What makes a celebrity brand a ‘celebrity brand’? Does the celebrity have to live and breathe the brand, or can they discreetly linger in the background as a footnote of its ownership and still expect it to be successful?
Irish actor, Jamie Dornan, recently announced the launch of his new menswear brand, Eleven Eleven, to his 3 million Instagram followers. Receiving over 420K likes, the post featured snapshots of Dornan wearing the new basics-focussed menswear label with text saying, "I hate shopping and want all men to dress like me. So my mate and I have created a timeless capsule wardrobe over at @thisiseleven_eleven.
"Have a look and buy yourself/boyfriend/husband/lover/ex/brother/stranger something that he’ll always look good in. #thisiseleveneleven #capsulewardrobe”.
The mate in question, and fellow owner, is Jolyon Bohling, who has a background of launching celebrity and influencer brands. A marketing professional with 25 years’ experience, Bohling is the founder of ‘Group Seventy One' which “create and support brands from inception through design and production and onto D2C channels”.
Left - David Gandy wearing his own Wellwear brand
The Eleven Eleven brand currently has 11K followers on Instagram, but the brand doesn’t feature Dornan’s image anywhere on its channels or website. It is worth noting that Dornan started his career as a fashion model, even making it to the heady heights of being a scantily clad Calvin Klein underwear model.
Eleven Eleven states on its website, “Our aim is to make men’s staple products that last, that are thought through in design and detailing, that can be worn alone or together, that can be dressed up or down.
“Eleven Eleven was born out of having to visit many different shops to pull together our wardrobe basics. It was born out of a need to provide strong, interchangeable, simple colour palettes without costing the earth.”
The brand currently offers polo shirts for £45, long sleeve polos for £50, T-shirts for £30, pique shirts for £52, slim fit shirts for £75, chinos for £75 and jumpers for £85.
Confusingly, there are at least two other brands with the Eleven Eleven name. One is called 11.11 / ELEVEN ELEVEN and is sold at matchesfashion.com and another is called eleven eleven fashion. With his background in modelling and, clearly, a huge fan base, is it a mis-step for Dornan to not feature heavily in his new brand’s imagery?
When people buy into celebrity brands they are buying into that person’s image and style. Is it a mistake not to front the campaign and promote the brand yourself and stand by it?
Launching any fashion brand is hard right now, not taking this huge advantage feels like an error.
Recent celebrity brands to run into trouble include Alexa Chung’s namesake brand, which was recently wound up with a loss of more than £11million, Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green which was sold to JD Sports in April 2019 after entering administration with reported debts of £18million and David Beckham’s Kent & Curwen which ceased trading in Nov. 2021. David Beckham bought a stake in the brand in 2016 through his Seven Global company and had ended his partnership with Kent & Curwen previously in April 2020.
Gallagher was rarely pictured wearing his indie-inspired label while Chung’s was priced considerably higher than most of her fan base could afford. For Chung it was difficult for her to remain the girl to watch in her late 30s, especially when the social scene had been completely shut down during Covid.
One recent celebrity launch with the name firmly in front of the camera is David Gandy’s Wellwear, “a world-first concept bringing apparel and well-being together in a lifestyle brand that fuses fashion, function and feeling based on the scientific benefits of wearing soft, comfortable clothing.”
The model told TheIndustry.fashion, “I have never been someone to just put my name or face to something then walk away. I have to believe in something and be fully immersed in the process; my collaborations with M&S and Aspinal are examples of this.” he says. “Starting my own label is one of the last big things I wanted to achieve in the fashion industry, and one that I knew would be incredibly hard to do, so knowledge and timing had to be just right.”
Gandy stars in and fronts his brand’s imagery and social media alongside other models.
“For me, it is a little different as I have come from the modelling world. This is what people have come to know me for, and the Wellwear team believed it’s what people still wanted to see while we are building our audience.” says Gandy. “But I didn’t want the brand to solely be about me. I wanted to use our Wellwear platform to give other upcoming talent the opportunity to be the face of the brand, and grow with us as we do. I want Wellwear to inspire all ages and demographics. Eventually, my vision is for them to take over all the campaigns and Wellwear to become its own entity, rather than always be linked to me visually.” he says.
What does Gandy think about other celebrity brands minus their celebrity’s image?
“It’s each to their own as there is not a right or a wrong way.” he says. “You can look at many top designers with their own brands i.e. Tom Ford or Ralph Lauren. Sometimes they put themselves in the campaign and creative, and sometimes they don’t.
“You can still be the spokesperson, face and founder of a brand without having to be in the creative visually. The one advantage of founding your own brand is that you can make those decisions. But, have to remember if you get those decisions wrong, there is no blaming anyone else, that’s the responsibility you have.” he says.
It can be difficult for celebrities to 100% commit to wearing their own labels when they have lucrative contracts with other brands, but, wearing other labels often confuses consumers and questions how much input they have in their own label and how much they actually own of it. It’s like when A instead of his own label. It sent the message that his eponymous menswear was inferior or not good enough. If you have your own label why would you not make something you wanted to wear?
Discreet celebrity can work. One successful brand which has the celebrity founders firmly in the background is the super expensive, The Row. Almost cult-like in status, The Row was established in 2006 by twins Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen and has stuck to its format of ultra-luxe, minimal fashion. The twins keep a rarefied distance and a nun-like silence around their label.
Another is Totême. Founded in 2014 by Swedish fashion blogger, fashion journalist, Elin Kling. She stays firmly in the background and has created a buzz with a clear point of view and design DNA.
Victoria Beckham on the other hand has found it difficult. She has tried to stay aloof, but has struggled. She started with the wrong categories. She should have followed Tom Ford’s lead and opened with beauty and sunglasses. You need to produce something people can buy into. She has recently reduced her prices by almost 40% by switching to simpler silhouettes and fewer embellished fabrics. The brand launched in 2008 with many consecutive years of no profits.
Other recent discreet celeb. brands to launch include Coldplay’s Guy Berryman’s ‘Applied Art Forms’, but he has less of a public image to put into the brand.
The undisputed queens of self-promotion are the Kardashians. Kim Kardashian launched her Skims label in September 2019 and it sold out in minutes. She has tapped into the expertise of Frame founder, Jens Grede, who has also partnered with her sister, Khloe with Good American. Kim K is happy to front the campaign for her shapewear brand and her image is now synonymous with the Skims brand.
Over in the UK, Trinny Woodall’s almost religious promotion of beauty brand ‘Trinny London’ has railroaded it into people’s consciousness. Starring in her campaigns, her almost QVC-like self-promotion has made a gross profit of £27.4million in the year to March 2021, a massive increase on the previous year's £8.5million. She understands the competitive nature of the beauty business and also the need to swear by your products.
Today, you need to be gratuitous in your promotion. American almost. British politeness won’t cut it. People need to be continually reminded you have a brand, you stand by your brand and you love your brand. You wouldn’t wear or use anything else. Without buying it, you are missing out, that should be the message, loud and proud.
Having a celebrity front a brand is a huge advantage. Them not wearing it or fronting the brand seems like a huge opportunity wasted, especially given the increased competitiveness of social media and direct to consumer selling.
It is rather difficult to sell a brand that you have backed if you are never seen in it. People want to know why and see it as a negative. Celebrities have to get involved. If you don’t wear the product, the signal is you don’t like it and why the hell would somebody else buy it?
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