“Kendall at FWRD, Bella at Kin, Molly Mae at PLT. We are ushering in a new era of influencer “creative directors” and it is going to be an absolute f*cking mess.” @m0ddys
This past year, there has been an influx of celeb job updates, with countless high profile stars boasting millions of followers securing top creative roles in fashion and lifestyle brands. Just this past week Kendall Jenner (188million IG followers) was announced as Creative Director of FRWD, the upmarket brand as part of the Revolve Group portfolio. Love Island icon Molly Mae (6million IG followers), beloved for her good vibes and just being herself, was announced as Creative Director of hyper-fast-fashion brand Pretty Little Thing. And that was just this week.
This 52INSIGHTS explores the recent rise in brand adoption of celebrity Creative Directors, and youth’s response to them.
MORE THAN YOUR AVERAGE LINKEDIN POST
Spread and reach with this kind of news is huge. Placing online influencers into these roles generates clicks, mentions and searches moving beyond your average LinkedIn post. For the Kendall Jenner announcement, you can directly correlate search interest with the FWRD brand on Google Trends, jumping from 27 to 100 on the day the news went live. Having cool friends gets people talking about you.
Aside from the brand interest, by positioning yourself as a brand who elevates young creative women, it is sending out a message that you’re here to listen to your customer base by putting “one of us” in charge. For these brands, hiring someone like Molly Mae who people really connect with can seem like a step forward. Not only does it help people feel closer to the brand, there’s no doubt that they land the brand in cultural corners of significance.
THE CD BACKLASH - YOUTH CHALLENGE THE TITLE
“This is the biggest move in my career so far and I can’t explain my gratitude to my favourite brand in the world for trusting me with this role.” Molly Mae on becoming CD of PLT
The phenomenon of celeb Creative Director’s isn’t new:
“ In 2015, ID magazine ran a feature titled ‘The rise of the celebrity creative director’, delving into the qualifications held by the likes of Chloe Sevigny and Solange Knowles after they joined Opening Ceremony and Puma. And before that there was outcry over Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Lady Gaga taking on the creative director roles for Blackberry, Puma and Polaroid respectively.” The Drum
When a celebrity Creative Director is named to a brand, it often comes with huge announcements across social media saying how exciting it is and how the match is made in heaven. Then, tumbleweed, the celebrity moves on with their projects and the brand either has raised their credibility level or blends into the background. These appointments were often considered an easy way to get people talking while raising the level of brands. Now when these announcements come out, the narrative is about the hard work these influencers will do in these critical roles.
“I see this as a great opportunity to put what I've learned into practice, and most likely learn even more.” What Kendell hopes for in her new role.
Young people are quick to see through PR and marketing strategies and can be cynical about the titles given to famous faces, noting the lack of qualifications for the role. A large amount of the major announcements are still seen as big investment PR stunts and exaggerated influencer contracts, lacking credibility. Despite admiring these celebrities and influencers in many ways, the title of Creative Director comes across, for many (especially those close and familiar with the fashion industry), as undeserved - a result of privilege rather than merit (despite their clear success and star quality in other creative roles and on social media).
“...‘creative director’ is 2021’s new synonym for influencer. Mysterious glam job that nobody rly understands” @rosielanners
“nowadays the connections you have and amount of followers are more valuable than education or experience even” @hfsidereal
“I feel bad for the ppl that are willing to do “what it takes” to become a creative director in the fashion industry… nowadays the connections you have and amount of followers are more valuable than education or experience even...” @vogueveins
“How is anyone not furious about the fact that kendall jenner is the creative director of a luxury brand now??? Whatever happened to giving jobs to people with actual credibility and proficiency” @panicsincat
“So now Kendall Jenner is ‘Creative Director’ of Frwd. Again, nothing against Kendall, but these brands are doing it just as a PR exercise. Call her a Creative consultant or another title, not Director. It’s essentially saying experience means fuck all in the fashion industry.” @msdyp
FWRD’s instagram bio now begins with ‘Creative Director @kendalljenner #KJxFWRD’, which reinforces the ‘PR-able’ treatment of the appointment. The major problem? The roles as described don’t always come across as honest or credible. This is key. Our 2021 Youth Culture Uncovered report ‘Emerging in an Emergency’ found that honesty and transparency (actually doing what they say they do) is the number one expectation for brands today.
A NEW LINE TO LEADERSHIP: FACILITATING CHANGE IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
On the other hand, the trend is highlighting debate about the CD role and tradition. These partnerships clearly don’t include management responsibilities - they leave room for the individual's creative vision - and connection to culture to be the focus. Perhaps this is the greatest strength of these partnerships, brands are brought on to the frontline with these celebrities where the cultural drivers of desire are more often laid bare. These are individuals who create popular culture and drive global digital conversation.
Many young people are seeing the role of influencers as Creative Directors as useful to inspiring change in the fashion industry. Influencers in these roles have greater potential to have their voices heard by the brand, and activists and advocates for a more just and sustainable industry were quick off the mark to identify this newfound responsibility and to utilise this new line into leadership.
“Would love to see you use your new influence, leverage and power to push for your garment workers to be paid above a living wage! As CD workers are now your priority too.” @ginamartinuk
“...Is your girl talented? Absolutely. Does she seem like a nice person? Absolutely. Should she, bare-minimum, be doing more for the poorly treated workers who make her the clothes that make her a fortune? Absolutely.” @ginamartinuk
The influencer dynamic translating into the brand world means more dialogue and debate with fans and critics alike. For young fans, these fun, creative roles still have ethical responsibility. Younger generations increasingly tend to consider the ‘full picture’ as a reflection of a brand or influencer - not just what goes through a filter to the feed.
Partnerships with longevity and real meaning can be a powerful thing for brands and their collaborators alike. If you’re working or thinking of working with brand ambassadors, consider how their role could evolve. Their unique experience and perspective could add weight in a variety of ways. When a partnership is authentic and has synergies, there’s great potential with this kind of collaboration. Not only can you reach specific audiences and gain talkability with culturally exciting individuals, but certain matches can add impactful depth to mission-focused campaigning. For example, our friends in Tony’s Chocolonely for example partnered with Pharrell Williams - a big voice with lots of ideas. The partnership is founded on a shared vision of ending systemic inequality and mutually supporting one another’s missions: for Tony’s, eliminating illegal child labour and modern slavery from the cocoa industry; for Williams, closing the opportunity and wealth gap in the US.
There are a multitude of ways of listening to young talent and elevating them, without just putting someone already with huge privilege into a role. Most recently, Prada announced a partnership with Theaster Gates to create an incubator for artists of colour. Creating a three-year program in Chicago, the platform aims to lift up underrepresented artists and designers of colour from the design and art world, allowing them to create the invaluable connections needed to succeed that often have barriers in front of them.