How Celebrities Became Integral To Fashion Month
From sitting front row to walking the runway.
It was around 10 p.m. on the second day of Paris Fashion Week when music icon Cher made her grand entrance on the runway at the Balmain show. The music icon, dressed in a black jumpsuit, was greeted by a roaring crowd as her 1989 single “If I Could Turn Back Time” played in the stadium. Cher met the brand’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, onstage and the pair held hands and walked to close out the event together. Her surprise appearance was a success: She was the third most searched celebrity from Paris Fashion Week, according to Google data and as reported by WWD.
Cher was hardly an outlier this season. Both Hari Nef and Emily Ratajkowski were mainstays on the runways throughout the month, popping up everywhere from Tommy Hilfiger and Matty Bovan (Nef) to Tory Burch and Nensi Dojaka (Ratajkowski). Meanwhile Jemina Kirke joined Collina Strada’s It girl-filled model lineup (which also included Nef), Paris Hilton stole the show at Versace in a sparkly dress and matching hot pink veil, and FKA Twigs materialized at Miu Miu in the label’s latest iteration of the micro mini. And that’s not even including the many models-turned-celebrities — Bella Hadid, Kate Moss — commandeering the spotlight at shows. These days, it seems like no runway is complete without at least one high-profile cameo (or two).
Of course, the close knit relationship between the Hollywood and high fashion is nothing new. Take, for instance, legendary designer Hubert de Givenchy, who invited Audrey Hepburn to appear in his 30th anniversary fashion show in Tokyo. A muse and friend to Givenchy for over 40 years, Hepburn regularly wore his creations on and off screen (including, yes, that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
Madonna, too, has made regular cameos at Jean Paul Gaultier’s shows throughout the years, and is well known for wearing the designer’s iconic cone bra while performing. And let’s not forget Lady Gaga — who graced us with catwalk cameos both at Mugler (Fall/Winter 2011) and Marc Jacobs (Fall/Winter 2016) — and Jennifer Lopez. The only thing more thrilling than the internet-breaking dress she wore to the Grammys in 2000 was the version she modeled on Versace’s Spring/Summer 2020 runway.
“Celebrities have always been part of fashion storytelling,” Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s chief executive officer, tells TZR. “Whether it’s been on the covers of magazines, sitting front row at a show, or wearing a designer on the red carpet, there is a mutually beneficial bond that exists.”
But this season, Kolb points out, stars were more integral to the shows than ever before, whether they were posing as models, curating the collection, or serving as inspiration for clothes. “Fashion shows are entertainment events as much as they are a showing of a collection,” he explains. “Celebrities are entertainers. Having them in shows creates visibility and adds personality to the runway.”
Jeanine Polizzi, a professor of fashion marketing and branding at Parsons School of Design, notes that this is a business-savvy move from brands. Working with a celebrity one way or another potentially means reaching that A-lister’s followers — and, hopefully, turning them into future customers. This helps labels cater to a large market beyond a small pool of buyers and retailers.
The shift is not unlike what happened with magazine covers in the mid-’90s. Those coveted spots used to be almost exclusively reserved for models before celebrities progressively started replacing them. In 1999, The New York Times reported on the trend, writing that the phenomenon “is a sign of the changing times in the modeling industry” and that “magazine editors think that preoccupation is the magic bullet that will move their merchandise.”
A driving force behind that theory was the conceit that celebrities felt more relatable to the masses than models. “Hardly anyone thinks they can look like a supermodel, whereas a movie star, as unrealistic as it sounds, offers some sort of attainability,” Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History, points out.
And these days, it seems, accessibility has never been more important to customers. Runway shows have started to reflect this shift as well over the last few decades: The advent of fashion bloggers in the late 2000s, as well as social media, have made shows available to a wider audience, be it through livestream technology or by way of “relatable” mega-influencers like Emma Chamberlain and Chiara Ferragni (who have become quite famous in their own right). Staging an entertaining show has become a key marketing strategy for luxury labels, and an unexpected star appearance is a fantastic way to get attention.
“Once you include consumers, you need to increase relevance and entertainment value,” Polizzi explains. “I think that’s why we’re starting to see a lot more celebrities involved.”
Enlisting VIPs as models is not the only way brands are generating buzz. They’re also intertwining the actual collections with bits of pop culture. Take this past NYFW, when Fendi joined forces with Sarah Jessica Parker for the 25th anniversary of the brand’s iconic Baguette bag (a Carrie Bradshaw go-to). Parker designed four sequined bags as part of the collaboration with Fendi, and two debuted as part of the label’s special collection made in partnership with Marc Jacobs.
Over in Paris, Chanel’s creative director, Virginie Viard, attributed the inspiration for her Spring/Summer 2023 show to Kristen Stewart, who’s been an ambassador for the house since 2013. “Of the people around me, she is the closest to Gabrielle Chanel — at least, to my idea of her. She understands Chanel, its clothes,” wrote Viard in the show notes. The runway was filled with lower-slung and oversized silhouettes that included baggy shorts and wide-leg suits. Many of the models showcased the styles with their hands buried deep in their pockets, a subtle tribute to Stewart’s signature red carpet pose.
“Having a celebrity be the inspiration really just shows that we’re being inspired by pop culture,” Polizzi says. Ambassadors have always been a useful way for houses to cater to consumers while representing the essence of the brand. And it’s likely what led Coach to roll out its announcement of Lil Nas X as their newest ambassador, culminating in the artist appearing in the brand’s most recent show.
At the end of the day, beloved actors, musicians, influencers, and athletes give fashion houses a bit of an edge in an increasingly competitive industry. But one could argue it’s also become so commonplace that the wow factor has worn off. Derek Blasberg, a freelancer writer and editor (and the former head of fashion and beauty at YouTube), noted this on Twitter. “Wondering if there’s ever been a time when high fashion has ever so closely intertwined itself with pop culture?” he tweeted, referencing Serena Williams at the Vogue World show in New York and Kanye West opening Balenciaga at Paris Fashion Week.
Still, whether this moment in fashion is a passing trend or here to stay, it’s worth noting that star-studded fashion months are a whole lot of fun to follow; it’s brief respite from these turbulent times in which we live. “It’s exciting to watch the shows in their entirety these days. I think that leads to those kind of reactive moments and those exciting moments for consumers,” Polizzi says. “Producing entertaining [shows] after coming out of such a dark and quiet time presents a brighter future.”