Do Celebrity Placements Still Work?

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Jessica Alba in Tanya Taylor

Actress Jessica Alba wearing a Tanya Taylor outfit and Sarah Flint shoes to a recent event. Photo: Getty

When Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor first introduced Juicy Couture in the late '90s, the relationship between Hollywood and fashion wasn't so symbiotic. But celebrities became fans of their signature track suits from the get go. "We gained a celebrity following so organically because we were based in L.A. and weren’t shy about reaching out to friends and stores," says Nash Taylor, whose early clients included Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Britney Spears. "Our first big PR effort ever was a celebrity suite in the penthouse of the infamous Chateau Marmont: free clothes, beauty treatments, champagne. Everyone showed up. It was 2001, and we thought it was the perfect thank you to our Hollywood clientele." (There are plenty more anecdotes like this one in the duo's soon-to-be-released book, The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It Into a Global Brand.)

Fast forward more than a decade, and Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor are still working with celebrity placement guru Janey Lopaty on their current line, Pam & Gela. (Jessica Alba is a fan, as is Julianne Hough.) But things have changed. "[Celebrity placements] became mainstream, as opposed to what we always called guerrilla or kamikaze-style PR," says Skaist-Levy. "Brands began paying celebrities to come to store openings, carry a bag or wear the clothes. It has turned into a business of its own. Today, it is as much about the bloggers wearing the clothes as celebrities."

Indeed, the world of celebrity placements has transformed dramatically since Juicy Couture sold its first track suit. And there are several reasons for that. 

First, more brands are doing celebrity seeding, which means there is simply more competition for a star's attention. Plus, more brands are offering cash for exposure. (This goes beyond the celebrity starring in a perfume ad and wearing that house's haute couture on the red carpet. Celebs also get paid to wear pieces on Starbucks runs.) Personal style bloggers, too, have become celebrities in their own right. For instance, celebrity-focused fashion and style site Who What Wear currently covers bloggers almost as much as actors. Brands like seeding to bloggers because, thanks to referral links, they can see whether or not the blogger has moved merchandise.

That said, thanks to social media, a middle man -- even if it's a popular actress or blogger -- is no longer always necessary. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook: these platforms allow a brand to communicate with shoppers in a way that was never possible before.

But publicists insist that celebrity placements can still boost a label's sales or standing. (See: anything Kate Middleton ever wears.) But it has to make sense, says publicist Cindy Krupp, the owner of New York-based firm Krupp Group, which recently opened a satellite office in Los Angeles to better serve the city's celebrity stylists. (Her clients include KaufmanFranco, Jennifer Fisher and Jonathan Simkhai.) "For the designers we work with, we still see celebrity placement move the needle at retail, but I’m also not pushing Clorox," she says. "Product has to be on the right celebrity in order to be effective, and for every brand that is someone different. We are very thoughtful about who we dress and what we dress them in."

Heather Magidsohn, a Los Angeles-based publicist and owner of a namesake consulting firm, agrees. "The perfect storm of the right look on the right person at the right moment still has tremendous impact," she says. "It’s not about gifting celebrities armloads of product. That can actually have an adverse effect on the brand." 

For now, it seems that celebrity placements are still valuable, just as a credit in a print-magazine fashion spread still gets a designer excited even if it's impossible to track the direct correlation between the photo and sales. "Educated consumers need to see the brand on an A-list celebrity in a gossip weekly, they need to see the same brand worn by their blogger obsession, and they also want to read about the brand in fashion-savvy publications," says Krupp. It's all about the mix.