Music and fashion have always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, but ever since the birth of social media that relationship has been reinforced and strengthened. As our columnist Leaf Greener pointed out in a recent article, social imagery is key to the growth of the fashion industry.
The phenomenon began at Alexander McQueen’s SS10 ready-to-wear show, before which Lady Gaga, who had more than a million Twitter followers, tweeted that her next single, ‘Bad Romance’, would make its debut on the catwalk. Host site SHOWStudio buckled under the traffic and ultimately crashed. It was clear then that collaboration between music and fashion would grow exponentially with the development of social media.
The pairing of McQueen and Gaga wasn’t surprising, given their creative similarities. The same couldn’t be said of Rihanna’s endorsement at Christian Dior: an artist famous for her rebellious attitude teaming up with an atelier renowned for its elegance. But as someone who embodies the zeitgeist, Rihanna has helped introduce a fresh new audience to Dior while reflecting the brand’s modern values.
‘Their relationship is mutually beneficial and hardly unexpected,’ says celebrity stylist Inggrad Shek. ‘Every brand undergoes phases of reinvention, such as what we’ve seen at Balenciaga under the direction of Demna Gvasalia.’
The Barbadian singer’s style credentials and marketability have also been picked up by sportswear giant Puma, which saw fourth-quarter 2015 sales rise by 11.5 percent, an astounding achievement largely attributable to their creative partnership.
The benefits of artist endorsements far outweigh those of a campaign fronted by models. ‘Celebrities have great commercial potential and they are a widespread marketing strategy for their ability to arouse attention and create desire among consumers,’ says Dr Tommy Tse, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in cultural theory and fashion communication (learn more about how fashion brands are communicating).
Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Saint Laurent demonstrates the power of hiring musicians as the face of the brand. YSL musicians have attitude: Courtney Love, Joni Mitchell and Marilyn Manson were its brand ambassadors for The Saint Laurent Music Project campaign in 2013. Beside their obvious commercial value and fan base, musicians’ image and craft can project the mood and direction of a brand.
Hip-hop icons from the early 1990s on have also enjoyed this mutually beneficial relationship in the form of high-low fashion. From LL Cool J’s shout-out to Fendi in ‘Around the Way Girl’ to Biggie Smalls’ ‘Hypnotize’, rappers have continuously found ways to integrate labels into their rhymes and videos. A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fashion Killa’ leads the way with a staggering 27 designers, namechecking labels such as Martin Margiela and Raf Simons.
‘An artist isn’t dictated by labels,’ though, says Shek. ‘They are first and foremost trendsetters themselves, before stylists help transform their image with fashion.’ The success of celebrity endorsements for brands, adds Tse, ‘lies in the idealised physical appearance personified by these artists, who reinforce the values of their target audiences’.
Fashion’s obsession with keeping up appearances might seem superficial, but it also makes the industry such a prominent tool for musicians. Madonna’s rise to fame was helped by her fashion choices, most famously Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic cone bra. Alexander Wang demonstrated a similar synergy in his collaboration with South African electronic outfit Die Antwoord to fuel the hype for his edgy, streetwear-inspired collections. The group might be known to court controversy, but Oscar Wilde famously put it, ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’.