Are South African celebrities and brands disregarding the interdependency of the fashion industry and celebrity culture?

Social media has rather brusquely highlighted the inert state of South African red carpet and celebrity fashion. Fashion lovers – like the now somewhat infamous Twitter User @Red__Mos – frantically update their profiles with images as each celebrity glides down the carpet, and share their critical yet comical stance on the celebrity ensembles. What is displayed to us are ill-fitting, poorly finished, unflattering garments and  a lack of cohesion.

Globally, the past few decades have seen the fashion industry oscillate back and forth between being the driving force behind celebrity culture and being its counterpart. It is this dynamic relationship that reshaped advertising and consumption through celebrity endorsements and ultimately birthed one of the digital age’s most significant movements: Influencer Marketing. Celebrities around the world have positioned themselves as brands by means of creating a style aesthetic which their audiences can easily use to distinguish them from other stars, resulting in the inception of their own fashion brands, collaborations  and endorsements. “The Celeb Effect” as it is dubbed has helped brands such as Puma, Stance and Manolo Blahnik (who have successfully partnered with Rihanna) to increase their sales and compete aggressively in their market segment.

Celebrity culture, linked as it is with youth and subversion, has always been of interest to those who sell and create fashion. The industry has consistently borrowed, stolen and exploited celebrity culture. A prime example of this being iconic pieces worn by celebrities as a source of inspiration for collections and swiftly trickling down to retail stores for the masses to purchase. Celebrities are supposed to be trendsetters and influencers above all else. Valentino was one of the first designers to successfully grasp this notion and take advantage of celebrity culture in the 60s, the concept was once again revisited by Gianni Versace and Gorgio Armani in the 90s, thus transforming fashion and celebrity culture as we knew it. Locally, Gert Johan Coetzee is among only a handful of fashion designers to explore this concept. His ceaseless fashion love story with Bonang Matheba continues to give us a limpid glimpse of the vast potential of an effective relationship between a local celebrity and designer. Another honorable mention is Young Designers Emporium designer, Khosi Nkosi who consistently affiliates her brand with celebrity muses and even uses them as models on the runway during fashion shows to shamelessly bate the audience to her creations.

Our creative industries can learn from Nollywood, West Africa’s mammoth film industry. Its continuous development has been mutually beneficial to both the entertainment and fashion industries in Nigeria and Ghana where the red carpets and movie wardrobes are wonderful exhibition of the talent, diversity, innovation, beauty and excellence on offer from designers. Celebrity culture is the nature of entrepreneurial capitalism as it governs economic conversations and strategies around the world; it is the glamourised lifestyle of an aspirational consumer-oriented worldview and Nollywood stars show a thorough understanding of this through the use of social media, movies, music videos, magazine editorials and red carpet appearances to package themselves as brands. This contributes in part to the exponential growth West African fashion has experienced in the past decade and helps further prove that the growth of both industries is proportional to how well the other utilizes areas in which they intersect. Celebrities like Toke MakinwaOmotola Jalade-EkeindeRic Hassani and others alike consistently collaborate with competent stylists and image consultants for red carpet appearances their overall brand image and the result of these relationships need no debate.

Written by: Lesego Ntsime 

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