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As a fashion reporter, my inbox regularly fills with subject lines like “J.W. Anderson Autumn/Winter 2017 Collection,” “Rachel Comey: Launching Unisex Capsule Collection,” and “Pierre Hardy Fall/Winter 2017 Men’s Collection Look Book.”
So when I got an email on Monday morning alerting me that “Lady Gaga Launches Lookbook for 2017 Merchandise Capsule Collection,” I almost glossed over it, because it looked like every other message I’d gotten over the weekend and because I was only a quarter of the way through my coffee.
As anyone who’s half-awake might have deduced, the email was supposedly about music merch, not a fashion line. Except, as Nicola Fumo articulated on Racked last June, artists like Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Rihanna are increasingly treating the clothing they sell, a.k.a. “merch,” like a fashion business. From pop-up stores to retailer partnerships and limited-edition products, they’re borrowing fashion brands’ marketing moves to whip fans into a shopping frenzy.
That includes lookbooks, which designers traditionally use to distribute images of their new collections. With Lady Gaga’s lookbook, the trend seems clear: Merch is officially just fashion now, seasonality and industry buzzwords (“capsule,” “collection”) included.
The lookbook’s styling mixes $40 and $60 Lady Gaga T-shirts with arty, challenging ruffled skirts and asymmetrical jackets. Cut-and-pasted zine-style behind or on top of tree branches, the models may as well be starring in a Nylon or Dazed editorial. Or possibly a beauty shoot; there’s some excellent canary yellow eyeshadow in there.
The lookbook was spearheaded by Bravado, the Universal Music Group-owned merch company that works with Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber and has been a key player in the fashionification of merch. Apparently, this marks a shift in how Bravado views its business.
The company’s official statement on the latest Lady Gaga drop (available now) is this: “While Bravado has done lookbooks in the past, this look book represents the company's shift from a traditional merchandising company to becoming more of a creative and brand management partner to their artists.”
Bravado, which explicitly describes the portfolio as an “elevated high fashion lookbook,” didn’t immediately get back to Racked’s request for comment on what, exactly, it means to move into “creative and brand management.”
And you have to wonder how a culture of higher concept merch will interplay with celebrities’ dedicated clothing brands, like West’s Yeezy or Beyoncé’s Ivy Park.
As merch gets more fashion, though, fashion seems to be getting more merch. As Racked’s Laura Gurfein pointed out to me, Alexander Wang's recent "No After Party" capsule collection seemed to draw inspiration from West's The Life of Pablo merch drop. (The range, part of a larger “see now, buy now” trend among brands that show at Fashion week, Was released immediately after his runway show.) Long- and short-sleeved tees priced at $95 simply had the words “No After Party” written on them in triplicate. A pair of denim shorts printed with the same distinctly recalled Kanye’s Pablo denim jacket.
Relatively low-cost and low-lift from a design perspective, Alexander Wang superfans could snap them up in the momentary excitement of the runway show. Just like album merch at a Kanye West pop-up shop.