Star-led apparel collections seen as surviving trend
They may be "cheap," "badly made" or "short-changing" consumers, but celebrity apparel collections - such as supermodel Kate Moss's Topshop range and pop star Madonna's line for H&M - are likely to remain in vogue in the foreseeable future, as Ivan Castano reports.
Despite mixed sales reviews, celebrity partnerships are proving a savvy marketing tool to boost retailers' profiles and bottom line, industry observers have told just-style.com. However, high-street chains should be careful to match the right celebrity with the right merchandise to stand out in a market that's becoming saturated with celebrity endorsements.
"We will continue to see retailers doing celebrity collaborations in the future," says Jim Hurley, managing director of New York fashion retail consultancy Telsey Advisory Group.
"They can use the concept to draw more shoppers into their stores, build awareness about their brand, and generate interest for the rest of their merchandise, for the stuff they do best."
That scheme can be seen working at thousands of H&M stores carrying the M by Madonna label. The Swedish retail giant has made space to stock similar, yet lower priced-items to the range.
"If you look at the stores, you can see they have items with similar silhouettes of lower quality so people can get the Madonna look at a lower price," Hurley notes. He adds the strategy paid off for H&M. "They reported fantastic sale numbers for the first month the collection was on."
Katrin Magnussen, a senior retail analyst with market researcher Mintel, agrees that celebrity partnerships benefit clothing retailers: "Having a celebrity inspire a range means that everyone who reads about that celebrity will think about your stores and that's a great marketing advantage."
In recent months, a string of clothing retailers have launched celebrity-inspired apparel ranges. Emboldened by the success of earlier collaborations, H&M introduced M by Madonna in March. Then Topshop, a leading UK fashion chain, launched Kate Moss for Topshop on 1 May in a high-profile event that drew thousands of fashionistas and an army of paparazzi. Later that month, New Look teamed up with British pop singer Lily Allen to introduce the Lily Allen Loves New Look signature.
Inditex not interested
In Spain, home to some of the world's largest clothing chains, women's fashion retailer Mango has tapped actress Penelope Cruz to design its 2007 autumn/winter collection.
But while the Barcelona-based firm, which hired actress Milla Jovovich for a similar collaboration last year, continues to use celebrities to market its business, archrival Inditex, Europe's largest fashion chain, has no plans to jump on the celebrity bandwagon.
With over 3,100 stores worldwide, Inditex owns Europe's ubiquitous Zara chain and other expansionist banners such as Massimo Dutti and Bershka.
"We don't have any plans to launch this strategy," an Inditex marketing official said. "We use our stores as our main advertising vehicle and we don't do massive media or advertising campaigns. The concept wouldn't fit with our communications policy."
Some celebrity ranges have failed to meet retailers' expectations.
While Moss's collection has been very successful (delivering sales of about GBP3.5m in its first 10 days of business), observers say demand for M by Madonna has been less buoyant while Allen's range is performing poorly.
"Retailers were expecting to see more queues outside their shops," says Magnussen. "H&M saw massive successes with the Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld collaborations, in which crowds mobbed their shops, but that didn't happen with Madonna or Lily Allen."
New Look's previous partnership with British fashion designer Giles Deacon was much more successful than the Allen range, Magnussen adds.
The right stuff
Despite reports that H&M and New Look's collections are "cheap," "bland" and "badly made," analysts say their relative failure stemmed from the retailers' inability to find the right celebrity to sponsor them.
"It's less about quality than it is about how people perceive the celebrities," Magnussen points out, adding that there's "very little difference" between the quality of Topshop, H&M and New Look's apparel.
She adds: "What's crucial is that people want to dress like the celebrities. Kate is a global fashion icon and trendsetter so everyone wants to dress like her. But Madonna and Lily Allen are more mainstream celebrities. They are famous for selling records and while they have a cool sense of style people aren't necessarily interested in copying it."
Magnussen expects more celebrity apparel to reach the market but she expects the actions to be fewer and more apart.
"I don't think we are going to see another avalanche of these collections," she says.
"Retailers have learned the importance of choosing the right celebrity and it may take a while for some of them to find that person."
Richard Ratner, a retail analyst with brokerage Seymour Pierce, says merchandise quality is just as crucial to the success of a celebrity collaboration.
"It's all about product quality and design and some of these collections have failed to inspire consumers," he says. "If retailers get the right merchandise, a celebrity on a good range can only make it more attractive."
Kate opens US for Topshop
As expected, retailers say their star-led collaborations are selling very well although they won't disclose current and forecast sales figures.
However, many agree that Moss's 80-piece portfolio, which features GBP12 vest tops and GBP150 leather jackets, is outperforming all others.
"The impression is that this collection has been the most successful," says Ratner. "Sir Philip Green is certainly pleased and the range has given Topshop a calling card into the US market."
Indeed, US consumers bought Moss's designs (launched in the trendy Barneys chain on 8 May) with so much gusto that Topshop is said to want to open three New York shops in the medium term with the first store expected to open next spring.
Topshop officials say the company is "very interested in the US market" but would not comment further.
Not to be outdone, H&M says M by Madonna helped it deliver a 30% sales jump in March and a 21% increase in April and that May sales are looking good. The collection features evening tops, tailored blazers and kimono dresses among other apparel.
"This was a classic collection with a broad market appeal so we didn't expect it to fly out the door [like the Moss range]," says an H&M spokeswoman. "However, it has exceeded our expectations and we are very happy with it."
H&M has also launched a beachwear range by pop princess Kylie Minogue, dubbed H&M loves Kylie, but the spokeswoman says it's too early to assess its performance.
Moss's collection has "exceeded all our targets," says a Topshop spokeswoman, adding that she expects the range to significantly boost Topshop's sales this year.
Meanwhile, sales of Lily Allen Loves New Look are "absolutely fantastic," according to a company spokeswoman. The range comprises ball gown dresses, shoes and jewellery. It's marketed to fit "every woman," unlike the Moss range, which some critics say "only fits stick-thin girls."
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