Lesson in celebrity branding

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 November, 2014, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 November, 2014, 5:16pm

Kendall Jenner, fashion's latest "it girl", is a lesson in celebrity branding.

It really is telling of the times when the pretty little sister of a reality TV star, launched into the global limelight by a viral sex tape, has become the high-fashion industry's latest darling. It's still hard to properly evaluate the true impact and influence of social media and reality TV, but one thing is for sure: in fashion, where people are always on the lookout for the new, it can become a killer combination for the next rising star.

Kendall went from the lanky teen on TV, albeit gorgeous, to the hottest thing in about two years. Now the 19-year-old is landing opening runway slots at Paris Fashion Week, campaigns such as Givenchy and covers in magazines including Teen Vogue and Marie Claire. And while cynics might bemoan the "cheapening" of high fashion with mass-appeal celebrity names, for the past 10 years, fashion, pop culture and celebrity have formed a cosy little love nest. Celebrity models rely on Instagram followings; Jenner's is at 16 million. Even British celebrity model Cara Delevingne, who fronts brands such as Mulberry and Topshop, is lagging behind Jenner at 8.4 million.

Both girls come from noted families. The Delevingne sisters, Poppy and Cara, both work as models and were regular faces on the London socialite scene. Jenner is the daughter of Olympian Bruce Jenner and mother Kris Kardashian, both social figures in Los Angeles. It was the Keeping up with the Kardashians reality show that catapulted her and her family to stardom.

These already well-known faces landing big campaigns have further muddied the divide between "talent" (celebrities) and working models who rose to the top through more conventional routes such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Is the industry turning more towards scoping out existing popular talent (with good-looking celebrity bloodlines) to use on catwalks and in campaigns, while overlooking the diamonds in the rough, girls such as Moss and Campbell who were discovered at the age of 14 at JFK airport (Moss) and at 15 while shopping in Covent Garden (Campbell)? Lily Aldridge, another famous face, was spotted at a school carnival. They do make for a more romantic story than the Jagger sisters, the Baldwin girls or the Kardashians' move into high fashion.

But pretty clothes horses scouted on the metro rarely turn into international icons. And if fashion brands are looking for a fast and easy way into the public consciousness, tapping actresses, musicians and minor celebrities is a no-brainer. There will be those in the industry who want a more cerebral and less bland, celebrity-focused side of fashion. There are those who don't like seeing people get to the top via family privilege. They may have a point. What Kendall Jenner has in looks, critics say, she lacks in personality or edge.

Then there is her 17-year-old sister Kylie, snapping at her heels, one ridiculously pouty selfie at a time.