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Rihanna and Kanye West in FourFiveSeconds video
Sorry, Paul McCartney not included

What’s the secret to celebrity designer success?

From Avril Lavigne to the Olsens, Kanye to Rihanna, NYFW is where the famous dare to venture into fashion – but not everyone gets taken seriously

New York Fashion Week is known for many things – an influx of celebrity designers is one of them. The Hills’ Lauren Conrad has showed during NYFW, as has Avril Lavigne. Singer Carrie Underwood debuted an activewear collection one season. Tennis star Serena Williams did, too. From Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen making their high fashion debut ten years ago to Kanye West and Rihanna making recent, more over-the-top splashes, New York seems to be something of the chosen home for celebs venturing into fashion.

Some have been far more successful than others. Take the Olsens and Victoria Beckham, for instance. These women have won over the respect of the fashion industry with their discretion and their slow but steady rise to power. The Olsens, who for years were best known for their role on Full House, hid behind a brand name (The Row) that is not indicative of themselves to help them remain anonymous. Beckham overcame initial pushback from the industry by focusing on the quality and fit of the garments in her collection, and quite often, serving as its best spokesmodel. As a result, they have come to be viewed as less celebrity than creative. This is no small feat, as the fashion industry, with its age-old traditions and inclusive nature, can be a difficult place to make it. And quite often, a celebrity moniker is not necessarily a helpful accessory.

At the other end of the spectrum is Kanye West, who has been relatively successful designing sneakers – first in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, then with Nike, and now adidas. The rapper approached ready-to-wear in an unsurprisingly audacious way. He showed a couple of womenswear collections during Paris Fashion Week beginning in 2011, which more or less went nowhere, with critics faulting them for their lack of attention to cut and construction, and their close similarities to already existing designs. In short: they simply did not meet the hype.

It’s the same story at adidas; by broadcasting himself up as the greatest artistic genius of our time and making the shows more or less all about himself, West has ensured sales but has also set himself up for failure when it comes to acceptance by real-deal fashion critics. His Yeezy line has consisted of three lookalike collections of rather commercial garments. In a city like New York, where commercial fashion is the cornerstone of the industry, West’s clothes should do well – but the focus has never been on the clothes.

This is one thing that Rihanna did better.

In late 2014, the superstar singer announced that she had teamed up with Kering-owned sportswear brand Puma. To date, she has released a single style of sneaker, a platform creeper in multiple colorways, which has sold out every time Puma restocked it. (Yes, this sounds like the Yeezys as well). This season brought Rihanna’s first foray into garments for Puma, with a set up that seemed to be in stark contrast to West’s. Instead of speaking at length before and/or after the show about the greatness of her collection, Rihanna let it stand on its own. This is noteworthy in and of itself.

“If we consider the current landscape of fashion, with its over-the-top runway shows, increased speed, and the recent desire of designers to ‘fix the system’, there is something to be said of simply focusing on the clothes”

Speaking about the collection, she merely said: “I enjoy creating and expressing the crazy things going on in my mind through something that people can see and that is tangible. That is the best part, being able to express yourself.” This is a far cry from West’s “I have done the impossible … I beat the fashion game” rants. 

Moreover, instead of putting on an overly late show with 1,200 extras and 20,000 attendees, Rihanna focused on the fashion – the 40 or so looks that went down the runway. This is not to say it was an earth-shatteringly original collection, with its oversized hoodies, sportswear/streetwear-inspired tops and trousers, and Puma branding, of course. However, if we consider the current landscape of fashion, with its over-the-top runway shows, increased speed, and the recent desire of deisgners to “fix the system,” there is something to be said of simply focusing on the clothes, of just putting on a runway show. It seems that this is what allowed Rihanna to have something of a warm welcome on Friday night and may allow her to have a successful run in this very tough industry. Also, a little help from an in-house design team never hurts.