It’s not an uncommon occurrence when a celebrity partners with a company to become a brand ambassador. Nor is it ground-breaking when a new creative director is announced. However, put a celebrity in the role of creative director and you’re bound to hear some vocal opinions on the matter.
Last month, Kendall Jenner made the headlines for her appointment as the creative director of FWRD, an online luxury fashion retailer from REVOLVE Group.
“I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business. As FWRD’s creative director, I am excited to help curate the site’s offering with emerging designers and brands,” said the model, influencer and noted member of the Kardashian clan in a statement.
As you might expect, online reactions to Jenner’s new gig were mixed, to say the least. Considering the 25-year-old’s limited business experience outside of recently launching a tequila brand, Cue Drink 818, many expressed doubt that her qualifications would have gotten her past the application screening process had she not been a high profile celebrity.
A growing trend
Jenner is not the first big name from the entertainment sphere to take on the job title. In 2020, actress Emily Ratajkowski was named creative director of face mask brand Loops, while Dakota Johnson became co-creative director of sexual wellness brand Maude. Jennifer Aniston was also welcomed as chief creative officer at health supplement company Vital Proteins last year.
The phenomenon of brands filling a creative director spot with a celebrity isn’t a new development. Alicia Keys joined as Blackberry’s creative director in 2013 for a mostly unfruitful one-year stint. Lasting slightly longer in her role was Lady Gaga who was Polaroid’s creative director from 2010 up until 2014 when the instant camera company confirmed they had parted ways.
A viral Kanye West interview clip succinctly summed up the sentiment that many felt about these celebrity appointments to lead positions in industries they have little tangible experience in.
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Are they up to the job?
According to Skillshare, it can take up to ten years of working your way up in the creative field before being considered for the role of a creative director, on top of earning a relevant degree. It is easy to see why a big name celebrity snagging a job that individuals have laboured for years towards would seem unfair.
With existing full time careers, it is highly unlikely these celebrity creative directors are clocking in from 9-5 at the brand headquarters, drawing budgets or managing a creative team. When her role at FWRD was announced, Jenner’s job scope was described as being ‘in charge of the look and feel of the site, curation of brands sold on the site, monthly edits of must-have trends, styles, and looks, as well as marketing ideas, brand partnerships, and brand activations.”
The ambiguously worded description implies that the title of creative director in the case of a celebrity appointment does not mean what it traditionally does. Instead, we might be looking at a merged role of a brand influencer and a creative consultant, providing input and direct knowledge of current culture and target markets.
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The shifting meaning of creative director
So is this new wave of celebrity creative directors simply a publicity stunt – a quick grab for clicks and likes by riding on the follower coattails of a famous face? Or is it a strategic business move, stemming from an understanding that someone like Kendall Jenner should be hired on the objective basis of her unique and proven ability to amass millions of fans?
In all likelihood, it’s a bit of both. In addition to the drumming up of press that the celebrity creative director inevitably brings to the business, brands are seeing the value in carving out a space for the specialist insight that only a celebrity with extraordinary levels of influence would have.
In the age of social media and hyper-connectedness, we have come to see celebrities as more than just a face to be splashed across a billboard. Thanks to platforms like Instagram giving us a window into their lives, personalities and tastes, we now expect the whole package when it comes to their brand partnerships as well.
It still remains to be seen whether the celebrity creative director job title will become a long term fixture or forgotten as a fleeting fad. Celebrities having a creative hand in the businesses and marketing processes of their partner brands, however? That’s probably here to stay.
Photo: Glen Luchford / Courtesy of FWRD