Yes, we should all stop talking about Pharrell's hat, but I'm actually not done. As we move further and further away from the Grammy Awards, which were held on January 26th, it seems that the rate with which Pharrell's hat is being used is only increasing. Granted, I will say the producer/fashion designer/philanthropist is enabling this, but wearing the hat almost all the time (sometimes in varying colors), has lead articles to refer to it as his "trademark". As a result (in addition to the Twitter account dedicated to the hat), it seems that no one can show a hat on the runway for Fall/Winter 2014 without someone referencing Pharrell. Some tweets as examples: "Somebody call Pharrell! Major big hat spotted at Acne" ... "More big Pharrell hats" ... "Gareth Pugh hat makes Pharrell's hat look bad!" ... "We bet Pharrell will want to get his hands on this hat!" ... "Pharrell's hat makes it to the runway at Gareth Pugh!", etc.
So, not only are all hats now apparently "Pharrell hats" but interestingly, aside from the fact that Pharrell wore the hat to the Grammys (and quite a few times thereafter), he really does have very little to do with it, in actuality. Yet, based on the hype surrounding "Pharrell's hat", you would think he: 1) Invented hats in general; 2) Designed this one; and/or 3) At least had a hand in creating, designing, or intentionally marketing this hat. Yet, none of those statements are true. In fact, one name that is rarely, if ever, mentioned alongside comments about Pharrell's hat is Vivienne Westwood.
The Mountain hat was designed by Westwood as part of her Fall/Winter 1982 collection was named "Buffalo Girls" and inspired by Malcolm McLaren (pictured below) and the Rock Steady Crew, and that Pharrell's Grammys' outfit, in large part, was inspired by Malcolm McLaren & the World's Famous Supreme Team 1983 video (think: the adidas jacket and Mountain hat). I know this. However, it was only after repeated articles and tweets about "Pharrell's hat" that I realized just how secondary Westwood had become in the whole scenario. This is no longer Vivienne Westwood's hat. This is first and foremost Pharrell's hat.
And I'm not the only one who is noticing this. Editor and stylist, Tiina Laakkonen shard a similar sentiment with me when we were chatting about the direction all of the hat-derived press was taking, saying: "That hat is by Vivienne Westwood! Not Pharrell!!!" To this I said, "I know! And yet, Westwood is so secondary in all of this." To which she said: "My point exactly!" Pharrell, an undeniable force in fashion and trend-setting, has (not intentionally I'm sure) co-opted the hat.
This brings me to a question that I quite often pose: Just how beneficial is the fusion of celebrity and fashion? Before I go any further, I will say that this instance can easily be distinguished. Westwood didn't loan the hat to Pharrell to wear to the Grammys nor did she pay him to wear it. Pharrell bought the hat for himself and has had it for some time now. However, that is a rare scenario; one that is almost never the case. Since Anna Wintour took the reigns at Vogue in the 1980's and started persuading designers to loan clothes to prominent socialites and celebrities, for everything from Vogue spreads (and covers, something she heralded) to red carpet appearances, the Hollywood-fashion connection has been stronger than ever.
And while celebrities can certainly serve as a way to boost your brand's PR and sales (FYI - Westwood has re-introduced the Mountain hat for sale), they, as is arguably the case here, can overshadow the designer and the brand altogether! Yet, it seems that the vast majority of designers and design houses don't mind. The power of celebrity is, well ... powerful. The red carpet, especially during awards season, is an international stage; one with billions of viewers. Red carpet-specific programs, such as E!'s “Live From The Red Carpet,” reaches over 600 million domestic and international homes. The photos from these events are subsequently featured in an array of magazines worldwide and on websites and blogs, reaching even more people. Thus, according to BOF, "Given this kind of exposure, it’s no surprise that fashion brands have learned to tap the power of the red carpet as perhaps the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. The fact is, celebrity sells."
It is a way for major luxury houses, like YSL and Dior, ones with firmly grounded brands and established appeal to boost sales (from the dresses that appear on the runway, but more likely via "it" accessories and fragrances, which are far more affordable), as well as to reach new markets. Dress a Chinese star and watch your brand awareness grow in that region overnight. Not bad for what is basically free press.
For lesser-known, younger designers, the impact may be even greater. Placement on a red carpet celebrity is a way for these emerging companies to build their brands and achieve a vast amount of attention in a relatively short amount of time. New York-based emerging designer, Prabal Gurung told BOF: "The starting point for me was when Zoe Saldana wore a dress to the Star Trek premiere. Then it was Demi Moore, she announced on Twitter, ‘Oh I am wearing this new designer to look out for.’ All of a sudden, I went from 18 followers to 300 or 500 followers on Twitter and then it took off. Last year, four years in to our business Google did this top-searched brands of 2013 list and ours was seventh! It has had a tremendous, tremendous impact in every way.”
Still, some don't necessarily subscribe to the attention and press derived from celebrities. Italian designer, Roberto Cavalli, for instance, spoke out quite recently lamenting this particular facet of the fashion industry. He told Womenswear Daily: "I wish fashion were less tied to communication and stars. I can't understand all these fashion companies spending millions to dress celebrities." Tom Ford also took on this point not too long ago saying that he doesn't love dressing celebs for the red carpet: "It's not a creative process dressing actresses for the Oscars."
Others, like Oscar de la Renta, limit their connection with celebs via invitations to their fashion shows, or better yet, lack thereof, as a front row seat at a major fashion show is an endorsement of sorts and one that is almost as major as a red carpet appearance. According to de la Renta, he doesn't want "crowds of people with no direct connection to the clothes," even if the individual with no connection to the clothes is a celebrity.
And still there are others, who are more selective with who they dress than absolutely against associating with celebrities altogether. Paris-based ready-to-wear and couture house Elie Saab, will only dress stars it deems to be in line with its brand. Emilie Legendre, the communication director at Elie Saab, spoke to this point in the context of the Cannes Film Festival, saying: "We have to remember our customers and make sure that they won’t be offended if we dress a certain type of celebrity.” The company wouldn't name names.
Prior to having a change of heart, Vogue's then editor in chief, Anna Wintour banned Kim Kardashian from accompanying Kanye West to one of the fashion industry's biggest nights of the year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala, because she reportedly didn’t fit the guest list criterion. Similarly, celebrity stylist and designer Nicola Formichetti, for instance, styled Kim Kardashian for an Elle magazine photo shoot in last year, and encountered quite a bit if resistance from designers, who didn't want Kim K photographed in their clothes. Formichetti told WWD: "People wouldn't lend me the clothes." And suggestions that the reality TV star would cheapen the image of luxury brands followed. (Tom Ford, David Yurman, Oscar de la Renta, Roberto Cavalli, and Viktor & Rolf ultimately ended up lending pieces for the shoot).
But Kim K isn't the only one that designers don't necessarily approve of; LOVE magazine editor Katie Grand, who dressed Miley Cyrus for the cover of the Spring/Summer 2014 issue, confessed that getting brands to loan items for the shoot wasn’t easy. Grand said: "Many people I respect didn’t want to get involved. They thought there was something superficial about her — dangerous, even.” Marc Jacobs, who cast Cyrus to star in his S/S 2014 ad campaign, was obviously not one of them.
Does any of this suggest that we may slowly be moving away from the age-old notion of "any publicity is good publicity"? I highly doubt it. It seems that the allure of Hollywood and the resulting ability of celebrities to serve as the best ambassadors of sorts for a brand, at least in terms of visibility, which translates to sales, is undeniable. If I know anything at all about fashion is that it is inherently cyclical, and chances are, this is just another example of a temporary shift in focus or method that we may return to in a season or two, if we leave it behind at all.