2016 could have been the year of the celebrity fashion designer. Google released its list of most trending searches of 2016 and in what seemed like a celebrity dominated world of fashion, the designer category was dominated by actors, musicians etc – Angela Simmons, a reality star with her own shoe collection, actress and singer Zendaya, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Beyoncé, Ivanka Trump and Kanye West were a part of it.
If last week's fashion news in the country is anything to go by, India seems to be following suit. After launches by Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan, Alia Bhatt, Virat Kohli, Sonam Kapoor etc, Anushka Sharma also released her line of clothing Nush with much fanfare. Including denims, trench coats, sweatshirts, dresses and printed co-ords, the Autumn/Winter collection has something for everyone at a pocket-friendly range of Rs 699 to Rs 3,299. In fact, the line was exactly the same as the rest – designed to cater to as many young and trendy shoppers as possible. But it was the only one accused of being possibly 'plagiarised'.
"I have personally taken interest in the styles of Nush, so there's a bit of myself in all the outfits," Anushka declared at the launch, going on to add that design meetings at her home would go on up to nine hours sometimes. A promotional video showed us footage of these meetings. Last week, the company manufacturing Nush (Suditi Industries) put out a clarification that said Anushka "was never part of the designing and procuring process." It said, "She was only involved in advising us on the styles that could go on the floor based on her personal style and sensibility for which she had dedicated a lot of her time and effort." They also admitted that few of the designs bought from their Chinese manufacturer was further produced and sold on another website.
Having said that, nobody has a trademark over the concept of a beige trench coat, which is why you can find variations of it at every brand from Zara to Burberry. If you look at the photo closely, the coat from Nush that came under scrutiny has a different collar and sleeve from the one shown in the photo next to it.
"Export houses or manufacturers in India or China will show you ready samples of what is available and one can tweak the designs to a certain extent and sell them under a new label. This is standard practice in fast fashion. The team of course has its own designs too, but this is also an option," Mani Shanker Singh explains. With 14 years in the fashion industry, he has been the head of design at Madura, creative director in-charge of content and marketing at Myntra, and now owns his own label SNOB. "People are basically buying into the image, story and lifestyle of these stars, although it is not even like the entire collection is based on their personal style," he adds.
A Vanity Fair article earlier this year praised The Weeknd who made no pretense of designing any part of his collection with H&M, instead saying that "he's thrilled just to put his name on it." It's naïve to think that stars are actually doing the sketching and creating. The same article goes on to say: "In every interview, when these men and women of music, film, and television are questioned about flexing their design muscle, it tends to garner a side eye. Did they really "design" that? Where does the pure brand rep'ing end, and the sketching begin?"
A former head of buying of one of India's biggest fashion e-commerce platforms tells us on condition of anonymity, "Sonam and Rhea Kapoor's line is an exception where the sisters have been closely involved in conceptualising their brand – Rheson. A majority of these collaborations are licensing deals, where a fee is negotiated with the stars to use their name and face. They also get a 2%-4% royalty on sales. The star may at best sign off on the collection after looking at it once. Their expertise is acting. Design is a massive process, how will they really know fabric, cuts or what is commercially viable? They may have more of an involvement but it's rare, they don't even have the time for it. In any case, most fast fashion brands are 'inspired'. Give me a garment from any brand, and I will find you a similar style from another brand."
Licensing deals to plaster the name and face of a celebrity on a collection have been common internationally too, as the world learned through this lawsuit by Zooey Deschanel on shoemaker Steve Madden in 2010. Other kinds of deals would be that of Virat Kohli. "He is a brand ambassador for WROGN, owned by Anjana Reddy's company Universal Sportsbiz Pvt Ltd (USPL). Hrithik Roshan, on the other hand, has a stake in his brand HRX. He is someone who takes a deep interest in the collection," says Singh. There have also been cases when the star has given too many unsolicited opinions and has gone on to be dropped by the brand.
But has the retail world tapped into a long-term winning combination with these partnerships? It definitely looks like it. As Greg French of i-D magazine puts it: "… nothing sells better than celebrity. It's not Prada or nada for the mass consumer of fashion. Instead, they choose to buy into something that they can't be, and those celebrity-endorsed products give them the power to do just that. Who cares about a new hemline or silhouette if you can look like Kanye West?"