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Celebrity fashion labels: The good, the bad and the ugly

By George Webster, for CNN
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Mon September 26, 2011
Kanye West, who popularized the "shutter shades" is set to launch his own fashion line at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week. But will the rapper's foray into fashion prove a wise career move? As others have shown, celebrity fashion lines are an unpredictable business.
Kanye West, who popularized the "shutter shades" is set to launch his own fashion line at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week. But will the rapper's foray into fashion prove a wise career move? As others have shown, celebrity fashion lines are an unpredictable business.
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Kanye West
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rapper Kanye West will launch his own fashion label at forthcoming Paris Fashion Week
  • Follows in footsteps of label-mate Jay-Z as well a long history of celebrity lines
  • Clothing ranges have earned some a fortune, but many others are less successful
  • Branding experts reveal dos and don'ts, while a fashion designer wishes they'd just stop

(CNN) -- He might be responsible for reviving one of the worst moments in the history of sunglasses -- the "shutter shades" -- but rapper Kanye West is hoping that all will be forgiven as he debuts his own line at Paris Fashion Week later this month.

According to Vogue magazine, the "Runaway" hit-maker has hired London-based designer Katie Eary -- known for her vivid, eye-catching designs -- as one of the creative leads developing this new signature range of womenswear.

But as we wait to discover what West has up his sleeve, it remains to be seen if the superstar's foray into fashion will prove a wise career move. And anyway, does the world really need another celebrity clothing line?

From the multi-million-dollar empires of pop-singers-cum-fashion-moguls P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson to the quietly shelved apparel of Lindsay Lohan and "Sex in the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker, the celebrity fashion game is rarely a predictable business.

According to branding expert Tim Jeffrey, celebrity clothing brands are particularly mercurial because their success is so closely aligned to just one individual -- whose popularity can slump at the drop of a finely tailored hat.

"Before they start, they really have to ask themselves why they want to do it in the first place," says Jeffrey, who works for international brand consultancy firm "i-am."

"The principle of celebrity ranges is sound, as long as the star in question can add value," he says. "For instance, look at Fred Perry. Here's a tennis star who could draw on his knowledge and expertise to create a credible sportswear brand that has endured even beyond his own life and career."

It's a view shared by Bruce Ross, president and CEO of specialist marketing consultancy Celebrity Fashion Group.

They really have to ask themselves why they want to do it in the first place
Tim Jeffrey, branding consultant

"Success or failure in this industry boils down to one word: Authenticity," he says. "Consumers aren't stupid and they can generally tell when a celebrity is just doing it for the money while having no interest in the product."

Ross cites singers Gwen Stefani and Beyonce Knowles as stars with sturdy fashion credentials.

Stefani is an established style icon, he says, who was known for concocting her own designs long before creating her label L.A.M.B. Meanwhile, Beyonce's line, "House of Dereon" pays tribute to her maternal grandmother Agnes Dereon -- a respected seamstress born in the 1920s.

But, according to Ross, many other stars are guilty of sheer opportunism. "Take the Kardashian sisters," he says, in reference to the American socialites who recently launched their own range, "Kardashian Kollection" at the Sears chain of department stores.

"I mean, give me a break," says Ross. "Sears is where people go to get a good deal on a washing machine or bag of tools. The partnership just doesn't make sense, it's not authentic."

It's not hard to see why every celebrity and their mother (Dina Lohan -- mom of Lindsay -- attempted to launch a budget shoe line in 2009) are hoping to cash in on their own brand of garments. All you have to do is follow the money.

According to Women's Wear Daily magazine, Jessica Simpson's eponymous shoe and accessories brand is on its way to becoming the first celebrity label to rake in over $1 billion of sales, while Beyonce's husband and Kanye West label-mate, Jay-Z sold the rights to his urban-flavored clothing range Rocawear for $204 million in 2007.

Then there's Elle Macpherson's lingerie business, Intimates; the eclectic lifestyle collection Elizabeth and James from former child-star twins Mary and Ashley Olsen; and who could forget Victoria Beckham's critically adored self-monikered couture brand -- all of which are in the black.

"But for every celebrity that makes it big, there's another screaming at their agents saying: 'They have a line, so I should have a line,'" according to Ross, who says that most of his business comes from celebrities reaching out to him through their agents.

I like Liam Gallagher's label Pretty Green because it just looks like all the stuff he'd wear himself.
William Green, fashion designer

"Let me tell you, we turn down more than we take on," he adds.

Amid all this, how do "professional" designers feel about celebrity big names treading on their turf?

"From a business perspective it's clearly a good idea," says UK-based menswear designer William Green, who's currently exhibiting at London Fashion Week. "But I'm not a fan from a design point of view."

According to Green, it can be "quite frustrating" for those that spend their lives studying and working to build a reputation in fashion to watch as celebrities "waltz in and launch a label overnight."

This is especially true, he says, "when they cherry-pick ideas from relatively unknown designers and sell cheaper copies to a wider audience."

That said, Green believes the fashion establishment can also be guilty of snobbery when it comes to "outsiders."

"It's just clothes after all ... and, you know, celebrity fashion lines are alright when they capture a personality. I like (former Oasis singer) Liam Gallagher's label Pretty Green because it just looks like all the stuff he'd wear himself."

So what advice for West before his big day on the catwalk? Branding expert Jeffrey has a sharp word of warning for any celebrity tempted to put their ego before common sense:

"Whatever you do, don't make too much. Never over-order, so you leave the public wanting more. If your product is stuck on the clearance counter, you've had it."

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