If I were to explain the story of Hollywood and luxury, I would tell you the story of Cinderella. A fantastical figure visits a poor girl and bequeaths finer things in life — glass slippers, a beautiful ethereal blue dress, a shimmery golden hair band and a chance to go the Ball and fall in love with the prince. Life-transforming fairy tales have been Hollywood’s forte ever since Lumiere Brothers put together a cinematographe in 1907.
The concept of a ‘star’ was taking shape in Hollywood since. Back in 1907, a Canadian-American stage performer and film actress disappeared. The public at large wondered where the “Biograph Girl,” the leading lady of silent films by the Biograph Company was. Florence Lawrence was the first movie star whose name was publicly revealed. She along with yesteryear stars such as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and Irene Castle were inspiring women with their radical sartorial choices, and, of course, make-up, which was until then looked down upon.
A century later, Hollywood continues to influence all parts of our life — how we look, how we live, how we travel, and what we eat. The brands even back in 1923 were sharp about movie associations. Legendary shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo provided sandals for the Ten Commandments (1956), and couture designer Paul Poiret designed Sarah Bernhardt’s clothes in the French movie Les Amours de la Reine Élisabeth (1912).
By the time Gone with the Wind came in 1939, the ultimate bridal look was defined for decades. Some claim that Christian Dior’s New Look, a fashion collection revealed in 1950, was influenced by the film. In 1930, the Movie Merchandising Bureau was formed, and Macy’s too got a Cinema Shop. Film promotions included a display of clothes, accessories and themed goods from the movie at different retail outlets. A case in point is the film Queen Christina (1933) that promoted “hostess gowns” and Swedish flatware.
As much as brands found a medium to showcase opulent lifestyles through rich narratives Hollywood was busy weaving; movie actors too relied on the finest luxury products to give their god-like status authenticity. The 50s icons like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot are identified by their style sensibilities for a reason. Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder to Taylor’s Bulgari Serpenti watches, and Kelly’s Hermes bag, with these stars, these luxury products too have attained cult status.
Designers too identified the visibility Hollywood films offered to their designs. Hubert de Givenchy for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Ralph Lauren for The Great Gatsby (1974), Annie Hall (1977), Giorgio Armani for American Gigolo (1980), Nino Cerrutti for Wall Street (1988) have gone down in history as great ventures of these iconic fashion designers.
However, to be steeped in a world of luxury, you had to watch a James Bond film. Right from the hotels to cars, suits, poker sets, and even toiletries, if one ever thought of catering to the crème de la crème of the society, one would go back to a Bond film to produce something truly cutting edge. With films influencing reality and reality influencing films, Hollywood and luxury are like a hall of mirrors. No wonder then, movie stars have been incredibly popular as endorsers since the ’30s. Numerous studies have shown why Hollywood is considered the mecca of influence (this is the pre-Instagram days). In 2012, a Harvard Business School study established that a celebrity endorsement generates four per cent more sales, on an average. The next year, the Contemporary Ideas and Research in Marketing book found out that 85 per cent people feel more confident about a brand when a celebrity endorses it.
Straight out advertisements, product placements in films, to celebrities coming in support of the brands at PR events and announcing their attachment on social media, stars are now carefully chosen. Besides, their career graphs, brands assess celebrities based on their audience, credibility, global appeal, personality and constancy. If the connection is right, some even go on to name products after them such as Paul Newman and James Cameron Rolex watches.
Recently, the Hollywood Reporter showed that even a $20 million paycheck is not enough for many Hollywood celebrities, which is why they are cashing in on their red-carpet appearances during the award season. It entirely depends if the star earns a Golden Globe, BAFTA or Oscar nomination in the first place.
The article goes on to quote stylist Cristina Ehrlich, who dresses nominees Laura Dern, Yvonne Strahovski and Penelope Cruz for the Globes, who says, “The secret is out: Everybody knows that many actresses are making more money on their endorsements than on being an actor.” If an A-lister wears a certain designer gown or jewellery, they can earn anywhere from a $50,000 to $200,000 for a single red-carpet appearance.
There is a flip side to such an entrenched association. The New York Times once reported that Christian Dior had to withdraw ads in China that featured the actress Sharon Stone. It was because of her ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ moment as she said that China’s devastating earthquakes that killed tens of thousands of people were karma for China’s policies towards Tibet.