On the heels of Kendall Jenner's debut season (which was met with its fair share of criticism), we posed the following question: Is Jenner Good for Business? Now that the reality television star-turned-model she has walked in a handful of major shows, we have some observations to go on towards tackling this inquiry.
As you can imagine, it is difficult to link Jenner's influence to the sales of a particular design house - aside from Estee Lauder, where she is fronting campaigns and sales are climbing. As of May 2015, The company’s shares rose by 7.5% to a record high $89.84 in the wake of strong earnings reports. Interestingly, however, the company pointed to the following factors as the "primary" reason for their increased revenue: Growth of new brands in the U.S. market, recovery in the emerging markets and in Europe despite the weak currency, healthy sales through the travel retail and the digital channels, and continuous double digit growth of its brands such as MAC, Jo Malone London, Smashbox, Bobbi Brown, and Tom Ford.
Regardless, It is usually not quite so clear, and as a result, we are left to gauge Jenner's selling power circumstantially. Take Oscar de la Renta's Fall/Winter 2015 show, for instance. It was one of the most anticipated shows, if not the most anticipated show of New York Fashion Week, as the house's legendary founder, who passed away in October 2014, was formally succeeded by Peter Copping. As you may know if you have Twitter or any form of social media for that matter, Jenner walked in the show (a major coup for the model), and like the Diane von Furstenberg show, which she opened, the conversation online was largely centered upon her. It is worth noting that given the momentousness of the ODLR show, most fashion industry individuals were rather unfazed by Jenner's presence in the line up.
In fact, most critics, editors, etc. generally seem unsurprised by Jenner being in the line up anymore; it just kind of comes with the territory these days, I suppose. However, just because Tim Blanks or Cathy Horyn are not openly taking notice does not mean there is not a very large group of Kardashian fans that take to social media and tweet up a storm when Jenner hits the runway. A large quantity of the tweets that occurred during the Diane von Furstenberg show (which included models like hot newish face Maartje Verhoef, this seaon's "it" girl Grace Hartzel, and industry icon Jessica Stam) were, in fact, about Jenner.
One thing we all know about Jenner is that prior to her life as a model, she was a household name thanks to her family's reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The type of celebrity that Jenner embodies sells, and this type of selling power is not new, as we have seen it transforming magazine covers, for one thing, for decades. When Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, took the reigns in 1988, she heralded in a new era: one that included putting Hollywood celebrities on the cover of the magazine. When Vogue initially switched from covers depicting models to those with glamorous movie stars, Wintour solidified her status as a visionary leader, especially since the majority of magazines at the time were exclusively featuring models on their covers. The shift, according to Wintour, was very strategic; celebrities sell magazines at a higher rate than models.
Last year, the New York Times commented on this phenomenon, which has evolved quite a bit since 1988. Writing for the Times, Christine Haughney stated: “There was a day when movie stars were the gold standard for magazines, but movie stars are less revered than they used to be, and also audiences have shifted their allegiance in large part to television.” Enter television actors and reality TV stars, of whose appeal Glamour magazine can attest. The fashion magazine featured film stars on half of its covers in 2012, but its May 2012 issue featuring Lauren Conrad, the former star of the reality show “The Hills,” was the year’s best-selling issue, at 500,072 copies.
But with the rise of the digital media, magazine sales have largely been trumped by online traffic. Nowadays, the success of a magazine cover is arguably much less dependent on the circulation of the print edition than it was before, and this is where celebrities make an enormous impact, particularly significant is the power of celebrities on social media. Jess Cagle, the managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, has said that his team measures the success of a cover by its social media impact. He told the New York Times: “When [Vampire Diaries star] Ian Somerhalder tweets out your cover, your cover has this whole life.”
So, if we are to measure Kendall's power by way of her internet presence (one of the tangible mediums we have), she is nothing if not an asset to brands. It is clear just from the few tweets above, which are representative of many hundreds, if not thousands just like them, Jenner comes with a slew of devoted followers, many of whom may not have particularly cared about Oscar de la Renta or Diane von Furstenberg or Marc Jacobs or Donna Karan, etc. but for Jenner walking in the show.
In case you are not sold on the fact that Jenner drives traffic, look to the brands that have used her star power to attract readers for themselves. On the day of his runway show, Michael Kors tweeted a picture of Jenner and fellow models Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss, certainly a way to attract the masses to his timeline and to his show's imagery. W magazine aimed to attract readers by sharing with them an article on how to get "Kendall Jenner's seductive DVF beauty look." Elle UK devoted a post (and corresponding tweets) to "30 show-stopping a/w 2015 catwalk moments – all kourtesy of Kendall." Grazia, on the other hand, says it is "still stalking Kendall" during her fashion week tour de force.
From this we can gather that Kendall makes for traffic, and as a result, publications (both print and online) are anything but hesitant to use her name and photos of her to attract users/readers. If we gauge the success of such marketing ploys by the frequency with which brands rely on them, they simply must be effective. Love Magazine, for instance, whose editor, Katie Grand is the one who gave Kendall her big break walking for Marc Jacobs, has relied heavily on Jenner for traction (think: two covers over the past year and a countless array of editorials).
This surely amounts to telling evidence in favor of Jenner being good for business. But now that we can safely assume she is a business asset, another question comes to light: Are brands booking the relatively new model to walk in their shows because they think she is a great model or because they are smart businesses that want all of the fan fare that she will most certainly bring to a fashion show? (And if it is the latter, does it even matter? To the general public it doesn't seem to. However, if we were to ask fashionphiles, we may get a different answer).
The answer to the first question (why are brands casing Kendall?) likely varies but at a time when statement or "stunt" casting is at what feels like an all-time high, I think there is at least some merit to the argument that 5'9" Jenner is being cast primarily for her star power. To be clear, there is NOT necessarily anything wrong with that. Fashion is, after all, a business and if Jenner sells (aka brings attention to a brand) then she is arguably a good choice to a certain extent, regardless of whether she is "on brand" or not.
Also, it is worth noting that we don't bat a judgmental eyelash at designers who cast Naomi Campbell (a la Zac Posen F/W 15) or Amber Valletta (a la Lanvin S/S 2015) or Gemma Ward, who very notably opened Prada's S/S 2015 show and #BrokeTheFashionInternet. These are big name supermodels, who were likely cast to make a statement, to be talked about, to be Instagrammed, to create buzz. We don't point fingers at these brands for tapping big name models to sell the show. Thoughts?
*This article was originally published in May 2015 and has since been supplemented with the following article, In Fashion, Traffic is Easy, Quality Content is Hard.