A celebrity-turned-fashion designer used to be sort of a joke. Until it wasn’t. From Jessica Simpson to The Row’s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, some of the most successful fashion brands in the world right now are run by entertainers. Business reporter Teri Agins, who developed the fashion beat at the Wall Street Journal and has been covering the industry for a quarter of a century, spent the last two years determining which of these celebrities passed muster (Simpson, for one), which ones were a disaster (hint: Kanye’s runway debut in Paris), and why celebs have been able to so deftly steal the sartorial spotlight from fashion’s trained elite. Her new book, Hijacking the Runway, documents the best, worst, and most surprising moments of this new era, from the failed lines of Real Housewives to the impressive rise of socialite-cum-designer Tory Burch. Agins’ clear-headed approach to covering fashion—she likes it, but she’s not swept up by it—makes for an entertaining follow up to her 1999 debut, The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever.
ELLE.com recently spoke with Agins about the celebrities whose brands have impressed her—and those who haven’t—and what she thinks Kanye should do about his long-standing dream of conquering the fashion world.
Q:You covered a lot of ground here, from Donald Trump’s über-successful suit collection to former The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ star Adrienne Maloof’s short-lived line of shoes. Who surprised you the most, whether in terms of failure or success?
A: I’d have to say Jessica Simpson, because I was there at the beginning in 2005 when she did the jeans line. I wrote a page one story [for the Wall Street Journal]. I thought it was going to be a little brand that would appeal to teens, have its 15 minutes and then it would be gone. Then, when [Simpson and her first partner, Tarrant Apparel Group] fell out and she had to start over with [shoemaker] Vince Camuto, I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a heavy lift.” But it has really transcended. It’s no longer just a celebrity brand, it’s a brand. A lot of kids who buy those shoes were probably toddlers when Newlyweds first aired in 2003. A lot of teenagers who are wearing those shoes have no idea about the show. I was also surprised how the Kardashian brand at Sears, which started out with so much promise, just kind of descended into really shoddy merchandise. Apparently it’s still selling. Sears itself is a retailer that’s not that strong, so it’s kind of not surprising. But I remember seeing those clothes at the beginning, and I thought that they looked really, really cute. The Row was always on the right track. Same thing with Victoria [Beckham].
Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe helped Jessica Simpson develop her signature style, 2004
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