After growing bored with their school routine, a group of Parisian teens decided they’d put their time and energy into something they were truly passionate about.
In 2014, five high-schoolers launched NASASEASONS, a project that initially focused on underground parties, but eventually included embroidered headwear. Co-founder Millinsky says he and his friends saw the brand as a fun distraction and despite being picked up by retailers like colette and FourTwoFour, they never intended to make a living from it.
But that all changed after celebrities started being photographed wearing their hats. We’re talking stars like Theophilus London, Tyga, Wiz Khalifa and Rihanna, the latter being one of the most powerful figures in the fashion industry.
“After Rihanna wore the hat, our sales went up like 50 times more,” Millinsky told Highsnobiety. “Before, we were just making enough to have fun as teenagers. But since Rihanna, it’s really changed the level of the brand and my expectation for future sales.”
Celebrity co-signs aren't exactly new in fashion, as the rich and famous have always had some kind of influence on consumer culture. However, celebrity endorsements have never been more powerful than they are today: just look at the big-name actors, musicians and athletes who have been credited for starting new trends and racking in the big bucks for brands.
The sense of validation a designer gets when they see their creations being worn by an influencer are perhaps more important than profits. This was definitely the case for Sang Bleu founder Maxime Buchi, whose tattoo work and clothing designs have been given the Kanye West seal of approval.
“It’s pretty cool. It feels like you did something right, like getting a good grade at school,” Buchi laughs. “The association with [Kanye] definitely legitimized me and my brand for mainstream corporations, such as [Swiss luxury watchmaker] Hublot, which I'm currently brand ambassador for. It was perfect in terms of the natural progression of my projects… It is something I am proud of.”
This feeling of pride and validation makes sense. When a brand receives support from a celebrity—someone who typically has access to the best of the best—it really says something about the company and the minds behind it. Consumers tend to associate these items with a certain lifestyle that they aspire to and even the oldest, most respected fashion houses are benefitting from this trend now more than ever.
In a 2015 interview with The Telegraph, Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing said that the most powerful marketing tool for a luxury label is to be worn by a high-profile celebrity—more specifically, a celebrity with a huge Instagram following.
“When you look at the fashion brands, how many followers do they have? Balmain has 1.1 million. It's like 10 percent of what [Kim Kardashian and Rihanna] have,” Rousteing told The Telegraph. “It shows you the power of the personality more than the power of the entire brand.”
But what about brands that haven’t had the chance to establish any kind of power or notoriety on their own? Will riding on a celebrity’s coattails lead to long-term success for under-the-radar names? For many unknown designers, getting a star to wear their clothes is like hitting the jackpot, but it also comes with risks, like acquiring a short-lived fanbase that’s only interested in having the next “it” item right now.
NASASEASONS’ Millinsky admits that this is one of his concerns when it comes to landing co-signs from mega-influencers. And he seems to be most concerned about one name in particular.
“With Kanye, it’s so extreme. He’s maybe the most influential person in fashion,” said Millinsky, whose brand has already been approached to create hats for Kim Kardashian and North West. “The thing with Kanye is that, if he wore my hat, everybody would buy it and it would boost the sales for, like, two months. But it would eventually become an unfashionable item, because people don’t want what Kanye wore a year ago, they want what Kanye wore yesterday."
Gregk Foley, a freelance fashion writer who specializes in the cultural importance of streetwear, echoed this sentiment. He agreed that short-lived hype is a valid concern, especially in a time when social media is so persuasive and the broader audience is caring less and less about a brand’s story or credibility.
“When a star posts an item on Instagram, for a lot of people, I don’t think it becomes about the brand, it’s about a specific product, which is a massive, massive difference, “ Foley said. “People don’t want to learn about the brand or what it stands for, they just want to get their hands on the hype piece. And once they’ve satisfied that thirst—or they’ve exhausted all their [resources] and can’t get it—it drops off, and the next product comes around.”
Though Foley accepts that some people will only chase a brand because of its association with a superstar, he acknowledges that a celebrity backing isn’t always a bad thing, nor does it mean that a brand has become non-credible. He believes there is a specific type of consumer who is savvy enough to distinguish authentic co-signs and brands that are truly worthy of attention.
“The most recent one that comes to mind is probably Cactus Plant Flea Market,” Foley said, “which has obviously blown up as a result of Pharrell wearing it.”
Founded by Cynthia Lu, a designer who’s spent many years working with Pharrell, CPFM has acquired an impressively large fan base among celebrities. Kanye, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, Cara Delevingne and Big Sean have all been spotted wearing the brand, which has also made its way into the prominent retailer Dover Street Market New York.
As Foley sees it, Lu’s work with Pharrell has given her a good amount of credibility, which, along with authenticity, is an important factor in ensuring a brand’s long-term success—much more important than a celebrity endorsement.
Another case in point is Philip Post’s streetwear imprint, Dertbag. Since its inception in 2007, the brand has been co-signed by everyone from A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator to the late A$AP Yams and Pharrell. However, recently the 21-year-old designer landed headlines for the Dertbag Academy hoodie that was regularly worn by Kanye.
“It’s just solidified that everything I’m doing is right and that I’m on the right path,” Post told Complex. “Listening to my gut, making clothing that no one else is making besides me. Like, no one else can replicate what I do, because the brand is me. So, it makes me feel good. I’ve been on a high since that ‘Ye shit happened. It’s been something I wanted.”
Post's example proves that a brand doesn’t have to compromise its integrity to gain high-profile fans, nor does it have to purchase its celebrity support. Although many of his competitors do, which explains why some people think the term “celebrity co-sign” is synonymous with “paid endorsement": the fact that a star put a brand on the map leads certain consumers to believe that they must have been paid to do so. But in the case of many up-and-coming brands like NASASEASONS, that isn’t the case.
“I didn’t pay, and I won’t pay anybody to wear my hats,” Millinksy said. “If you need to pay someone to wear your [clothes], it’s probably because you want to make more money, and you’re struggling to have a good image with customers. But paying someone isn’t authentic or sincere. It would be bad both for business and for my moral standard. I wouldn’t even be proud if I had paid someone to wear my hats.”
Though the idea of a paid celebrity endorsement doesn’t sit well with some designers, Foley insists it can be done in a respectable way. According to him, it all comes back to the credibility of the brand, its creative talent and the truth behind its message, factors that also apply to celebrity endorsements that don’t involve payment.
“I think it’s very difficult to differentiate between what is and isn’t paid. And I think that even if a small brand is paying money to a celebrity, what they do has to be credible,” he explains. “It shouldn’t be about exploiting celebrities. It should simply be about demonstrating their credibility as a brand rooted in a particular sub-section of culture. Many have been very effective at leveraging that and using it to their advantage. The fundamental thing about celebrity co-signs is credibility.”
This seems to be the general consensus among industry insiders. Although there’s no doubt that a celebrity co-sign can have a major impact on popularity and sales, many people stress that endorsements are just one part of a brand’s DNA—and ultimately, just one part of the brand’s continuing success. Because we live in an age when consumption has never been faster and the fashion market has never been more saturated, many designers will use celebrity co-signs as a shortcut to the top.
However, it’ll be difficult for these brands to effectively leverage that exposure if they aren't bringing something new to the table—something creative, something with a message, and something honest.
Speaking of Kanye and other American rappers, check out these 10 hip hop songs about America.