The fashion world is no stranger to scandal. Some of the biggest talents in the industry have faced intense public scrutiny for their personal behavior — from Kate Moss, who famously lost dozens of modeling contracts after photos of her doing cocaine surfaced, to Dolce and Gabbana, for long-alleged tax fraud, to John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior when he was caught on video making anti-Semitic remarks.
While most of these players emerged relatively unscathed on the other side, there was a period of time where their futures were uncertain. Would the mainstream media, fans and, perhaps most importantly, consumers who shop the products attached to their names forgive them? Considering how Moss's earnings reportedly doubled after her scandal and that Galliano is back with a critically lauded debut at Maison Margiela, it makes sense that one of the latest pop cultural figures to be rocked with accusations of misconduct would turn to the fashion industry to help him make a comeback: none other than Justin Bieber.
At just 21 years old, the former teen pop heartthrob has made headlines for a number of unsavory situations he's been involved in, including underage drinking, drag racing, drug possession, soliciting prostitution, an alleged hook-up with Miranda Kerr, fighting and being generally nasty to everyone around him. Bieber had more run-ins with the law in 2013 and 2014 than most people have in a lifetime, and his reputation as a talented, respectable musician has been completely destroyed. In 2015, he's clearly embarked on a comeback tour — which culminated with his roast on Comedy Central in March — but in a surprising strategy, Bieber chose to seek redemption by first winning over the fashion industry.
In January, Bieber was named the face of Calvin Klein underwear, showing off his newly buff bod in a campaign alongside Lara Stone. He appeared in the 2015 music issue of V magazine in a black and white spread shot by Karl Lagerfeld, and he's the cover star of the newest edition of indie magazine Hero, with an editorial shot by Saint Laurent's Hedi Slimane. Vogue dubbed him as a member of Hollywood's new "Brat Pack" and was featured in the April issue, shot by Mario Testino. To top it all off, he was Olivier Rousteing's date to the Met Gala, where the Balmain designer addressed him on the red carpet as "the future of fashion." There are even rumors that he will guest star in the upcoming "Zoolander" sequel.
But what is it about Bieber — who's never really been known for his personal style or for being a trendsetter — that has led the industry to accept him so fervently, despite his widespread reputation for being so unsavory? "People are genuinely intrigued about where he's going next; he's a global phenomenon already, but he's almost starting from scratch again," the editors of Hero, Fabien Kruszelnicki and James West, wrote in an email when asked why they decided to put Bieber on the cover. "That's an exciting place to be in your career, and that determination and electricity is infectious. He's also finding a new identity, setting out who 'the new Bieber' is and clothes and style are a massive part of that."
Bieber's former demographic (aka the "Beliebers") is likely very different — in age and in income — from the high fashion one he's trying to reach now, but according to Sylvie di Giusto, a New York-based corporate image consultant, that's part of his appeal. "Fashion is a 'grown up business;' when you’re working in fashion, you're likely not a youngster anymore with a fan base around 12, 13, 14 years old," she explained. "It’s a money business, and what we tend to forget is that not only is Bieber growing up, so is his fan base. They’re a very important target market for all of these designers who are working with him."
Casting Bieber earned Calvin Klein millions of social media followers. While his fans might not be able to afford items by Karl Lagerfeld or Balmain quite yet, they might be able to 10 years down the line, and Bieber can be credited with the beginning of their relationships with these high-end brands. In addition, they're likely not worried about alienating existing customers who might be turned off by seeing Bieber in these ads and editorials. "These brands are thinking about building out a followership for the future — attracting more followers that they don't have right now," di Giusto said, and Bieber is the key getting these new eyes on their brands.
Despite how hiring or shooting Bieber may seem random or disingenuous for a high fashion label, di Giusto claims it's a more natural fit than some might think. "The fashion and music industries are very close to each other — if you’re in the music industry, the way you dress yourself becomes so important because there's so much press around you," she said. "He was already 'in the business' even if he’s a musician, so this brand ambassador relationship makes a lot of sense."
No matter how tarnished his reputation may be, the fashion industry is likely to give Bieber just what he needs to emerge with a brand new image. This means Bieber's going to be sticking around awhile. "Fashion always embraces rebels, the anti-heroes, risk-takers and outsiders," Kruszelnicki and West added. "Maybe they make us feel more alive. Once you have the support of the fashion crowd, everything else follows."