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Clothes-Minded

Author Teri Agins Talks Clash of Celebs, Designers

Once upon a time in fashion, you fell in love with the look.

Sure, you saw the labels and the names “Chanel” or “Lagerfeld” were mentioned, but the actual human being behind the intricate designs? Well, that was somewhat of a mystery to the average American.

But in modern times, the designer began to loom as large as the design.  Celebrities, in the form of movie stars and music artists, were walking, red-carpet stalking advertisements of the garments. The gain for celebrities, in the beginning at least, was bragging rights.  The late Joan Rivers immortalized: “who are you wearing,” and the answer became important.

Now, the entertainers aren’t content to be mainstream mannequins.  In fact, they are increasingly taking over in this real-life project runway.

“Celebrities were important to help [designers] telegraph their designs to consumers,” journalist and author Teri Agins tells JET during an in-office visit.“What is happening now is celebrities are actually taking over and becoming even bigger than designers. This is causing a lot of tension because as you can imagine, designers do not want to be competing with celebrities.”

With nearly 30 years in the journalism industry covering business, fashion and creating a column, “Ask Teri” for the Wall Street Journal, Agins has experienced and acquired a great deal of knowledge as it relates to the infrastructure and workings of the fashion industry as well as its evolution and transitions.

Those insights spawned Agins’ latest act of authorship, Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers. The title kind of tells all, don’t you think?

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“A lot of people get worried because they believe that celebrities do not deserve to come in and steal the spotlight and be able to take market share away from fashion designers,” Agins offers by way of analysis. “But it’s actually kind of good because celebrities have become such a big part of pop culture. We put our trust in them in general and it is clear that they have become a bigger imprint in the industry especially in the day and age of the Internet.”

So how does this affect the once low-key fashion designers who took years to build their empire while the “new age celebrity” is able to shave off 10 years of grind and hustle because they have 19 million Twitter followers?

“Designers now know that they have to have a big imprint in social media,” Agins offers. “People have to identify with them as a person. I think that’s why celebrities have captivated consumers in a way that designers can’t.”

The competitive spirit that fuels the fashion business is now raised to a new height.  In Agins’ fast-paced and highly approachable book, she addresses celebrity versus fashion designer and even offers in-depth case studies highlighting success and failures of certain brands from stars including Jessica Simpson, Victoria Beckham, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Michael Jordan, and Kanye West, just to name a few.

She makes it clear that some of these performers might see better success with an assist from the designers in a win/win scenario.

Agins advises, “The best way for a celebrity to do this is through collaboration and partnerships. That way, they can come in and do a capsule collection with a few key items and it can really connect.”