Star power helps fashion sell. It draws eyeballs towards a campaign, allowing it to stand out from amongst the many, many others that are constantly infiltrating the market.
Considerable sums of money are paid to celebrities to walk the runway for a brand as a showstopper. Marketing budgets are especially allotted to grand campaigns revolving around ‘it’ stars.
Sometimes, star power can even generate sales for some truly lacklustre designs. And every designer —the good, the bad and the very, very ugly— will agree that heavy-duty spending on celebrity endorsements has reaped big profits for them.
While fashion purists will always argue that famous brand ambassadors take away the spotlight from the fashion itself, we live in a world that is completely smitten with celebrity culture —where customers connect better with designs when they are worn by a famous, well-loved personality.
Menswear designer Omar Farooq of Republic, for instance, has often reminisced about how people would come to his store holding images of actor Fawad Khan wearing his designs, on the catwalk as well as in shoots.
His brand had been in its fledgeling years when Khan had shown a decisive preference for it. For a while — and especially through most of the actor’s Bollywood tryst — Khan was associated with Republic Menswear and it did wonders for the brand’s sales and image.
Similarly, many of Emraan Rajput’s customers have a penchant for the designs worn by Bilal Abbas Khan.
Iqra Aziz’s wedding dress by Nomi Ansari was a complete hit, as was the Zainab Chottani bridal that Sajal Aly wore in her drama Yeh Dil Mera. And all through Ramzan this year, stars participating in Fahad Mustafa’s game show for ARY Digital, Jeeto Pakistan, predominantly wore designs by Rizwan Beyg and Ansab Jahangir, hauling in sales for both brands even in these desultory Covid-infested times.
Lately, though, an all-new epiphany has hit local designers. They have pondered over what could be better than one celebrity endorsement and some of them have evidently realized that it’s many celebrity endorsements! The concept itself is not unfamiliar.
Back in 2016, I recall attending a Bridal Couture Week edition where a fashion showcase by Amir Adnan featured a whopping 17 celebrities. More recently, at the winter festive edition of last year’s Fashion Pakistan Week, designer Humayun Alamgir showcased his suiting range with the aid of six celebrity showstoppers who danced and jumped about on the catwalk.
The concept has now also filtered down to the domain of unstitched fabric campaigns.
Zainab Chottani, possibly the first designer to take multiple celebrities on board in a shoot, says that it really helps in generating hype for her collection of unstitched formal-wear. As part of the promotions of the designer’s Jamdani Wedding Festive line, which released in October last year, a number of actresses were featured on Instagram, wearing the collection. Sajal Aly, Saboor Aly, Ayeza Khan, Ushna Shah, Mehwish Hayat, Ramsha Khan and Sanam Jung – veteran actresses as well as some from the younger lot were part of the campaign. The concept was repeated in last year’s winter shawl collection and has just floated out on to Instagram yet again, marketing the soon to release festive collection.
“We tried working with multiple celebrities for the first time last year,” says Chottani. “The campaign was only for social media and while it was professionally shot, we constructed the images around a ‘Spotted in Zainab Chottani’ storyline. We deliberately kept the treatment of the shoot very casual, as if the actresses had all chosen their outfits themselves.”
She continues, “Our lawn campaign has a different structure. It’s shot at an exotic location and a single celebrity brand ambassador is the face of the collection. But with the luxury formal-wear line, multiple celebrities work out well.”
On a less extensive scale, Ansab Jahangir is another brand that likes to work on fashion shoots that feature two actresses — instead of one — as well as fashion models. The bridal-wear campaign for October 2019, for instance, featured actresses Ayeza Khan as well as Amna Ilyas.
Zoha Shakir, the brand’s co-owner, observes, “We just want to show different looks on women with different body types. Some customers may be able to connect better with an image of a well-loved actress while others may appreciate how the designs look on a model. And the celebrities working with us do have huge fan followings and it helps generate mileage for us.”
Asim Jofa, meanwhile, has just gone all-out in an extravagant shoot for his unstitched ‘Naubahar’ line. The recently released images of the collection showcases 10 top-tier actresses, laden in zari and sequins and surrounded with lavish florals, glinting candles, garlands and even the occasional torso of a horse! The clothes are set off with teekas and chokers and the actresses look quite glamorous.
“I put a lot of thought into what everyone would be wearing,” says Asim Jofa. “The embroidery and the colour was chosen according to each actress’ specific personality. My daughter designed each set and we photographed each celebrity separately, one after the other, in a shoot that went on for 72 hours! I wanted all of them to truly enjoy the experience and they all very happily posted their pictures. On the day of the collection’s release, I asked all of them to post pictures from the campaign simultaneously, on Instagram. They all have millions of followers. Imagine the extensive audience we reached in those few minutes!”
In a similar vein, Maryam Hussain, a fledgling Lahore-based brand, also recently collaborated with a number of actresses for their luxury festive lawn line. The trend, it seems, is on the rise and there will be many more such campaigns.
There are only a limited number of popular ‘it’ actresses in Pakistan’s entertainment industry. They have huge followings and many boast an impressive repertoire of work. They do have the clout to draw in sales when they appear in a single campaign. But when they work with one brand after the other, appearing in a new shoot every week, the images start looking repetitive.
A quick scan through Instagram proves this.
You may admire Ayeza Khan wearing an embellished suit but the next day, you may like her just as much in a formal tunic by another designer. And any die-hard fan of Ayeza, wanting to emulate her, can happily sift through multiple brands, all endorsed by her, before making a purchase.
By working with dozens of brands every season, celebrities act as models rather than brand ambassadors. It must certainly be very lucrative for the stars but from the brands’ perspective, it doesn’t really help them in carving a distinctive identity.
And the images can’t have the impact that a single major actress can make as the face of a brand when she signs a contract of exclusivity for a certain period of time. A case in point, once again, could be Ayeza Khan, who made waves for AlKaram all through last year, when it was the only high-street brand that she could work with.
And I’ll take the higher road of the fashion purist and observe that above all, long term brand loyalty cannot be gained merely through celebrity mileage. Good design, an eye for quality and competitive prices are necessary to build a brand with a strong customer base. A famous face for the brand — or a plethora of celebrities — can only do so much.
Unless, of course, a brand manages to score a coup and take on board a highly coveted celebrity for the very first time in Pakistan. A certain much-hyped, much-loved Turkish actress comes to mind who is busy signing advertising deals in Pakistan these days and keeps hinting that she will be visiting us soon, once the coronavirus has run its course.
If — and when — such a brand collaboration does take place, the sales and euphoria will serve as an example of how star power can really work wonders (or not) for a brand. I’ll write that particular story when the time comes.