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 image: Coach

image: Coach

Whether it is latest it-girl or an Oscar-nominated actress, fashion brands love to have famous faces represent them. While posing for ad campaigns may be the most obvious iteration of these ambassadorships, a lot more goes into these contracts than meets the eye. The question is: What do these partnerships entail and what exactly are brands paying for when they enlist these stars to represent them (i.e. what – exactly – are brands expecting of their stars)?

Ambassador duties typically include appearances in a brand’s ad campaigns. They may also require the individual to participate in the brand’s major events, or show off the brand’s wares at major appearances. Consider Paris-based brand Louis Vuitton’s roster of stars, which includes actresses Léa Seydoux, Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Williams, and Doona Bae, among others. Alicia Vikander, for one, joined the ranks of Louis Vuitton’s famous faces in the summer of 2015.

Since then, the Swedish Oscar-winner has graced numerous campaigns for the brand, including its 2017 Jeff Koons collab ad, 2017 Cruise campaign, Spring/Summer 2016 handbag ad, Fall/Winter 2015 ‘Spirit of Travel’ campaign, and Fall/Winter 2015 ‘Series 3’ campaign, among others. But her contractual obligations do not end there: She has also attended an array of Louis Vuitton’s runway shows, ranging from its recent sojourns to Rio for Cruise 2017 and Palm Springs for Cruise 2016 to several its regular-season shows in Paris.

On the red carpet, Vikander has routinely worn Louis Vuitton, potentially signaling yet another facet of the parties’ deal. For her debut red carpet season in 2016, during the culmination of which she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in The Danish Girl, she almost exclusively wore Louis Vuitton. (She wore a Mary Katrantzou dress to the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards, for instance.)

Such red carpet wardrobe choices were almost certainly stipulated (or at the very least, spoken to) in her contract. Each appearance is, after all, an opportunity for Vikander (and other ambassadors) to bring her ad campaign appearances to life and garner highly-coveted press for the brand that dressed her.

Industry-wide, it is understood that being the face of a given brand is a role that translates onto the red carpet, as well. As noted by the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman last year in connection with brands’ dressing of A-listers, “There is no doubt that Mesdames Williams, Connelly and Vikander, all of whom have appeared in Vuitton ad campaigns and dutifully show up at the ready-to-wear collections, have been paid by the brand for their work and their appearances.”

Vogue similarly noted that Vikander is, in fact, one of Vuitton’s “ambassadors on the red carpet.”

The Murkier Elements

The opaquer element of this type of partnership concerns such women’s (or men’s, depending on the brand) work-related wardrobe – aka their looks for press tours, movie premieres, etc. – and even their actress-off-duty style.

Looking back to Vikander, the vast majority of her non-award show red carpet looks have been derived from Louis Vuitton’s runway. This further suggests that there is language in her contract regarding wearing garments from the house for promotional events for her projects, including “The Danish Girl,” the “Bourne” franchise, and “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” 

However, as evidenced by the Celine, Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, and Alex Eagle dresses, among others, that she has also worn to official movie events since she signed on with Louis Vuitton, whatever the terms of their arrangement, they do not appear to be exclusive. Interestingly, Vikander’s handbags during this time period have almost always – if not always –  come from Louis Vuitton, as evidenced by a huge slew of red carpet photos.

But the red carpet is not the only place where stars endorse brands. Ms. Vikander is frequently spotted toting Louis Vuitton bags during her days off, as indicated by countless paparazzi shots. Given the rise of social media – whether it be stars’ own accounts or those dedicated to celebrities’ street style – promotional efforts have a much wider reach than ever before. Ads are no longer come in the form of commercials and magazines alone.

Looking beyond Louis Vuitton for a moment consider Selena Gomez, who, to be fair was one of the brand’s “it” girls for a season or two. Since then, however, the singer has signed on with Coach. The American brand announced in late 2016 that it had enlisted Gomez to collaborate with the brand. Thus far, this has largely resulted in priceless product placement for the brand: Many times that Gomez has blurred the line between obvious ads and off-duty style by stepping out and toting a Coach bag or wearing Coach garments, resulting in no shortage of paparazzi shots that are, in themselves, alternative ad campaigns for the brand. 

