Under the influencer: fashion takes a new creative direction
How valuable is influence? Modern marketeers are continually grappling with how to use “influence: and where to put their time, focus and investment.
Influence is nothing new, but, thanks to social media, it has become the Holy Grail of marketing as traditional channels have declined. While also measured in followers and engagement, the ultimate measurement for an influencer’s power is sales. And volumes speak volumes for the majority of brands.
Brands have partnered and collaborated with influential people for many years, but, in order for them to be more invested, many brands are now appointing influencers as “Creative Directors” or inviting them in as shareholders or investors. This creates longer term relationships and exclusive parties both invested in the success of the arrangement.
Recently in womenswear, PrettyLittleThing announced Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague (pictured above) as its new creative director, while luxury online fashion retailer FRWD appointed influencer royalty Kendall Jenner into the same role.
Molly-Mae Hague, 22 years-old with 6 million followers on Instagram, found fame on the ITV dating show. In August, she was announced as UK and EU Creative Director as well as launching her first exclusively designed collection since her announcing new role.
She had previously worked with the brand as their UK Brand Ambassador “curating iconic edits”, BTS videos and podcast interviews. In her newly appointed role, the brand said Mae-Hague would take an active position in creatively directing upcoming campaigns for the brand and signing new faces within the UK and EU. Umar Kamani, CEO at PrettyLittleThing said: “This felt like a natural fit for us. Molly has been a huge part of our PrettyLittleThing journey.”
Amy Simon, Global Head of PR and VIP at PrettyLittleThing adds: “We have been working with Molly for a few years, way back when she had a much smaller following and she has always been a supporter of the brand.
“We have followed Molly’s career and she was a no-brainer for us when it came to selecting our new Brand Ambassador for the UK. As our relationship has grown with Molly, her input into her shoots and creative has been amazing and she is the PLT customer. She knows what our PLT customer wants, so the choice to then take it a step further was for her to come on board as Creative Director,” says Simon.
Mae-Hague’s current role will be for one year and hopefully way beyond this says the brand.
“She will be meeting the teams at HQ regularly and working across ambassador shoots, seasonal campaigns, our Influencer Marketing strategies, showroom openings, YouTube and so much more. Her role as Creative Director goes beyond her previous Brand Ambassadorship,” Simon explains.
Many people are quite sceptical and snobbish about influencers being appointed creative directors at brands. It could be viewed as a kick in the teeth for true designers and creatives, but on the other is this just a natural extension of the brand/influencer relationship?
“Influencers have been a huge part of the brand’s success since the beginning, and we work with influencers of a varied following across the globe,” says PrettyLittleThing’s Simon.
“The influencer marketing team have great relationships with the ones that we work with and we know our audience relate to the Influencer. We regularly expand beyond just posts, we’ve had many successful edits, interviews for our podcast and collaborations across all our key markets,” she says.
In the US, luxury womenswear fashion destination FORWARD [FWRD], part of the REVOLVE Group has announced Kendall Jenner, 25, as the new Creative Director. Jenner has 192 million followers on Instagram. “I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business. As FWRD’s Creative Director, I am excited to help curate the site’s offering with emerging designers and brands,” said Jenner on her appointment.
The multi-brand site says, as the new Creative Director, Jenner will be in charge of the look and feel of the site, curation of brands sold, monthly edits of must-have trends, styles, and looks, as well as marketing ideas, brand partnerships and brand activations. Jenner kicked off her new role during New York Fashion Week this month.
“Kendall as the Creative Director for FWRD is the perfect choice as we continue to invest in the next generation luxury consumer. We have always had an extreme admiration for Kendall’s style, creativity, and overall exquisite taste. Her multifaceted experience in the fashion industry and the vision she has outlined for the FWRD business has the potential to transform our business and the luxury business as a whole,” Michael Mente, Co-CEO and Co-Founder REVOLVE Group, Inc.
Revolve Group says it is “the next-generation fashion retailer for Millennial and Generation Z consumers” with two sites REVOLVE and FORWARD. REVOLVE offers a more affordable assortment of premium female apparel and footwear, accessories, and beauty products from emerging established and owned brands. At FORWARD, the offer “a highly curated assortment of iconic and emerging luxury brands”.
