Teri Agins Tackles the Monied World of Celebs + Fashion

Teri Agins Tackles the Monied World of Celebs + Fashion

Why you should care

Because stars are now the biggest brands out there — which means whole new ways for them to make money.

When former Wall Street Journal retail writer Teri Agins decided to put the intersection of celebrity and retail under her microscope, we knew that someone was going to squirm. This time it will be a few celebrities. Agins concluded an exhaustive three years of research, which she folded into a book, Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight From Designers (released this week).

OZY sat down with Agins recently and asked her to share some of the trends and behind-the-scenes business moves that have stoked our appetite for celebrity-branded fashion.

OZY:

Why should we care about this? Stars have always been in fashion. You even take us back to Empress Eugenie, who became designer Charles Worth’s best advertisement. She accomplished her husband Napoleon III’s goal to stimulate the French textile industry and commerce, and it worked.

TERI AGINS:

What’s new here is that they’re not just billboards, but brands in their own right now. We are really influenced, they really influence the general public and what we buy. This is where we’ve landed in pop culture. The Internet and technology have pushed celebrities to the forefront.

OZY:

What surprised you most in your three years of research?

TA:

Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It would be how much celebrities are paid — to show up, to tweet, to put their name on something. It used to be just A-list, but now it’s B, C.

OZY:

Should we turn up our noses?

TA:

Every product needs some way to connect with consumers, and today celebrities are the best way to do it.

OZY:

Whatever happened to just plain old clothes getting people excited?

TA:

The celebrity thing is here to stay, and it’s only in its infancy. When we got so casual with how we dress, people lost interest permanently in things like hemlines.

What’s new is old. The way the clothes look now is secondary. It’s the branding that’s important.

Teris Agins on a red carpet taking a photo with Tom Ford.

The Wall Street Journal writer Teri Agins (right) poses with her ACE Marylou Luther Journalism Award, presented to her by fashion designer Tom Ford (left).

Source Evan Agostini/Getty

OZY:

You have an interesting story in the book about the seeds of the A-list Jordan Brand, and it gives context to what just happened with Kevin Durant, Under Armour and Nike.

TA:

Flashback 1984. The basketball shoe that everyone was wearing was Converse. Dr. J was the star. He wore Converse. Nike was making running shoes and they couldn’t get into this market. So they went with the No. 3 draft pick. A marketing guy named Sonny Vaccaro said pick him. You have to remember, The Cosby Show wasn’t even on TV yet. (Michael) Jordan was No. 3. Not No. 1. He was a skinny, dark-skinned African-American ballplayer that nobody knew. This was a big leap for Nike.

Nike designed a red and black basketball shoe, and he is the only one wearing it. It was against NBA regulations. The NBA said, “This is not part of the uniform,” and they fined him. And he kept wearing the shoe and being fined because Nike was paying the fine.

OZY:

You said his first contract with Nike was for $500,000 (plus royalties). What are sales for the brand today?

TA:

The brand now does $1.75 billion globally, according to a report in Forbes.

OZY:

So is Jordan the biggest? Who’s the biggest celebrity brand today?

TA:

Jessica Simpson is the biggest brand with close to $1 billion at retail and 22 product categories.

OZY:

I’m shocked. Not the red-carpet name we might think.

TA:

I would argue that I don’t think people look at her and say, “I want to dress like Jessica Simpson.”

People buy things once and then they say, “I trust the brand.” But the ones I heard about the most from retailers were Lauren Conrad and Selena Gomez. It’s that teeny-bopper crowd. Most things under $20.

Michael Jordan wearing his signature Nike Jordan shoes

Nike Air Jordans

Source Getty

OZY:

Menswear is on fire these days. Tell me about what we’ll see.

TA:

More collaborations. You see Amar’e Stoudemire, David Beckham. It started with Pat Riley. He put Armani on the map when he was with the Lakers.

OZY:

I thought Richard Gere in American Gigolo did that.

TA:

Richard Gere introduced Americans to Armani. It was (1980) when that movie came out. But Riley really made the difference. Riley was on TV for the whole season. When sportscasters would banter between plays, they mentioned his clothes, and Pat Riley was really a kind of macho man’s-man guy.

They really wanted Kevin Costner. But he wouldn’t do it. And Riley was organic. He was already wearing the clothes.

When I was at The Journal, I asked him, and he emphasized that he was not on the Armani payroll. But he and his wife were being dressed.

OZY:

How much would you say that was worth?

TA:

This is pure guesstimate. All that merchandise, outfitting him and his wife, flown to Milan to the shows, flown to charity events, staying at nice hotels (you know the Italians are very generous): $100,000 to $150,000. When you think about this, it was nothing. People are being paid millions of dollars today.

OZY:

Shine a light on this for us. What are people getting?

TA:

This is closely guarded. A lot of these companies no longer leave it to chance that a celebrity is going to wear something. People sign contracts now and people won’t tell you, but …

OZY:

We can look at the Charlize Theron case that you documented in the book.

TA:

She had a contract to wear watches by (the Swiss company) Raymond Weil. She had been photographed wearing Christian Dior and other watches. RW sued her.

They sought $20 million!

In the court case you really got to see what people were paying. It gave you a window into what companies would do to get celebrities to wear their clothes.

She got $3 million to endorse Dior perfume. She got $50,000 to wear jewelry for Chopard and some other stuff that’s in the book.

Closeup of Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley during game vs Boston Celtics

Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley during a game against the Boston Celtics in 1985

Source Jerry Wachter/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

OZY:

You say another $200,000 to wear jewelry to the Oscars a few years ago, and Montblanc made a $250,000 donation to a charity. I can only imagine how much Raymond Weil paid her. What was she thinking?

TA:

She got sloppy about it.

OZY:

So the Kardashians are not the top in retail. Jennifer Lopez has more than a dozen fragrances, though she’s struggled in fashion. Why is this still only going to get bigger?

TA:

Once a celebrity crashes, there’s another one to replace them. We are fans and we will buy something a celebrity is selling. The celebrity makes an emotional connection with us, and we’ll buy the product.

OZY:

What does this say about us? Is it helping business in the long run?

TA:

It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. I was interviewing some women standing in line to purchase the Kardashian collection when it launched a couple years ago. I said, “You know that the Kardashians didn’t design it, right?” They know, but they wanted it anyway. A few months later it was all on the sale racks.

OZY:

So what does the future look like?

TA:

A lot of celebrities are seeing how hard it is (to have your own collection). What we’re gonna see is a lot more collaborations, like Beckham for H&M. They want the notoriety, they want the money, but it’s not that easy. It’s easy for them to jump in the market, but not to build the infrastructure.

People have a short attention span, so they don’t necessarily want things to last forever. They last for a year, then it goes away and someone replaces them.

This interview has been edited and condensed for publication here. Agins’s book, Hijacking the Runway, was published by Gotham Books this week (Oct. 9).

Comment

OZYOpinion

Interviews, op-eds, and analysis to help you make sense of the news of the day and the news of the future.