Wed, Aug 31, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Celebrities make appearances in five-figure fashion

By Austin Considine  /  NY Times News Service, New York

Would anyone be more willing to buy this Hermes Birkin bag if it were endorsed by a celebrity like Kim Kardashian?

Photo: Bloomberg

Is a celebrity imprimatur on a handbag worth as much as a new car?

When Victoria Beckham announced this month that her fashion line was releasing an alligator-skin handbag costing nearly US$30,000, the price tag might have seemed shocking, if not, perhaps, for the US$34,000 alligator-skin backpack revealed in July by The Row, the design outfit of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

In the past, celebrity branding has targeted a decidedly more down-market clientele: teenagers, the movie-star-obsessed and shoppers seeking some affordable piece of Hollywood glamour. Jeans by Jessica Simpson and athletic shoes by Kim Kardashian have been inexpensive and accessible, to say nothing of clothing lines for Kmart and Walmart by teenage idols like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, respectively.

Beckham and the Olsens are not the first celebrities to put their names on more serious, and expensive, pieces. Chloe Sevigny has US$400 shoes for Opening Ceremony, and Katie Holmes-branded suit jackets are US$2,950 at Barneys, for instance.

But until now, celebrity brands have mostly stayed away from five-figure fashion. Indeed, do women who are willing to pay tens of thousands of US dollars for a designer bag really care about (or even want) pop celebrity branding? Why not a Hermes, Delvaux or Balenciaga — luxury bags with impeccable sophisticated reputations?

If the difficulty in getting one of the new Beckham or Olsen bags is any indication, the answer to the first question may be “yes.” Colin McDonald, a professional stylist based in New York, is trying to buy one of the Olsen Row backpacks on behalf of a client who is, he said, marrying into “a very prominent and affluent Russian family” in New York. So far, he’s stuck on the waiting list.

The Row bag is available only at Barneys; Beckham’s bag is made to order. Such scarcity, combined with the celebrity seal, McDonald said, was enough to drive demand among buyers for whom money is no object. “It’s a luxury market, and it’s not about the price tag,” McDonald added. “It’s about what they can’t have that they must have.”

The evolution of Beckham’s personal image may also help drive interest. She is one of a handful of pop celebrities to have successfully crossed over to the very high end. While many other 1990s pop stars have faded into obscurity, Beckham, with her high-profile marriage to the soccer star David Beckham and full-time dedication to her fashion line, has vaulted onto a more sophisticated platform.

“When you see paparazzi photos of her carrying an alligator tote through LAX, she is the picture of the modern-day woman who has it all: fabulous family, impeccable wardrobe, jet-set lifestyle,” said Tracey Lomrantz, the contributing style editor for Glamour magazine. “She’s always been her own best advertisement.”

Perhaps the line between high- and low-end celebrity fashion is blurring: With The Row, Lomrantz added, “It’s not so much a traditional celebrity clothing line, as in, ‘Here’s a way for you to look like me for less,’ but a legitimate fashion venture from two people who have great taste and happen to have been on a little show called Full House.”

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