Celebrity lifestyles for sale It started with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop – now everyone from Zooey Desch
If you crave the advice of a woman just like you, except with bigger hair, newer jokes and far, far more money, then this is your time. Revel. Revel in the ever-multiplying number of celebrities who are now not just actors, not just writers, directors, models, producers, but also lifestyle brands. Walking in the perfumed footsteps of Gwyneth Paltrow – whose Goop website and newsletter provided such opportunities for gleeful despair as mugwort vaginal steaming and the famed “winter detox” (“Keep your socks on in the house”) – we now have Blake Lively and Reese Witherspoon, who have both launched lifestyle brands in the past year. And in the past month Lena Dunham and supermodel Karlie Kloss have joined them. The main thing they have in common? They need you.
Adopting a celebrity version of marching around the playground chanting: “Who wants to be in my gang?”, today’s stars aren’t content with creating their own lingerie line or perfume with top notes of “I’m getting to the age where Hollywood starts casting me as my boyfriend’s mother” – they want to wrestle back power one muesli recipe at a time. Where celebrities used to sell products, today they are the product. They are a walking advert for themselves – for the books they read, the superfoods they eat. They are a well-packaged bundle of values and advice. We trust them. If they say we’ll enjoy aerial yoga, or banana bread, or love itself, well… we’ll give it a try.
“Our relationship with celebrities used to be highly mediated and limited,” says Annie Auerbach of global brand agency Flamingo. “We had a narrow view of what they were, and what we saw of them was polished, perfected and ‘on brand’. Social media and citizen journalism blew that apart, and we saw a much messier, imperfect, unmediated version of celebrity.” The rise of the lifestyle brand then, is a way for the celebrity to take back control, “to use the wider lens of social media to ‘curate’ that messiness back into something on brand, seemingly much more informal and ‘real’ but often just as unattainable”.
Goop began as a newsletter in 2008, expanding slowly into an e-commerce platform where you can buy the products featured. A beauty line will launch in January. Mostly, though, it’s become everything we love to take the piss out of. While Paltrow was voted the “most hated celebrity in Hollywood” and the life she promotes slated as, among other things, “tone deaf”, Goop signed up a million subscribers. And despite appearing to struggle financially (in 2013 it had net liabilities of £540,086), it continues to make headlines – a recent newsletter literally taught readers how to yawn, while last week’s endorsed peeing in the shower to tone pelvic floor muscles – and Dunham credits it as inspiration for Lenny, her own platform, which launches in September.
“Lenny is an email newsletter where there’s no such thing as too much information,” explains Dunham. Newsletters, with their aggregated stories and lists (in this case, things that Lena likes – and if you like Lena, the thinking is, you’ll like what she likes) is the perfect media for now, as the weight of things to read online threatens to crush us. “Unrestrained by the implicit codes of women’s magazines,” Dunham continues, “Lenny is your oversharing internet friend who will yell at you about your finances, help you choose a bathing suit, lamp, president… and tell you what to do if you need an abortion.”
Klossy, Karlie Kloss’s new YouTube channel, has simpler aims – it will take you backstage at catwalk shows, introducing fans to the “normal” parts of her life. “I’ve spent the majority of my life in front of the camera, but not my camera,” Kloss says. “And that’s where this is different. I could not be more excited to share my story, and this adventure, with you.” And in turn we will share our addresses, desires and, yes, our bank details.
Celebrity lifestyle brands make money. After two years of trading, Jessica Alba’sThe Honest Company – “a trusted source for stylish, eco-friendly baby diapers” – was valued at $1bn. “That’s not to say that there aren’t secondary, more meaningful motivations,” says Rebecca Collins, marketing manager at RPM, “but either directly, via product placement and e-commerce operations, or indirectly – growing their reach – these lifestyle brands are commercial operations.”
Whether you’re a supermodel (Gisele), an actor (Alicia Silverstone, Kate Bosworth) or a rapper (Jay-Z ), to be a marketable celebrity you need more than nice teeth and talent. You need this carefully curated distillation of your elegant life and with it your own unique manifesto. Blake Lively’s Preserve promised to be: “Part magazine, part e-commerce hub, part raindrops on roses, part whiskers on kittens, part man, part machine, all cop.” Sure. And Reese Witherspoon’sDraper James (named after her grandparents but sounding like the kind of estate agent that would describe a garage as “bijou”) is a tribute to the Southern belle.
“We only get one life,” Witherspoon reminds us in an introductory video, links to her jewellery and dress shops hovering centimetres from her head, “so let’s make it pretty.” There is less to buy at Hello Giggles, Zooey Deschanel’s “positive online community for women”, a sort of merrily castrated Comment is Free (a recent post was titled “In defence of the selfie, an awesome act of feminism”), but the thing they all have in common is that when you click in, you enter a world. Whether that world is styled as a floral shopping centre, a breezy yoga retreat or a drunken poetry slam, it lives and dies on how its users relate to its founder. Its God. There are thousands of websites with similar kale recipes and links to silk pyjamas – what makes Goop stand out is that these kale recipes and pyjamas come with Gwyneth Paltrow’s kitemark of blonde, toned taste.
Last year Goop subscribers received an email, subject heading: “A note from GP”. Paltrow was personally informing a million of her closest friends that her marriage was ending. Where once her manager might have issued a press release, now she was talking directly to her fans. And in the process, with her description of the split as a “conscious uncoupling”, turning divorce into a lifestyle trend. The effect was that readers had this pang of empathy – they know her now, through her shared life, her Stella McCartney mini totes and hemp-seed milk recipes, and they feel for her.
Did this have a bearing on how they then responded to the way the story unfolded across the media? This is the less quantifiable benefit of the celebrity lifestyle brand: the emotional yank of feeling as if you’re part of a community, albeit one trying hard to sell you sunglasses. To be a fan today is to constantly be sold to, but also to constantly be questioning and scrutinising the celebrity’s choices. Fans are “polytheistic”, says Auerbach. “They have more choice and want to ‘follow’ a range of celebs who appeal to different parts of their personalities.” The aspirational foodie on Instagram, the interiors on Pinterest, the “sassy” motherhood blogger, the feminist tweeter.
“It’s less about individual stars,” Auerbach adds, “and more about constellations.”
Celebrity lifestyle brands let us in a little deeper than the basic magazine interview, or their 140-character tweets. As with Klossy, we’re invited behind the scenes. “And when coupled with the other celebs’ brands it’s like an aspirational pick and mix of the perfect life.” But as at a Woolworths’ pick ’n’ mix, linger too long and you’ll feel sort of sick.
Goop’s financial losses (while shocking when read alongside the price of the leggings it’s selling) aren’t unusual for a start-up. But they do act as a reminder that, as a business model, the celebrity lifestyle brand is unproven. “The game changer,” says James Herring of creative communications agency Taylor Herring, “will be when the likes of Instagram become seamlessly integrated into an e-commerce platform.” When, instead of drawing you into their separate worlds, their separate worlds will come to you.
Until then, though, the Goops will continue to multiply, these well-lit worlds of acai berries and politics, where there’s always something to read and always something to buy and always someone’s fabulous life to spy on. The only question is whether you’re feeling more Lena’s “abortion advice” or Gwyneth’s “vaginal steam”. The choice is yours.