces to their classic DC wardrobes. She specializes in vintage shopping and is an expert in combining pieces with history with new, modern looks. Email email@example.com to work with Jenn.