Welcome to Pop Culture Week! While you can always find us waxing poetic about the hefty overlap between fashion and pop culture, we're dedicating the next five days to the subject of our favorite music, movies, TV, celebrities, books and theater, and how that all intersects with the fashion industry.
For decades in pop culture, we've analyzed and picked apart what celebrities wear on the red carpet, but it's public knowledge that those moments are carefully crafted by a team of stylists, designers and beauticians. If fans want to get a true feel for celebs' sense of personal style, they frequently turn to paparazzi shots, taken everywhere from the street to the airport to the club — but just how "personal" are these looks, exactly? Increasingly, stars are working with stylists to help craft these off-duty moments as well, and fashion PR houses have evolved to cater to them.
When it comes to fashion publicity, the landscape in Los Angeles is very different from that in New York. Many of the names are the same: PR Consulting, KCD, BPCM, Krupp Group and Karla Otto are among the many companies who operate offices on both coasts. Their primary objectives for fashion brands, however, are very different. In New York, PR showrooms exist primarily to service editors — traditionally those with long lead times who pull clothing and accessory samples for photo shoots that will be published in print (but increasingly for us digital editors with shorter lead times as well). In LA, however, their purpose is — aside from working with local outlets and throwing events — to service VIP clients and their stylists.
In the past, that typically meant loaning pieces out with the hope that a celebrity would wear them on a red carpet for a premiere or an awards show and be photographed. But as the mediums through which we have access to celebrity style have broadened, so have the roles of LA's fashion PRs.
PR Consulting, which also has offices in New York and Paris and reps brands like Altuzarra, Acne, Dries van Noten and Raf Simons, opened up shop in LA in 2013. As the company's LA Partner Laurence Goldberg, who previously worked in VIP relations for Balenciaga, explains, that is when the celebrity dressing landscape started to shift. "Over the years, we started to receive more samples of the [brand's] commercial collections," she notes, referring to the pieces brands actually sell, as opposed to what you're likely to see on a runway or red carpet.
They were already sending clothes for the red carpets, so she figured, "We might as well also send clothes for other surrounding events," meaning press junkets and TV talk-show appearances. As online fashion and celebrity media began to give paparazzi images of celebrities much more coverage than they were getting in the few celebrity weekly magazines — sometimes even crediting or linking their outfits — loaning and gifting celebrities everyday items became more commonplace, and a bigger priority for the brands hiring these PR companies.
In a way, this form of celebrity dressing can be more directly beneficial to brands' sales. The items being gifted and loaned are, depending on when the celebrity is photographed in them, much more likely to be available for purchase at the time of publication (which could be almost immediately after the photo is taken) and at at a price point more reasonable than a red carpet gown. Goldberg also points out that celebrity images have longer shelf lives than editorial placements. "Images of some of our clients' clothes or accessories [have] come out again in the press three years after the event," she explains, referring to features like the "X celebrity's best style moments" galleries we see so often online.
That said, dressing celebs off the red carpet — when it's not a pay-for-play situation (which it typically isn't for the publicists we spoke to, according to them) — is also more difficult to guarantee and track. There are ways to strategize, however.
First off, there's seeding (or gifting) which Heather Magidsohn, who owns a namesake PR and consulting agency in LA, prefers when it comes to items that a VIP might wear in his or her day-to-day life. (She handles VIP placements for brands including Karen Walker and Freda Salvador.) "Pieces that fit seamlessly into the everyday style of talent increase likelihood of multiple wears," she says. She'll work with the client to determine a collection of items to gift. "We then introduce the product to our network and have conversations about which VIP targets align best with the brand, what the opportunity at hand is (and likelihood of securing an image), and from there make strategic decisions about gifting on behalf of our client. Sometimes the conduit to the talent is the stylist, other times we deal direct, but there is always a discourse before sending. We never just ship out a box and cross our fingers." Goldberg has a similarly calculated approach so as not to dilute the brand: "We'll discourage clients from blindly gifting."
Magidsohn will also plan gifting around specific events. "The game has changed — the novelty of a gift is long gone," she explains. "Now it's less about the announcement of a gifting offer and more [about being] strategic. For instance, if we know festival season is upon us, we strike with an offer a few weeks in advance so it's relevant and timely. We find this more targeted approach nets more wins for our clients."
A big part of their job is building and nurturing relationships with stylists who will hopefully then be motivated to put their clients' pieces on whomever they are dressing — without forcing it. "I've been told from stylists that they are here to pull for certain event, but while they're here will also do their daily outfits," says Goldberg. "The goal was never to do 'street style' but it naturally has risen from dressing them for their events." For example, this could include what they wear for travel while on a press tour. "They know they'll be photographed." And yes, having a celebrity wear something at the airport is a big thing. "The beauty of an airport look is that it's all about a pared down, effortless and accessible style," explains Magidsohn. "An airport shot can be evergreen, therefore every time the media is doing round-ups on how to achieve 'airport chic,' the right look on the right talent runs, which equates to more brand mentions, links and ultimately sales."
In addition to some gifting, PRC LA does a fair amount of loaning, even for more casual items, as Goldberg feels some people like to have a "rotating closet." She also discourages her clients from paying VIPs to wear things. "I think it's a slippery slope," she says. "We want celebrities who want to wear those clothes."
Of course, the real work comes after they get the clothes in front of celebrities. "I always like to say half of the work is getting the garment to the stylist and the other half is doing the press behind it," says Goldberg. (Though no one interviewed for this story ever mentioned actually calling the paparazzi.)
"After the product has left our showroom, the fun begins," says Magidsohn. "We scour hundreds of media and paparazzi sites, not to mention social media, to find the image of the celebrity in the product. Once a placement has been secured, we really believe in linking them to media results." Even if a stylist says an item is "confirmed for travel," says Goldberg, a lot of time is spent not only scanning the photo wires, but also reaching out to members of the press who cover celebrity style to provide credit details. "They're getting inundated with these images, so our relationships with media that cover celebrity is really important," she adds. "Making sure with digital press we can link it back to our clients own e-commerce."
Ensuring the brand makes the most out of a big celeb placement is also crucial. Goldberg recalls an instance of Kendall Jenner getting photographed in a pair of white Kurt Geiger boots (pictured above) so frequently that she had the client reissue it to capitalize on all the visibility.
Social media has also impacted this ecosystem in a big way. It's an additional (and effective) channel through which celebrities can document their outfits. "Social media has absolutely disrupted our process — but in the best way," says Magidsohn. "We are now monitoring a 24-hour news cycle of sorts, which begets massive opportunity to find the placements. Fan sites and handles also aid us in finding the shots. They're often posting images even before the mainstream media."
"It's completely changed the game," adds Goldberg. "Everybody's finding out what everybody's wearing on Instagram, and people are even shopping it now on Instagram."
The obvious direction in which this is all evolving is towards the all-important influencer marketing strategy. Many marketers believe that an endorsement by a trusted influencer or blogger can be more powerful than that of a mainstream celebrity, but with stars and Instagirls stepping out in accessible, instantly available items more than ever, it's highly likely that they'll be able to move the needle just as well when it comes to sales. As long as celebrities are going to airports, grocery shopping, taking lunch meetings and going on dates with their equally famous boyfriends, brands will still want to give them clothes — and fans will be eager to know where and how they can score the very same look.