How Much Do Indie Brands Owe To Famous Fans?

There’s power beyond the celebrity endorsement.

by Beatrice Hazlehurst

Her breasts, sheathed in sheer buttermilk yellow, were contoured by a wire structure clearly crafted by someone with a keen eye for the female form. She married the would-be shirt with a pair of hip-hanging pants, her torso exposed as she made the intrepid journey from SUV to building entrance. And when the photos subsequently circulated social media, sartorialists scoured the same celebrity closet sources. They, along with fans and stylists, were eager to ID the indie fashion brand deemed worthy to be worn on the streets of Soho by Bella Hadid.

Hadid’s decision to don Mirror Palais’ Underwire Polo incited a fashionista feeding frenzy. Vogue characterized the crop top as “extreme,” the New York Post declared the “half underwire bra, half polo shirt” the must-have item of summer 2021, “unusual” was the Daily Mail’s preferred adjective. As the New York newcomer brand garnered new admirers, A-listers were quick to follow suit; J. Lo, Ariana Grande, Kendall Jenner all incorporated Mirror Palais into their rotation.

“Without Instagram there would not be Mirror Palais,” says founder Marcelo Gaia, who worked as a stylist before incepting the brand. “As soon as I started sharing the designs we started to gain traction, but things really sped up once I posted the underwire tops. They went viral immediately and we haven't stopped since.”

Across the pond, rising London brand Poster Girl was experiencing a similar trajectory. Since launching the label in 2017, Central Saint Martins graduates Francesca Capper and Natasha Somerville found a host of fervent devotees for their now trademark use of micro-mesh chainmail. For three years, it worked — then the pandemic hit. The party scene had dried up, and pennies for glamazonian dresses were pinched more than ever before. Feeling like “the floor had been pulled beneath [them],” the duo decided to create a collection that was both more practical and versatile, while continuing to align with their original vision of innovative occasionwear.

“It was clear we had to re-strategize and come up with something that's not been done before,” says Capper, who hoped their designs would also serve as a beacon of hope for a sweatpant-free future. “It had to be unique and inclusive.”

Pivoting in a more contoured — and affordable — direction, Poster Girl released the “Shapewear” capsule: an array of skin-tight ‘fishnet’ pieces embellished with cut-outs and crystals. It was an instant hit, perfectly catering to — and, created the illusion of — Instagram-ready curves. Kylie Jenner wore three items in a month, and Dua Lipa donned the now-famous ‘Miranda dress’ for her album artwork. The success of the shapewear served as a testament to the overnight explosion possible for bootstrapping brands with the right release at the right time.

“We are still speechless,” Somerville explains. “We have a few celeb fans that make direct requests, and other times we have had celeb orders come through without even being asked for press requests. The whole process is very organic and we still have to pinch ourselves.”

“Creating an honest aesthetic world is very essential,” echoes Di Du of Shanghai label DIDU, whose famous fans include the likes of Kylie Jenner, Sita Abellan, Cardi B, and South Korean supergroups like Aespa. “The fashion world doesn’t need more commercial brands. [Stay true] to what you want to say, it's very important to be yourself and listen to yourself.”

After graduating from the Antwerp Fashion Department at the Royal Academy Of Fine Arts Antwerp, Du’s intention was to create clothing that inspires confidence, “empowering women from the inside out.” The result is unexpected interpretations of classic pieces — cropped leather jackets held in place by a chest-crossing belt, corsets with gravity-defying cut-outs, bike shorts that double as knitwear — endorsement from major celebrities was simply a byproduct of her fulfilled vision.

“As the leaders of trends, they would deeply influence the market,” she explains. “The effect is that, if consumers happen to be fans (or even not sometimes), they place a higher value on products that celebrities are endorsing. Social media offers us a fair platform to demonstrate our work, and delivers our message to a massive market.”

Of course, New York designer Danielle Guizio says the success of her cult brand relies on relationships. She founded the eponymous label as a solution to her own shopping frustrations, which often boiled down to finding pieces that were “genuinely unique without sacrificing quality.” Her hundred thousand-strong online following is a direct result of recognizing the power of Instagram to serve as a portfolio for high-profile stylists, who serve as conduit for emerging brands to broadcast their wares to a wider audience. It’s the implicit trust talent have in their teams to elevate them to trendsetting spec via previously ‘undiscovered’ brands or pieces that a lot of designers manage to wedge their foot in the door.

“Social media has played a huge role in my business ... the girls in DG have played as my walking billboards. Sometimes, it feels as though the reach that social media has is pretty infinite in terms of who's eyes your brand [reaches].”

Since her company’s inception in 2014, Guizio has amassed enough disciples to assemble a small army. There are the usual suspects who don a piece from every collection (cc: Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner), as well as many other fashion favorites Hailey Bieber, Madison Beer, and Winnie Harlow. Not only does she credit her ever-growing social media reach for capturing and maintaining the attention of young Hollywood, but also her relationships.

“I don’t like to look at relationships with stylists or talent as transactional,” she says. “When you’re loaning to stylists it feels more of a group effort and teamwork. It feels like you both want to help each other for the sake of creating those moments.That’s the beauty of this industry.”

That said, when it comes to celebrity cosigns, Gaia advises young designers to remain realistic — even if your rolodex is chock-full of premier contacts, not every design will connect with everyone. “Follow stylists, support them and their work, but ultimately respect the fact that if you show someone something and they don't want it there is nothing you can do. Ultimately, after years of being a stylist, I learned you can’t force celebrities to wear things they don't wanna wear — unless you're paying them.”

While Gaia can’t deny the power of the Polo, he credits another design for Mirror Palais’ dramatic growth — one that had no celebrity intervention whatsoever: the ‘Fairy Dress.’ “The fairy dress going viral definitely set us into overdrive,” says Gaia, recalling a video shared on Mirror Palais’ Instagram profile of a sparkling taupe-colored glitter dress. “We’ve never seen numbers like that before. With that high engagement and interest came more responsibility to deliver.”

It was the response to the Fairy Dress that deemphasized the necessity of celebrity support for Gaia. The brand’s consumer, he says, is so deeply informed regarding all things fashion, that they can recognize and appreciate the Easter egg-esque vintage references embedded in each Mirror Palais garment. “I would say that when a celebrity wears something it definitely can bring attention to a particular piece ... but we suspect our following is more interested in the fashion itself than who's wearing it,” he says.

Each designer can cite a piece, or two, which catapulted them into a new dimension. For Guizio, it’s the satin corset. The Miranda dress by Poster Girl — as seen on Lipa and Jenner — and DIDU’s green satin blazer with ruched netted overlay will be similarly recognizable for many. Still, when the designers talk about career turning points, each credits the industry’s more traditional gatekeepers: press recognition, buyers, and collaborators. Ultimately, says Guizio, you don’t need to try to impress the cool kids table to sit with them. When they’re ready, they’ll come to you.

“People will gravitate towards you the most when you’re doing things out of passion for yourself and nobody else,” echoes Guizio. “That should always be your focus point and intention.”