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Can Ciara Reinvent Herself Through Fashion?

On stage at the 2015 ESPY Awards. Photo: Getty
On stage at the 2015 ESPY Awards. Photo: Getty

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Ciara Princess Harris, who goes simply by her striking first name, shimmied her way into pop culture consciousness way back in 2004 with her single "Goodies." She was 19 years old at the time, and the track—"I bet you want the goodies, bet you thought about it"—helped her debut record go triple platinum; an achievement unheard of in music’s current climate. The song's corresponding video, which features no-longer-relevant rapper Petey Pablo, shows her dressed in a time capsule of early aughts essentials: a black unitard with a navel-grazing deep V, hoop earrings the size of fists, and a crop top so short that her bright blue bra peeks out from underneath.

Subsequent sing-along jams like "1, 2 Step" and "Oh" followed, and her sophomore album, 2006's Ciara: The Revolution, went certified platinum. The singer's album sales have consistently sloped downward since, with each release posting smaller numbers than the last. Her sixth studio album, Jackie, dropped in May of this year and was the worst-performing yet. Debuting at number 17 on the Billboard 200, it sold a meager 19,900 units in its first week, a significant drop from 2013's Ciara, which opened at number two and sold 59,000 units.

In spite of her floundering music career, Ciara's style star is rising. Fashion advertising deals and strategic, well-styled red carpet appearances could be her ticket back to cultural relevancy.

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Roberto Cavalli advertisement, fall/winter 2015-16

Ciara launched her career as a teen model, and she's risen to fashion industry mainstay. Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci counts her as a muse, regularly seating her front row at his shows and loaning her straight-from-the-runway pieces before anyone else (including a tunic and pair of sneakers from his spring 2013 menswear collection). She also popped up recently in front row at Valentino and Lanvin, and posed for the May 2014 issue of W. Longtime Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani was tapped to creative direct the cover of Jackie. Still, she considers herself a fashion outsider, telling Style.com, "I had always admired fashion, but more so from afar."

The 29-year-old's most recent fashion accomplishments are a pair of major gigs with powerful European brands. The first is with Roberto Cavalli, which announced in June that the singer will front its fall 2015 ads. Her images are the first under new creative director Peter Dundas and speak to the house's taste for female musicians, with recent campaigns fronted by Nicki Minaj and Rita Ora. The high-end Cavalli job nicely compliments Ciara's new role as US ambassador for British fast-fashion behemoth Topshop. In contrast to ubiquitous models like Cara Delevingne or Kendall Jenner, celebrities rarely score double ad campaigns in one season. This—coupled with the fact that she's managed to straddle both the luxury market with Cavalli and mass-appeal with Topshop—makes her fashion reign even more noteworthy.

There’s no shortage of talented and interesting musical starlets to serve as fashion muses in 2015. Up-and-comers like Banks, Zoe Kravitz, and Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cummings have already been christened fashion darlings from labels like Coach and Saint Laurent. On the other side of the spectrum, superstars like Rihanna and Katy Perry are bagging major campaigns (Dior and Moschino, respectively). Ciara falls between in a strange middle ground: sure, she's a "Grammy award-winning artist," but that was nearly a decade years ago... and it was for a music video.

At the 2015 BET Awards. Photo: Getty

To further bolster her image, Ciara’s been selectively hitting the red carpet circuit arm-in-arm with her new boyfriend, Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. They made their debut as a couple at April's White House State Dinner (she wore a dress by LA designer Walter Mendez), and have since appeared on the red carpet for events like the ESPY and BET Awards (in Wes Gordon both times). The formula: events that are culturally relevant but not fashion-centric, stunner of a dress by a relatively indie designer, and the lack of attendance by best dressed list shoe-ins like Rihanna or Beyonce.

The ad campaigns and the appearances have been timed to the release of her album and her first tour in six years. The internet age requires a 360-degree star, one who’s adept at music, fashion, and social media. Ciara's team understands this, and her efforts are clearly paying off — in just two weeks, the video for her single "Dance Like We’re Making Love" has racked up more than 15 million views on Vevo.

As she prophetically croons in the track "Stuck on You," off Jackie: "Margiela, Pucci, Givenchy/All of that fly look good on me/Vaccarello, Jordan, Cavalli/Wanna know what’s next? Just wait on me." With New York Fashion Week just a month away, we definitely won’t have to wait long to find out.

Editor: Nicola Fumo