We all know that US singers Jay Z, Madonna, GwenStafani, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams have made fortunes from launching their own clothing companies, but what happened when Britain’s singing superstars tried their hand at taking on the fashion elite? Well as we’ll see it’s a real mixed bag.
I feel a bit sorry for Bono* (Paul David Hewson). He seems to have the remarkable talent of being able to offend people no matter what he does. No one would argue that he’s not annoying but his heart always seems to be in the right place (except when it comes to those horrendous sunglasses), yet everything he does seems to draw offence and annoyance. It must be baffling for Dave (as he’s known to his old friends) that no matter how much good he tries to inject into this miserable world all that he gets back are catcalls of “phoney”, “smug”, “self satisfied do-gooder” and “take yer sunglasses off you *%$£”.
His creation of an African manufactured fashion range with his wife Ali in 2005 was no exception. As usual he was just trying to do something genuinely good for the world – the idea was to create jobs and fair trade through an African based fashion label that would be distributed worldwide. The first thing that annoyed people was the name: EDUN. EDUN is nude backwards, which is annoying because the idea of a clothing company is to clothe people and nude backwards isn’t the opposite of nude.
EDUN is also meant to be a little nod to the Garden of Eden and taking things back to nature, which again is annoying because from the photos I’ve seen Adam and Eve didn’t seem to be wearing much when that snake showed up.
So, the name wasn’t as catchy as Sunday Bloody Sunday but its political message was meant to be as powerful. This would be a project to highlight that the mass manufacturing of clothes didn’t all need to occur in China, Bangladesh and Thailand, whilst also showing that Africa could bring something to the worldwide fashion-manufacturing table. However, five years after the launch of the project the majority of EDUN’s manufacturing was coming out of China with Bono stating that they had too many quality and delivery issues from the workshops in Africa. This, of course, led to more annoyance, criticism and negative publicity for Dave who must surely now be close to hanging up his rose-tinted sunglasses.
*OK he’s technically not British but he did accept his honour as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire and he’s kept Pixie Lott and Rita Ora off of this list. So unless you’d rather read about them you’ll have to just put up with Bono (which is what we’ve all been doing for years).
Victoria Beckham, 2008
Victoria Beckham was never taken that seriously as a Spice Girl. While she added an integral “girl power” character to the group, she rarely took on important lead vocals or centre stage roles for too long.
Launching her solo career from this platform left her a bit of a joke among music critics and fans with her weak vocals, hackneyed music videos and poorly crafted pop songs. Having achieved little on her own she was in danger of being famous only for marrying footballing superstar David Beckham and being the least talented member of a dissolved girl group. That was until 2008, when Victoria oversaw the launch of her Victoria Beckham fashion label follow by the slightly cheaper Victoria label a few years later.
It seemed that ,unlike the music industry, the fashion world took Victoria very seriously indeed and her eponymous label was soon a staple at New York fashion week, winning Designer Brand of the Year at the British Fashion Awards along the way.
Last year the Victoria Beckham label took nearly US $50 million in sales and seems to be going from strength to strength. In a Guardian interview this year Victoria stated: “I used to feel famous, but now I feel successful”. I’d say you’re both of them Victoria and absolutely loaded as well.
Liam Gallagher, 2009
The next British singer to turn his hand to the fashion world was nasal Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who launched his mod influenced clothing line Pretty Green in 2009. The brand, named after the song Pretty Green by mod revivalist leaders The Jam, was exactly what you’d expect from a Parka-wearing Beatle fanatic.
Mixing the fashion senses of Paul Weller and John Lennon should have been a psychedelic car crash but actually the collections which include Parka jackets, pea coats, paisley shirts, knitted ties and 60s sunglasses have proven to be a big hit.
Opening stores in Covent Garden, Carnaby Street, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Belfast, Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Leeds, Cardiff, Nottingham, Copenhagen and Tokyo the company seems to be a global success. The recent announcement from Pretty Green that they will no longer be using real fur in their collections has won them even more fans.
Unlike other celebrities turned fashion designers, perhaps Gallagher’s success is due to leaving the business side to industry experts. On this subject, in his standard interview tone he stated last year: “I don’t want to get caught up in it, I’m not hostile, but 90 per cent of the music business is run by idiots and I’ll guess it’s the same for fashion, know what I mean?” I think we do Liam.
Lily Allen, 2010
A few eyebrows were raised when Lilly Allen launched a clothing boutique, Lucy in Disguise*, with her half-sister Sarah Owen, particularly as the two had rarely seen eye to eye in the past. All seemed well at the opening of their London Kingly Street store in 2010 with the pair claiming that they had hand picked the best vintage clothes from around the world and brought them to London. With carefully selected items from the 1920s to the 1990s, customers could buy and rent a variety of vintage wares from cheap leather jackets to designer ballroom gowns.
However, a year after the opening there were murmurings of large debts to supplier Aurora and disagreements between the sisters. So when Allen quit the business in 2011 things were looking bleak for Lucy In Disguise. Sarah moved the boutique to a smaller Soho premises and in 2013 the store won ‘Best Vintage Designer Store 2013′ in the London Vintage Awards. Things seemed to be on the up until Aurora decided to take legal action against unpaid debts.
Sarah wrote on the company’s blog in Nov 2013 “ Saddened and more than a little bit annoyed to read in the weekend papers that Lucy in Disguise is finished… Well, here I am at Lucy in Disguise, 48 Lexington Street, Soho, London with a shop full of customers trying on vintage classics. Just to put the record straight for everyone…. Yes, there were some financial problems back in 2011 and yes, a couple of ideas for the business didn’t really gel, BUT things have moved on since then”. This was the last blog post on the website and the shop closed in January 2014. Lily was right: things are hard out there.
* The store presumably took its name from the classic mishearing of the Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky with Siamonds. American outfit John Fred and his Playboy Band actually had a major hit with his song Judy in Disguise (With Glasses) in 1967 after John Fred Gourrier had penned the track having misheard the lyrics to the Beatles’ classic.
Robbie William, 2011
Robbie Williams has always bee known for his great dress sense (just check out his waistcoat and beanie here). So it was/wasn’t a surprise when he launched his own fashion label in 2011. Unlike Robbie, his grandfather Jack Farrell was never known for any fashion faux pas. Back in the day Jack The Giant Killer, as he was known, was apparently a well-noted style guru of Stoke-on-Trent, and Robbie named his new venture in honor of his sharply dressed granddad.
The company caused quite a stir upon its launch. Literally teaming up with model Sid Ellison and singer Olly Murs, Williams & co filmed themselves taking on a local five-a-side football team, dressed not in football shirts and bibs but in long trench coats, tails, jeans and shirts (all made by Farrell).
Using London based promotional staff from events company LOLA, Williams then oversaw a series of launches at Selfridges, House of Fraser and Westfield shopping centre. The word was out and critics were kind. Everything seemed to be going well, so it was a bit of a shock in October 2013 when Farrell announced that their Covent Garden based boutique would be closing after only six months. Shortly afterwards the company declared it was going into liquidation and filing for voluntary bankruptcy. It seems that this fashion label malarkey isn’t as easy as Jay Z et al make it look.