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Fashion: Suzy Menkes Takes On Celebrity Designers.

Feb 15 2012

SuzyMenkes_VictoriaBeckham: IHT Conference 2012

I very nearly fell off my chair earlier today when I read a piece penned by veteran fashion journalist Suzy Menkes entitled Red Carpet Baggers. Published on the T Magazine blog, Ms. Menkes takes issue with celebrities turned fashion designers and sarcastically asks if it might not be her turn to try her hand at designing a collection. Mocking tone aside, it's about time that a serious fashion journalist and critic spoke up and challenged the "I am famous therefore I can design" ethos that has prevailed throughout the industry for well over a decade now making a mockery of actual designers and consumers alike. My question for fashion journalists and critics (including Ms. Menkes) is what exactly took you so long to speak out?

The "celebrification" of fashion started innocently enough with various starlets eclipsing models in adverts and on covers of fashion magazines. Lucrative brand ambassadorships soon followed with occasional "design collaborations" until celebrities and their stylists began appropriating the mantle of "designers" for themselves. It would have been bad enough had they stuck to fronting celebrity lines like Beyonce's House of Dereon or Jennifer Lopez's Sweetface (never mind that these self-proclaimed designers rarely if ever actually wear their "designs" themselves preferring those of actual designers but I digress). The industry hit an all time low however when celebrities started using their clout to appropriate the keys of the design studios of real fashion houses. Fashion historians will one day look back at the thankfully short-lived tenures of Lindsey Lohan at Ungaro and Sarah-Jessica Parker at Halston and scratch their heads in disbelief.

Hopefully, those same fashion historians will also think to ask why so few of the fashion journalists and critics that line the runway season after season stood by watching without uttering so much as a disapproving peep. To be clear, while many may have disapproved in private or even muttered softly under their breaths, few actually used their media platforms to publicly denounce the trend. Worst still, certain respected fashion journalists actively promoted the celebrity lines in question. I lost count of the glowing articles lauding the collections of former Spice Girl/Head WAG Victoria Beckham penned by Lisa Armstrong and Luke Leitch while they were at the Times of London. What exactly was behind that bit of cheerleading? Isn't the job of a fashion journalist to help translate industry trends for the masses and help consumers separate the wheat from the chaff? It's not like consumers can turn to Vogue, Harper's Bazaar or Elle for that kind of unbiased guidance anymore.

In her piece, Ms. Menkes points out (rightfully) that the idea that just about anyone can try their hand at designing is now part of the culture. Sadly, I agree with that point and as satisfying as it is to have someone as respected at Suzy Menkes articulate it on a platform like T Magazine, I can't help but wonder whether we would have gotten to this point had someone with her gravitas blown the whistle sooner? The fact is that if a large majority of consumers have now reached a point where they're unable to tell the real deal from the poseurs, the entire fashion industry from the financiers to the brands to the publishers to the journalists have to step up and accept their part of the blame. I would add to the list the CFDA and BFC for so warmly embracing the likes of the Olsen Twins and the aforementioned Mrs. Beckham to their bosoms.

Just to be clear, I applaud Ms. Menkes for penning this piece. Although I would have preferred it to be published on her usual platform, the International Herald Tribune or T Magazine itself rather than the T Magazine blog, I give her credit for taking a stand. Of course, I can't help but remember that Ms. Menkes herself was the one who sat on the stage during the 2010 IHT Luxury Conference in London and interviewed the "designer' formerly known as Posh about her collection giving her one hell of credibility boost in the process. It might have been a ploy to generate buzz for the IHT Luxury Conference but the event had more than one British fashion editor proclaiming the next day that it had bolstered Victoria Beckham's status as a designer. Perhaps this blog post is Ms. Menkes way of making amends? Either way, one can only hope that the post penned by one of the fashion industry's bona fides éminence grise will start a new industry trend: authenticity.


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Bravo! I agree that Ms. Menkes (among others) could and should have made a statement before now. The celebrity "brand" is a tricky thing; obviously it's not about the actual designs, rather the name behind it. People just want a piece of the glamour, no matter how shoddy it is when on an over-stuffed rack at a department store. Like any luxury brand, the identity of the celebrity (which is their brand, let's face it) can get just as diluted with over-exposure. To me, celebrity brands are a cheap attempt to get at the real thing.

I do think Gwen Stefani has been able to keep a consistent product with her L.A.M.B. brand, but only because she's toned down her pop star image of late. Her low-profile shows a certain confidence and lets the design speak for itself.

Otherwise, yes, just because you're famous doesn't mean that you have the chops or taste level or creativity to be what is called a "designer".

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The Luxe Chronicles is a collection of interviews, profiles and musings on various aspects of the luxury industry and occasionally, a rant on our celebrity obsessed culture and the dumbing down of our collective sense of style and esthetic.

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