Fashion Designers become Brands

Back in 2003, Annie Leibovitz and Grace Coddington produced one of the greatest Fashion Editorials for the American Vogue. Their "Alice in Wonderland" was not only styled with the best Fashion Brands, but the Fashion Designers themselves where featured in the shot where their garments were used. Each scene required the designer, or the designer duo, to play a character.

Tom Ford looked great as the white rabbit, Jean Paul Gaultier as a very convincing Cheshire Cat, and the duo Victor and Rolf, looked amazing as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Karl Lagerfeld, too, starred in the Editorial.

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland
 Photos by Annie Leibovitz

Photos by Annie Leibovitz

His character was Pepper, in the scene Pig and Pepper. This shot though, shows Lagerfeld as we know and love him - in his black and white Karl Lagerfeld Outfit. He refused to be photographed as someone else, than Karl himself.

 Photo: Annie Leibovitz

Photo: Annie Leibovitz

Karl Lagerfeld is not only a persona, or a designer. He is a very known and popular brand, as well. So acting or pretending he is something or someone else would be contradictory to his brand image and brand idea. There is no one better than Lagerfeld to market himself as a celebrity, brand on its own, and fashion designer! Karl Lagerfeld here is a good example of the relationship between celebrity, brand and fashion, in our society today.

If it is about designer labels, fashion and brand go hand in hand, as designer clothing is very much about “labels, logos and signifiers and all of this is in turn encapsulated, condensed and summarised by the power of the brand”, (Edwards, 2011: 142). The designer dress, as Baudrillard sees it, is a “commodity sign”, carrying its own signifiers, which have been defined by the brand, (1972, 1983). What you buy nowadays is therefore not a simple dress, but the much esteemed label in the back.

Thus, fashion can be seen as “a symbolic communicator, or signifier of status, rank and affiliation, and it is this factor that creates its strength of bond with branding, for brands are also primarily symbols, shorthand verbal and visual languages for wider values”, (Edwards, 2011: 145). However, the relationship between fashion and brand is incomplete without the third factor. The desire for a piece of fashion means only an engagement with an object, so the desiring subject is looking out for more – he or she is looking for something, which was filled in by the phenomenon of the celebrity. Tim Edwards describes it as following: “The culture of celebrity and the designer label have their part to play in abstracting desire, in turning human needs such as wanting to be attractive, valued  or  loved  into  goods  to  be  bought  and  sold  as  brands,  and  once commodified, then rehumanised as hologram personalities called celebrities”, (Edwards, 2011: 151f).

Therefore, in the world of capitalism, celebrities might be seen as a  perfect means to maximise profit, and as Rojek describes, minimise political resistance. What follows, is that today’s world “of aspirational design and high end yet mass market fashion is now next to inseparable from celebrity”, Edwards, 2011: 137). Thus, for a clever and business orientated designer, the use of a celebrity is inevitable, particularly in view of the fact that celebrities are considered to be fashion opinion leaders; a role, which is “crucial for the social legitimation of new (…) fashion ideas”, (Weisfeld-Spolter, Manesh Thakkar, 2011: 135).

Valentino, who seems to be the first one to recognise the importance of a celebrity, dressed celebrities like Victoria Beckham in his unique gowns. Many of other renowned designers then followed his example and “have learned to exploit the new economic power of celebrity in a variety of ways”, (Church-Gibson, 2012: 184). Finally, the fashion figures themselves became celebrities. The designers are now stars.

Looking back to Gabrielle Chanel’s career, it does not seem a novelty. Having created fame and mystery around her personality, even gave her the power to escape prison, after she had been accused of having a romantic relationship with a Nazi figure. Instead, her influential contacts allowed her to be exiled to Switzerland. At that time, Chanel was an exception. Today, however, designers are in fact expected to feature in the public domain”, (Church-Gibson, 2012: 186). Now it is more difficult than ever to keep themselves out of the public eye, as Balenciaga preferred to do.

It is argued that “the current designer-as-celebrity era began with the publicity created for Vivienne Westwood by Malcolm McLaren during the so called birth of punk”, (Church-Gibson, 012: 192). Also with Karl Lagerfeld creating his own signature outfit the cult for branding of the designer was confirmed. John Galliano didn’t miss the opportunity to ensure that his theatrical couture outfits were only related to his persona. The designer-as-celebrity does not only allow them to have a specific trademark appearance, but through publication and the circulation of their pictures, the demand for their products grows and enriches their business, (Church-Gibson, 2012). This is what you could call: a recipe for success!


-Chruch‐Gibson, P. (2012) Fashion and Celebrity Culture. London: Berg.
-Edwards, T. (2011) Fashion in Focus: Concepts, Practices and Politics. London: Routledge.
-Rojek, C. (2001) Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books.
-Weisfeld-Spolter, S & Thakkar, M. (2011) “Is a Designer Only as Good as a Star Who Wears Her Clothes? Examining the Roles of Celebrities as Opinion Leaders for the Diffusion of Fashion in the US Teen Market”, in Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, Vol. 15, Number 2.