Beyoncé in Versace; Taylor Swift in Kaufman Franco; Pharrell Williams wearing Vivienne Westwood. Musicians and fashion labels are linked far beyond the beats played on runways, and when paired together correctly they can become a force to be reckoned with in pop culture. Throughout history, musicians have, often times unintentionally, started fashion trends that helped build and define fashion brands. Today, fashion houses recognize that artists have the followers, media dominance, and creative authority necessary to advertise their products.
The world’s most famous runway could very well be a red strip of carpet. With roots dating back to antiquity, the red carpet has become an exclusive, far-away place where stars can be seen via mass communication outlets such as TV and Social Media. According to the late comedian and fashion commentator, Joan Rivers, the red carpet is “one big P.R party and the goal is to get noticed.”1 For Rivers, artists either win the awards or they win the red carpet. The best do both. For fashion houses, dressing a star on the red carpet is an opportunity to formally present their current style to millions of viewers.
The oversized brown hat Pharrell Williams used on the red carpet currently has its own twitter account with more than 19 thousand followers. Jennifer Lopez continues to remind us of the famous green Versace gown she wore to the Grammy’s 14 years ago, most recently in one of her music videos. Modern music fans have the opportunity to purchase much more than music—not that many are doing that; today, the personality and style of celebrities is for sale. Online platforms such as WhoWhatWear.com allow fans to see and shop for Taylor Swift’s favorite outfits, while Vogue, which recently featured Ms. Swift on its cover, assures the best looks from her new album will work in your closet this fall.2 Further, Swift’s constant use of red lipstick forms part of an image she takes every place including her lyrics.
Pharrell Williams, who has been involved with fashion more than almost any other musician, currently has two established clothing lines, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. During the development of his own clothing brands, he decided to partner with Jay-Z and founded the clothing line, Rocawear.3 He has collaborated with French design house Louis Vuitton to make a jewelry collection called Blason, has a fragrance with Comme des Garcos, a line of sunglasses for Moncler, and a streetwear line with Uniqlo. He has also added an element of social responsibility to his image through his work as curator and co-designer of RAW for the Oceans, a collaborative project that takes plastic from the world’s oceans and transforms it into innovative denim and apparel.4 Whether it be through donning his trademark buffalo hat or his work as a brand ambassador, Williams seems to constantly find ways to use fashion to keep his name in the mix and elevate his music career.
Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, has tied the fashion world with performance art through her own creative production team – Haus of Gaga. Her everyday clothes, hairstyles and stage costume, made by her atelier, are able to influence an audience by using strong, consistent imagery with a story. At the 2014 South by Southwest music festival, Gaga partnered with Doritos to share “boldness”. Fans digitally competed to obtain one of the 2,200 available slots to attend her performance.5 By sharing a picture or a video that expressed individuality, fans were invited to engage with Gaga’s bold personality. It is necessary for artists who partner with a brand to follow Gaga’s example and use the brand in conjunction with their personal brand to increase dialogue with fans. While the “traditional” record business continues to disappear, artists like Gaga serve as evidence of the growing power of brand association.
Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey, believes “music is like the weather, it affects the spirit of everything.” Burberry now has a full-time music team that develops projects like Burberry Acoustic, which shoots music videos for emerging artists who have been dressed in the latest Burberry collection. Through these videos, viewers are able to enjoy music while simultaneously being exposed to the Burberry brand. German luxury brand Hugo Boss partnered with music in a slightly different way, opting to live-stream Fashion Week on Spotify.6 The Spotify playlists by designers Rebecca Minkoff, Bergdorf Goodman and Christian Louboutin allow the audience to form a more complete picture of the brand’s identity, often leading to an enhanced connection with the brand.
Through retweets, hashtags, and the rest of its sharing arsenal, social media allows consumers to be a more dominant force in the pop culture conversation than ever before. Anyone looking to build a brand these days, whether in fashion, music, or otherwise must be able to utilize the power of social media. It used to be that photography was prohibited at designer’s fashion shows, and the invitations were strictly for the wealthy elite. Today, the prime seats are dominated by artists and bloggers who share a continuous stream of pictures with Instagram’s 200 million active users. By allowing trendsetters to provide play-by-play coverage of their shows, designers allow all of their fans to have a front row seat.
The Fashion Hook
In the 1960s, the Beatles had everyone in mop-top haircuts. In the 70s, leather jackets and spikes identified devotees of the Ramones, Blondie, the Misfits, and the Sex Pistols. In the 80s, Madonna’s music videos established necklace layering protocol, and established oversized hair bows and lace gloves. Today, however, it is not only the top pop stars who inspire fashion, anyone with enough social media followers can be a trendsetter, and any artist can enhance their career through their fashion choices. Lady Gaga is, without a doubt, a talented musician, but her massive success was due to much more than her music prowess. Gaga used outlandish, but carefully chosen fashion to generate PR, and build a culture around her brand, ultimately creating the devoted fanbase necessary to sustain a musical career.
Given the current state of the music industry, it is necessary for most artists to build their image beyond what is conveyed through their music. By broadcasting their own personal style, and by partnering with fashion brands, artists can very easily create that necessary extra dimension. The adage a picture is worth a thousand words certainly rings true today, but now it can also be worth thousands of dollars.
By Natalie Cotton