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What Does Zoolander at Valentino Say About Celebrities in Fashion?

Was it just a silly stunt, or does it say something more about the relationship between celebrities and the fashion industry?
By Rosie Dalton, 11 Mar 2015
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What Does Zoolander at Valentino Say About Celebrities in Fashion?
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Image: Owen Wilson in Valentino's winter 2015-16 Paris Fashion Week show

It was the runway walk-off we have all been waiting for, but that no one saw coming. In the fading hours of Paris Fashion Week last night, the house of Valentino gave us an unexpected prelude to the Zoolander 2 film. We learned that the sequel is happening and, evidently, it has already begun, as actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson took to the runway for the Valentino finale. In full character as their alter egos Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald, Stiller and Wilson both wore ornate two-piece suits from the menswear collection, with coats ever so elegantly slung over their shoulders.

They put on their best rendition of Blue Steel for the occasion and Hansel (aka Wilson) tossed his coat halfway down the runway for added dramatic effect. The crowd absolutely loved it and so they should have. As we now approach the tail end of the gruelling Fashion Month schedule across all four cities, a little comic relief is exactly what we need.

Oh, and there was womenswear in there too. In fact, there was quite a lot happening in that department. Romantic silhouettes were offset by bold, graphic prints in stark black and white, while a sense of the ministerial was balanced by sensual details like sheer panels and leather bodicing. Fur coats were near to floor sweeping and patent leather boots skimmed calves amidst high-necks and plenty of nude allusions. Detailing was impressively ornate, if a little confusing at times. The looks featuring multi-coloured lace appliqué felt slightly out of place amidst the mood of dark romance, but it was a brief segue that perhaps spoke more to the contrasting references that designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli drew from this season than anything else. Specifically, Emilie Flöge (muse to Gustav Klimt) and Celia Birtwell (muse to her husband Ossie Clark and the painter David Hockney) were — for want of a better word — the muses of this collection. This might serve to explain the presence of feminine ruffles and embellished details alongside uncharacteristic dragon prints and brightly coloured graphics on show.

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Image: Valentino's winter 2015-16 collection at Paris Fashion Week

Following the show and to put all speculation about the walk-off to rest, Paramount Pictures confirmed via Twitter that this was indeed the official, unofficial launch of Zoolander 2, which is set for release next year. And with filming already underway in Valentino's home base of Rome, the amusing stunt has got us thinking about the role of celebrity in fashion.

Celebrities in fashion is a mutually beneficial friendship that's been around for almost as long as the fashion industry itself. Even Charles Worth — who pioneered haute couture — understood its importance to achieving brand success. In order to promote La Maison Worth, he enlisted the help of a high society figure and influencer of court fashions at the time, Princess von Metternich. Married to the Austrian ambassador to France, the princess was a close friend of Napoleon's wife, Empress Eugénie, and was integral to the success of Worth's designs.

More recently, there was the very high-vis approach of the '90s and early 2000s, whereby designers clamoured to dress the latest starlet or to have them star as the face of their latest product. Interestingly what we're witnessing today is something new altogether.

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Image: Valentino's winter 2015-16 collection at Paris Fashion Week

Undeniably, we as a culture are more obsessed with celebrity than we ever have been. But increasingly, designers seem to be leaning towards a more subtle approach to packaging their celebrity endorsements. Now, products get a positive review on a blog such as Garance Doré and less than a year later, it's all anyone wants to own. Case in point: the Mansur Gavriel bags that suddenly came out of nowhere, for which Doré was an early supporter. Given, the start-up accessories house crafts beautiful handbags and is deserving of the recognition they have received, but what's interesting is that far fewer people recognise where the hype all began than they would have if Alexa Chung had been seen wearing one on a giant billboard. Ironically, greater accessibility to things like social media seems to have shifted celebrity endorsement into an abstract dimension.

"Today, designers, whether they believe it or not, no longer need the wattage of celebrities to bring them buzz, make them legit or otherwise bless them with cultural relevance," says Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. "They have social media," she argues. "Designers can star in their own television shows. They can live-stream their runway productions. Celebrities are no longer a boon; they are a crutch." With all that said, the relationship between celebrity and fashion is still a very significant one and something that I don't see disappearing anytime soon.

It is interesting to see designers approaching this relationship in a slightly more off-kilter and humorous way. While we may have expected a move like this to come from a more youthful house like Moschino, the juxtaposition Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli gave us proved that these designers, too, have got a real sense of humour. And sending two ageing actors, famous for their parody of the fashion industry down the runway of an historic house like Valentino is exactly the kind of thing we need to shock us these days. In part, this may have been about allowing a bit of brevity amongst the institution that is Paris Fashion Week, but whether or not we choose to view it through the lens of a celebrity marketing strategy, no one can deny that it has got us all talking.

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Image: Valentino's winter 2015-16 collection at Paris Fashion Week

Images via Style.com

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Liked this? Read these articles about the winter 2015-16 fashion week shows:

1) Free Spirits and #FreeTheNipple at Jaquemus' Paris Fashion Week Show

2) Fashion's New Feminism at Milan Fashion Week with Versace, Gucci + More

3) Why Prada's Milan Fashion Week Collection Challenges Beauty Standards

4) Here Are Our Favourite Collections From London Fashion Week

5) Here Are the Next Big Designers From London Fashion Week

6) Marc by Marc Jacobs Grrrl Power Army at NYFW

7) NYFW Wrap 2 – Bondage and Androgyny at NYFW via HBA, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler

8) NYFW Wrap 1 with Dion Lee, Suno, Alexander Wang and Sandy Liang

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