Kendall and Mae-Hague are the same age as the key target customer for both of these brands and provide a recognisable and relatable face to help with brand recognition and engagement.
Having an influencer act as a creative director for the entire brand is one approach but Manchester-based fast fashion retailer, In The Style, has effectively built its business model on employing a series of influencers to act as creative directors of the own collections for the sites.
More than just lending their name to a line, the influencers concerned (typically these are television personalities such as Dani Dyer and Stacey Solomon) get a cut of sales so have a vested interest in their particular collection’s success, encouraging them to use their profiles to push sales. More sales mean a better return for the influencer and less risk for In The Style, which this year listed on London’s junior stock exchange AIM. Clearly In The Style and its shareholders believe there is mileage in the influencer-led model for some time to come yet, but the question has to be asked whether consumers will continue to follow celebrities and their fashion advice for much longer, or will the market move on?
Over in menswear, it is sports stars, and more specifically footballers, who wield the greatest influence. Remember how David Beckham wearing that Superdry jacket catapulted the brand into the stratosphere? Product placement on influential friends of friends of the brands can still really kick-start brands, particularly in sportswear.
Two such British success stories are Castore and Bee Inspired. Brothers Tom and Phil Beahon, who both came from professional sporting backgrounds, founded Castore with a mission to deliver the “lightest, most durable, highest performing sportswear in the market” and, since its launch in 2015, the digitally native business model has grown rapidly and now sells in more than 50 countries around the world.
In 2019, British tennis star, Andy Murray, become a shareholder in the business and took on the role of board adviser, as part of its ongoing long-term partnership. His AMC range of sportswear under the Castore umbrella was recently seen on 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu’s coaching staff. Castore recently launched a collection with Olympic and Strictly Come Dancing swimmer Adam Peaty and is forecasting to turn over £14m this year.
In 2013 professional footballers Steven Robb and Mark Corcoran hung up their boots and were inspired to embark on a journey to change the landscape of streetwear. They launched activewear brand, Bee Inspired, and gifted product to their footballer friends and, as a consequence, found themselves featured on their social media channels. This helped the Glasgow based brand to grow extremely quickly. Lionel Messi (269 million Instagram followers), Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho have all worn Bee Inspired. It has recently branched into womenswear.
The sports shoe brand, On, which boasts Swiss tennis star Roger Federer as an investor, is eyeing a valuation of more than $6 billion for its forthcoming IPO in the US. On was founded in 2010 by running enthusiasts Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, with Federer investing an undisclosed sum in the company in 2019.
“When we spotted Roger wearing On shoes around the world, we just got in touch. Turns out, he has been an On fan for a while. Switzerland is relatively small and it wasn’t long before Roger was catching up with our senior leadership team over dinner,” says the brand. Asian private equity firm Hillhouse also owns a stake.
Long-term collaborations often turn into these arrangements, as many sports stars with money to invest are looking for income into retirement.
Somebody like Lewis Hamilton, who recently took a table at the Met Gala for young designers, is showing a strong interest in fashion. His collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger started in 2018, with his latest collection being entirely vegan. It wouldn’t take a genius for somebody at PVH, Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company, to want to tie him in and his 24 million Instagram followers into a permanent and invested relationship like his own label. Something sustainable, possibly?
Not all influencer investments have worked out as well. Just look at Rhianna’s Fenty clothing line (which was backed by luxury group LVMH and put on ice after plans were hit by the pandemic – still Rihanna has an enormously successful beauty and lingerie business under belt) or David Beckham with Kent & Curwen, where there was a price disconnect between the product and the audience. Aspiration is one thing, being unaffordable is another. The super-influencer needs to feel like the customer the brand is targeting, but they also need to produce something that people can afford.
Super-influencers know their value and in a world becoming immune to sponsored posts it requires brands to think deeper and bigger. Tying them into a proper contracts or investments, but also allowing them to create what they want and then promote it, is a major attraction to brands. The super-influencers get a deeper financial, creative and more fulfilling relationship and the chance to be part of something that could be really big. Having both invested parties pulling in the same direction and making product for the same audience is the ultimate in influence.
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