It’s hard to imagine anyone saying no to Beyoncé, especially today, when designers would risk it all just to have their garments worn by the queen. Think of all the press, buzz and possible increase in sales a brand could get just from having mega artist Beyoncé sashay in a look.
The crazy part? This has not always been the case. Before Beyoncé parted from Destiny’s Child, luxury designers and brands actually declined the singer's request to being outfitted in their clothes, obviously not knowing who she was destined to become. According to ELLE, when accepting her CFDA fashion icon award Beyoncé said:
"Starting out in Destiny's Child, high-end labels didn't really want to dress four Black country curvy girls, and we couldn't afford designer dresses and couture… My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York.”
Beyoncé isn’t the only celeb who’s had to swallow her pride after being denied access to luxury designs. Cardi B, who we would consider the most in-demand and one of the hottest artists out right now (and who has her own Fashion Nova line coming out), has also experienced being denied. The female rapper that soared to the top and stole everyone’s heart just by being true to herself was possibly penalized in the beginning for being just that, herself. In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, her stylist, Kollin Carter, responded to the change in access to designers after Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow” release.
“I feel it grow every day. Most definitely it has changed from the beginning until now. Roberto Cavalli just started lending. Versace has been lending the past couple of times. Certain names are finally coming around, because they [are starting to] get [her star power]. But we still have a lot more designers who need to become believers.”
While the above statement made by Cardi’s stylist is positive and presents growth, the real question at hand is what does it take for designers (mostly luxury) to become believers? Further along in the interview, Kollin discusses having a hard time with certain brands lending to the rapper and how he would push back and ask them why they wouldn’t loan garments:
“ 'Is she not your typical muse?' 'Is it the event?' Sometimes you have to be a little aggressive and pry: 'Why are there no samples available at this time?' ”
Is being a certain type of “muse” or presenting yourself in a certain manner a requirement for designers to become believers? And if so, what exactly is that look and manner?
Being a certain type of pretty and a certain size, usually no bigger than a 4, have long been issues that have plagued the fashion industry. And although by now the message should be clear that pretty comes in various shapes, sizes, ethnicities and personalities, a majority of luxury brands still don’t get it.
I’ve worked in the fashion industry for the last four years, most of those years spent at a national magazine brand. I spent many of my days selecting and asking designers/brands for clothes for celebrity or model photo shoots. When shooting models, we rarely had a problem getting designer clothes since they were pretty much guaranteed to fit sample size, and bringing the clothes to life is essentially part of their job description. However, celeb shoots would be more difficult, depending on size and celebrity.
If we were shooting a celeb who was not sample size, we had a go-to list of luxury brands and retailers that offer plus sizes and would most likely agree to a loan. Not because we didn’t want these celebs to wear luxe designers, but because we knew they would refuse or say, “We only have sample size.” But then sometimes designers would say no because of celebrity, in which their response would be "unfortunately, we would like to pass..." or a more formal version: “she/he is not on brand for us,” the equivalent to what Cardi’s stylist meant by her not being a designer’s “typical muse.”
Personally, when we decoded this response it meant one of three things:
Only one of these explanations could have a positive meaning, and that’s number three. Yes, I believe brands should have an aesthetic and target a specific consumer — after all, that’s what differentiates one from another. So, for example, because designer Philipp Plein’s aesthetic is extremely flashy and gaudy, we can see why someone like Kerry Washington wouldn’t be on brand for his designs. But, if a designer’s idea of aesthetic is blurred with a celeb’s culture, ethnicity, race or social economic status, then scratch that. And honestly, I believe that is the case at times.
As for the other two, they just aren’t acceptable explanations for why some can’t be dressed in luxury brands. Being “big” is the biggest irony here. A celeb can’t be too big (we prefer BBW) because there are no samples available in sizes past a 4, yet a celeb has to be “big” or known enough in their talents.
Moral of the rant at hand is there’s still so much to achieve in fashion. Being on brand should only mean one thing (if any) and that’s purely aesthetic, as described above. Secondly, although efforts are constantly being made to diversify the industry, size still matters. Designers and brands must start including a size range in samples. Everyone is not a size 0-4. Thirdly, no one is born a star (contrary to what some may believe). Everyone has to start from somewhere, and the beginning is always the roughest part because of the hustle. Designers and brands must be willing to step outside of their comfort zone and take risks to give up-and-coming talents a chance. Or else it's a missed opportunity in the future when the same celeb stylist that a brand told "no" initially, is reciprocating that same "no" when their client has made it to the top.
"The power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that's inside all of us," were Beyoncé's closing words and message to designers at the 2016 CFDAs. I couldn't have said it better, so I am reiterating it here. This is a constant struggle for the fashion industry and a great reminder that there is still room for improvement.
So the next time luxury designers consider denying the Beyoncés and Cardis in their beginner stages, remember Queen Bey’s words, because they’ll remember your "no" when they get to the top.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIDAL)(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)