The curious case of brands refusing to dress celebrities

Dressing up public figures is a rather sticky idea

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may have aimed for an everyman image when he wore a pair of Adidas Samba sneakers in an interview to promote his tax policies. But no one saw the ridicule coming from the irreverent British public. The widely popular shoe on their widely unpopular PM has caused fans of the Samba to troll him openly.

The country’s GQ magazine ran an article with a headline that read, “Can Rishi Sunak leave the Adidas Samba alone, please?” The Daily Mail said: “Rishi Sunak roasted after wearing Adidas Sambas to ‘try and appear normal’.” Journalist Ed Cummings tweeted: “Thinking of the Adidas Samba community in this difficult time.” Another troll suggested it was a gift from Nike to sabotage the competition.

The Sambas—a typically slim, gum-sole shoe with Adidas’ trademark three stripes—are currently London’s most popular shoe. It’s been called the shoe of the year or of the season, depending on who you are reading.

British PM Rishi Sunak in a pair of Adidas Samba sneakers | Instagram@rishisunakmp British PM Rishi Sunak in a pair of Adidas Samba sneakers | Instagram@rishisunakmp

If that’s not bad enough, Sunak has taken it on the chin and apologised for wearing the seriously cool sneaker and ruining the credibility for everyone.

Even though it appears that every brand is chasing a celebrity, any celebrity, to wear their clothes, dressing up public figures is a rather sticky idea. Primarily because the celebrity needs to be someone whose image matters too. Victoria Beckham, in her WAG days, showed up in LA in 2007 wearing a fuchsia Roland Mouret dress, a personal purchase. When the designer learned of this, he is rumoured to have famously said: “Get her out of my dress”. This was, of course, years before Victoria would launch her own label (amid criticism of copying Mouret’s designs). And much before the Beckhams became front-row gold for designers in the US and across Europe.

Former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld said no designers wanted to touch Kim Kardashian because of her “cheesy reality person” background. Kardashian, now a billionaire entrepreneur and still a reality-star, is muse to Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana, plus is now the name that can launch a thousand brands.

Her former husband Kanye West is seeing a reversal of fortune. After posting anti-Semitic comments and losing all his brand endorsements (including his blockbuster collaboration with Adidas), West is the superstar all labels must absolutely avoid in order to survive. Last October he appeared at his Yeezy Paris Fashion Week show wearing a T-shirt with the phrase ‘White Lives Matter’ on its back. The rapper faced criticism from fans as well as other celebrities for echoing the new Nazi and white supremacist statements.

Plus-size celebrities such as Ashley Graham, Rebel Wilson, Rachel Bloom and others say they often had to buy their own dresses to wear at red-carpet events. Several brands don’t make dresses in larger sizes, they stated.

Beyonce famously accepted her CFDA Fashion Icon award in 2016 saying high-end labels refused to dress her band Destiny’s Child early on in their careers because they “didn’t really want to dress four Black, country, curvy girls”.

Often designers only want to dress A-list celebrities. Stylists in Mumbai often tell me how they struggle to source clothes for actors who are not stars as yet. They end up sourcing from younger, lesser known labels, where both often lose out on coverage opportunities.

I remember, not too many years ago, a pretty petite actress was walking the runway or shooting campaigns for as many as six fashion labels in one year. The next two years, no designer would touch her.

On the other hand, when brands once spoke about their ‘discerning’ clientele, all their big bucks come from the arrivistes.