Anyone with two eyes and an awareness of reality can tell you: Fashion has become more obsessed with celebrity than it’s ever been before. Sure, there are the icons of yore, including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, but now it seems that every celebrity worth their weight in Instagram likes is making a move to join the fashion world. This is a phenomena that has fascinated legendary fashion reporter Teri Agins and it is also the subject of her new book, Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers. Agins has been making the rounds promoting her newest tome, which covers everything from celebrity fragrances and clothing lines to, yes, even Kimye. The result is a thorough and fascinating look at the shift that has turned designers into celebrities, celebrities into designers and made everyone obsessed with the Kardashians.
If anyone is qualified to offer some insight into this topic, it’s Agins, whose love affair with fashion and journalism started when she was in the ninth grade, penning a column for the school newspaper called Teri’s Tips for Fashion Flair. Her byline was in all lowercase letters, which was very fashionable at the time. “I knew I was going to be a reporter,” she said during Fern Mallis’ Fashion Icons series at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday. She started The Wall Street Journal’s fashion beat, reporting at the newspaper for 25 years, and now she pens its “Ask Teri” section. She’s had a career in fashion for longer than some of today’s most popular style bloggers have been alive. Her new book (available now at Barnes & Noble) studies how celebrities rose to the top of the fashion pile, not just as brand ambassadors, but designers themselves.
The concept started years ago with Elizabeth Taylor, who was promoting product — her fragrance — at a time when it was not in vogue for the celeb set. “Unless you were going to Japan or something to promote whiskey or some other brand, American actresses, especially at Elizabeth Taylor’s level, would never stoop to do something that commercial,” Agins explained to Mallis. “I was very surprised to find out that Elizabeth Taylor needed the money. This was a woman who in 1960 was paid a million dollars to be Cleopatra, that’s like eight million in today’s money. And she really had no cash flow. She had jewelry, but no flow.”
Now, decades later, it’s almost a requirement for actresses to promote some sort of product — it’s a surefire way to make your fame financially profitable. But has shilling products disrupted the fashion world as a whole? We chatted with Agins about her book and what she makes of fashion’s celeb-obsessed culture.
theFashionSpot: Do you think the celebrity presence hurts or adds something to fashion?
Teri Agins: I think that it’s actually twofold. I don’t necessarily think it hurts the industry. Celebrities have always been there, even back in the days of Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. There has always been a celebrity presence as a billboard and designers have relied on movie stars, singers and other people to really further their cause. There’s always been that symbiotic relationship. But now, of course, they’re competitors. They have their own brands. When Mary-Kate and Ashley or Victoria Beckham have a brand that’s reaching high-end consumers, that’s competing with all the Narcisos and Proenza Schoulers. The competition is part of the industry. This is a very dynamic, competitive industry — always has been and it’s been even more so. What’s been hijacking the runway in some ways even more than these celebrities are fast fashion people. Fast fashion is interpreting runway trends and a lot of it is not just knockoffs. Remember when fast fashion was just about knockoffs? When you go to Zara, you see stuff that’s original. They’ve gotten better at it and they’ve forced a lot of designers to get better at it.