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Celebrated design

Becky Sunshine examines a new breed of celebrity designer

Becky Sunshine,

Celebrity fashion collections are no longer the cheap vanity projects they once were, as a new generation of celebs looks to become as famous for its style on the rack as well as the red carpet.

Celebrities launching fashion ranges is hardly news. Endorsements, licence deals and capsules for high-street brands have been around for years. The drill: sign a lucrative contract, show up at the studio occasionally and the odd event, enthuse about clothes you've had little part in developing and that you don't much care about. It's all in a day's work.

The question is not whether these lines will sell - they usually do - but whether they pass muster with the fashion industry itself. The answer has always been a resounding 'no'. But a few brave celebrities have tried their hand at creating quality, stylish products that not only sell, but to the right people, in the right retail environments. The shocking news is that it's working.

The few big success stories truly stand out. American former teen actors Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have created two lines: Elizabeth and James and the higher end The Row, both to great critical acclaim. The sisters have harnessed their own slouchy, layered effortless look and translated it into covetable, well-made pieces now stocked at Club 21 in Singapore, Selfridges in London and Barneys in New York - and reinvented their own images in the process.

Maggie Bullock, senior beauty and fashion writer at Elle US, is a fan of The Row, which this season celebrates the launch of its menswear range. Bullock assigns the success of these brands to good taste and plenty of old-fashioned graft. 'The thing with the Olsen line is that it's entirely on-point, fashion-wise. They started doing the skinny legging, the deluxe longish T-shirt, the slouchy blazer around the same time as, if not before, fashion wunderkinds like Alexander Wang.' This, she notes, has had an interesting reverse effect on the Olsens' image. 'Whereas other stars at the peak of their fame have tarnished their image with fashion ventures that seemed to be little more than cynical moneymaking ventures, just another way to bilk fans and stuff the coffers, the Olsens' fashion work has taken them from tragically un-chic child-star status to credible fashion influence.'

The success of British actress Sienna Miller and her sister Savannah's Twenty8Twelve label is perhaps less of a surprise. The sisters have long been known for their style and Sienna, in particular, was already a firm favourite with the fashion establishment before she turned her hand to designing. Their label, which features clever tailoring and easy dresses, goes from strength to strength, with international stockists and runway shows at London Fashion Week.

Perhaps the biggest success story of them all is former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. Her forays into fashion were, until last year, met with snorts of disapproval from the industry and dismissed as an impossible dream. And then her luxe denim line dVb began to sell, Marc Jacobs decreed her cool and had her pose for his spring campaign, while a British Vogue cover sealed her status as socially acceptable.

By the time she launched her luxury dress line last September (her second collection was recently shown at New York Fashion Week), fashion's most elite, including Love magazine editor Katie Grand, were scrambling to endorse her wares. When the pieces appeared on the website of international luxury fashion e-tailer Net-A-Porter, they sold out immediately, while the dresses have been flying off the racks of premium department stores all over the world.

Helen David, international fashion buyer at Harrods, explains her deserved success. 'When Victoria Beckham's dress collection hit the shop floor, it sold brilliantly. Her designs are well constructed and beautifully considered. She has earned her industry acceptance.'

Other hits include include American model Erin Wasson and her collaboration with California-based lifestyle brand RVCA, and Russian heiress Daria Dasha Zhukova's Kova line of simple leggings and tops. British retail expert Mary Portas insists the reason for the sea change is obvious. 'The ranges being embraced by fashionistas have been designed by fashionistas who also happen to be famous. They're all kindred spirits. That's what it's all about. No wonder it works.'



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