Personalization adds style and substance as fashion brands revamp celebrity collaborations.
When done right and on-point, partnerships and collaborations in the world of fashion can boost brand affinity, improve distribution worldwide and elicit a desired behavior among the stylish set, both in-store and online.
The celebrity partnership has often been the most obvious collaboration in fashion. It has inspired clothing collections as well as creative and communication platforms that have turned fashion houses into iconic and revered brands.
The list of celebrity-fashion pairings dates back several decades, from the 40-year collaboration between actress Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy – which, by the way, is chronicled in the new book, Audrey and Givenchy: A Fashion Love Affair – to model Claudia Schiffer and fellow German Karl Lagerfeld. The latter turned the blond bombshell into a household name by making her the face of several Chanel campaigns throughout the 1990s.
More recent examples are plentiful. Earlier this year, Gucci tapped flamboyant Florence and the Machine singer Florence Welch as an ambassador for its watches and jewelry. And screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola worked with Louis Vuitton to relaunch her eponymous handbag for the brand.
Indeed, many fashion merchandisers and retailers aren’t only looking for tastemakers and influencers to front a campaign for a new collection; they also want some of them to collaborate on new designs and capsule collections. Since 2007, for instance, London-based high-street brand Topshop has partnered with model-turned-designer Kate Moss on 15 collections.
Why have such partnerships been so important to the luxury sector? By tapping into high-profile and wealthy notables often at the top of their game, luxury marketers can personify the values, images and qualities they want to exude.
But in an age when consumers can turn to digital and social media for recommendations from their friends and family, have such partnerships lost their luster for luxury brands? Not exactly. The world is producing new wealth and working with the right celebrity talent essentially adds a credible element of exclusivity and aspiration that often can’t be replicated elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean fashion-based partnerships should be taken lightly; in fact, far from it. What social media has also allowed for is accessible knowledge about certain people (including their outside interests), so much so that a coming together of two parties has to make sense beyond pure aesthetics.
To that end, the difference in these new generation of celebrity partnerships is a deeper sense of authenticity. An authentic partnership that truly reflects the beliefs and value set of the target customer can become statement-making with the right communications outreach.
Which brings me to the latest partnership getting headlines. To reposition itself as more masculine and less staid, high-end Italian menswear brand Brioni has hired heavy metal rock band Metallica to front a new global campaign. Photographed in black-and-white and taking inspiration from the cover of Queen’s iconic single “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the rockers posed together and individually gussied up in tuxedos, suits and sunglasses. The latter represents a new and growing category for the brand.
The campaign, unveiled before Paris couture in early July, has generated several news stories for Brioni, including several in The New York Times. One Times headline proclaimed, “The New Brioni, Shaken and Stirred.” 
Most of the coverage notes Brioni’s 37-year-old Australian born creative director Justin O’Shea looks like a rocker himself, what with his beard and multiple tattoos. And even before his appointment at the tailoring label he had a penchant for dressing in suits. In The New York Times profile, he says fashion brands need to commit to an aesthetic, no matter how divergent from everyone else.
“Success and failure in the modern era – it’s all based on that,” says O’Shea. “At the end of the day, it is better to be loved by a few than liked by many.”
This is especially true for luxury brands. They need to personalize their relationships with customers and express exactly what they stand for in a way that continues to make them desirable and aspirational, not to the masses but to the customers they want to “invite” in. It is still an exciting time for fashion-focused collaborations, but as many brands are learning, these type of relationships need to be more than skin-deep to be successful.