Such publicity was certainly taken into account when the brand selected Gomez for a “collaboration,” regardless of whether there is language governing such seemingly off-duty and or unconventional-turned-extremely commonplace modern day promotional activities.

Magazine covers are also important advertising opportunities for brands. Both Vikander and fellow Vuitton ambassador Michelle Williams’ have most frequently – although not exclusively – been styled in Louis Vuitton in recent years. Vikander graced the January 2016 cover of American Vogue in a Louis Vuitton frock; the same is true for L’Officiel Milan’s April 2016 cover, Marie Claire France’s September 2016 cover, Vanity Fair’s September 2016 cover, Elle Ukraine’s March 2016 cover, Marie Claire Malaysia’s September 2016 cover, and DuJour’s Winter 2015 cover, among others.

She fronted Harper’s Bazaar UK’s January 2016 cover, however, among several others, clad in garments from non-Vuitton brands. So, what gives?

Not surprisingly, the mentality behind such styling choices is not uniform or crystal clear. What we do know is this: Most brand ambassadors’ contracts do not dictate what brands they can and cannot wear on magazine covers and corresponding editorials. A brand’s stars often end up in their wares on magazine covers regardless, though, for a couple key reasons. Primarily, magazine editors aim to please big-name advertisers (such as Louis Vuitton) – Surprise! As a result, use the brand-specific cover star as an opportunity to feature its garments and accessories on the cover and in related editorial content.

Second, brands have control over what garment and accessory samples they loan to magazines for covers and editorials. As a result – and sticking with the Louis Vuitton example – a brand that is not Louis Vuitton may decline a magazine’s sample request for a cover and/or editorial if the brand believes the actress or model does not fit its image. So, Balmain (hypothetically) may decline to loan garments to Elle Magazine (again, hypothetically) for an Alicia Vikander cover because the actress is so heavily associated with the Louis Vuitton brand.

In the same vein, Louis Vuitton may decline to loan garments to Marie Claire (another hypothetical) for a cover featuring an actress other than its handful of ambassadors for the exact same reason. This is likely why most recent magazine covers featuring Michelle Williams and Jennifer Connelly, for instance, feature Louis Vuitton garments, as well. The same can be said for the styling of Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard in Dior or why pre-Louis Vuitton Lea Sedoux frequently wore Prada in magazines (she was the face of the Prada’s Candy fragrance for years).

The PR of it All

Much like how brands stage couture collection shows – or even ready-to-wear shows, for that matter – in order to drum up press and awareness amongst consumers, brands tap ambassadors – whether it be Vikander for Louis Vuitton or Bella Hadid for Nike – for the same reason. It is just good marketing.

Returning to Ms. Vikander, Louis Vuitton signed her to represent its brand just as buzz began building around her role in “The Danish Girl.” In aligning itself with the actress, Louis Vuitton could ensure that her red carpet appearances – which are essentially just an alternative form of a billboard – would serve as valuable marketing opportunities.

But as indicated by the countless press tour photo opps and magazine covers featuring Vikander in Vuitton, such ambassadorships provide a whole host of opportunities to capitalize on her star power and advertise the brand – even if it these means are not legally set out in the parties’ contracts.

Still yet, look beyond the magazine covers to spot further public relations benefits of employing a celebrity ambassador (i.e. beyond those a brand actively seeks when entering into a contractual agreement with a celebrity). Many of the corresponding articles and cover stories featuring an ambassador tend to make specific mention of the brand the star represents.

For instance, as noted by Tom Lamont in the intro accompanying the interview for British Vogue’s August 2016 issue – for which Vikander wore Vuitton – “With a Louis Vuitton handbag in her front basket and a phone in her right hand, [Vikander] half-watches the road, while reading a 3G map.” This frequent association between an of-the-moment celebrity and a brand serves to continually keep the brand in the reader’s mind.

From contractually obligated ad campaigns to “organic” brand shoutouts in articles featuring the ambassador, there are countless benefits to hiring a celeb to be the face of a brand. All – not just the most obvious – of which are almost certainly considered when brands write checks for secure big-name stars.