On May 31st, Alexander Wang presented his Spring 2020 collection in New York City. It was full of the same type of pieces we’ve come to expect from the brand: solid whites and blacks, athleisure, cut-off denim, and subtle riffs on pop culture trends (Kendall Jenner wore a waist trainer, for example). Though these features were certainly a part of the fashion media fall out after the show, the number one headline across the internet was about none other than Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson, who made his modeling debut wearing a white tank top and jeans.
“Pete Davidson Can Add Runway Model To His Resume Now,” MetroUK wrote. “Pete Davidson Has A New Summer Job,” Refinery29touted. Others echoed the same sentiment, putting Davidson at the crux of the story and the collection somewhere else. Social media was an entirely different beast, with every editor and fashion-adjacent person posting about his appearance, as opposed to the clothes themselves.
Of course, Alexander Wang and his team had to know this would be the case and likely did it on purpose. Sure, Davidson might be a fan of the brand, but his headline-grabbing name was the real “get” in this scenario. Outside of being an interesting choice for Wang, the comedian’s presence speaks to a larger movement in fashion that prioritizes celebrity over everything.
Beyond just asking famous people to walk the runway, some brands are now giving them control of the actual clothing itself—regardless of design experience. This move often prioritizes name recognition over product, no matter the cost. Brands no longer feel the need to hide big names under ambassadorships and front row seats. Instead, they’re giving them some of the most coveted industry jobs.
Let’s look to Rihanna’s new LVMH brand Fenty, for example. While the singer/business mogul has certainly earned this extraordinary spot in the fashion world, she doesn’t necessarily have the design credentials to back up the appointment in a way that many others do. There is no doubt that Rihanna is going to create something stylish and inclusive—and she’ll likely learn more and continue to develop as the seasons go on. But we also have to recognize that what is going to move units for LVMH is Rihanna’s name—not what she’s designing.
Tommy Hilfiger, too, has put its effort into using celebrity for fashion. In 2016, the brand teamed up with Gigi Hadid for three successful collections, some of which completely sold out in pre-sale. Then, in 2019, they continued their celebrity-as-designer strategy by hiring Zendaya. Her collection, shown during Paris Fashion Week, was one of the most talked about shows of the season.
The real question here, however, is why are these brands relying so heavily on fame? Is it that the collections are no longer enough to move the needle, or are these moves simply bandaids for the shift toward small designers and resale? Likely, it’s a combination of both. We’re no more obsessed with celebrity than we were in the past, but our attention is so divided that brands need to do something more than create a great dress in order for people to pay attention. Welcome to 2019, the year celebrity and fashion became so intertwined, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart.