Around seven years ago when I joined LaineyGossip.com, the plan was that that I would focus on celebrity lifestyle brands because I have a background in that kind of media. I have occasionally written about other things (like TV) but I still skew towards lifestyle because it’s a massive industry. At the time, Goop (goop? We still don’t know for sure!) was still a newsletter with a few links to products. Today it’s a full-blown, standalone brand. We’ve seen the rise and fall of Preserve (Blake Lively’s Etsy-esque venture) and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Co. stagnate after a shaky attempt at acquisition, while Jessica Simpson has dominated the licensing market – I could go on.
Celebrity lifestyle has spread its wings and now it’s book clubs (Emma Roberts and Emma Watson) to full service lines like Draper James (Reese Witherspoon) and ED by Ellen. There are collaborations, like Gabrielle Union and Eva Mendes for New York & Company and beauty (Fenty, the gold standard of that group), skin care, hair care, travel, home décor, lingerie, crafts, kitchenware, all of it mixed in with sponsored Instagram posts, and pulling from every area of our lives. (This doesn’t even touch on non-celeb lifestyle companies, which range from candles to succulents to at-home fitness apps.) There’s been the rise and crash of the #girlboss wave and the failures of corporate feminism, along with the criticism that branding womanhood doesn’t do anything good for women. There’s also been in influx of interest from VC investors (Goop alone has been on the receiving end of $85 million in funding.) which obfuscates that purpose of these “empowered” companies: can you be a friend to woman while putting them on a never-ending hamster wheel of “self-improvement” for profit?
Add to all that the fact that these brands cater to a certain demographic that is largely white, able-bodied, young, conventionally thin and with a disposable income. As Kathleen wrote for Refinery 29 in her piece “The Huge Need for a Wellness Industry Designer For & By Black Women, “Poet and activist Audre Lorde’s famous quote stares back at me often: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." This is a radical feminist statement for Black women. But Lorde’s words have been turned into a catchall phrase used by wealthy white wellness influencers.” (Read it in full here.)
Media is currently going through a lot of turmoil and reckoning with Black Lives Matter and was also shaken by #MeToo, but there hasn’t been a wave of change in the lifestyle realm. There are of course individual companies like The Wing (a women’s-only workspace with a lifestyle bent) or Away (the luggage brand of choice for Instagram) that are female-led and have seen a systemic shift, but because lifestyle isn’t concentrated to a city (like LA or NYC) or a small group of powerful people, it’s more difficult to take a bird’s eye view of the industry to see what’s really wrong and what needs to change.
What we do know is that, like most other industries, the pandemic is having a massive effect on the bottom line (people simply have less money to spend and there’s so much economic uncertainty). There’s also a lot less patience for social media self-promotion right now; it’s seen as a little tone-deaf and tacky. But consumerism is relenting and the beat goes on.
With that, can I interest you in a pair of vegan shoes by Casa Zeta-Jones? We should probably back up here: Catherine Zeta-Jones is the face and “curator” of Casa Zeta-Jones, a name so ridiculously succinct I can’t be mad at it. She has been selling pillows and bed skirts on QVC (I had to Google to make sure it’s actually her that presents – and it is!) She has had a home décor line for a while and is now, according to the Daily Mail, moving into lifestyle, starting with vegan shoes. Now it’s the Daily Mail, so I’d take it with a boulder of salt, but their story is bolstered by this Instagram image…
...as well as this incredibly lifestyle-ish quote: ‘Everything I have designed has truly been a passion project. I wanted to take this passion a step further and create a brand that’s beautiful and luxurious, while still being attainable.’
It touches on all the talking points we see in this market: passion, luxury, attainability. It’s the cliched lifestyle oxymoron: affordable luxury. We have heard this before, the celebrities taking pity on normies who want to dress like them.
Business Plan for Dummies says any new company should answer the key question: “What need are we addressing?” How do you think CZJ would answer that? One thing we know is she certainly doesn’t need the money. It’s not that her idea is so outrageous that it won’t work (it totally could), it just seems to be a random choice in a very crowded market. But maybe “need” doesn’t apply to lifestyle because it’s about want. (She’s also selling Welsh Love spoons, which I think is a lot more clever and creative and authentic to her than the shoes.)
One thing that the expanded line of Casa Zeta-Jones will have going for it (beyond her star power) is that she is 50 years old – there are not a lot of celebrity lifestyle brands that appeal to 50+ women and the price point isn’t outrageous, reportedly coming in around $65USD.
On it goes, yet another product line that is “curated” by a celebrity while four designers, two models, a lawyer, a production manager, and a representative from the licensee company sit in a room fretting over factory lead times and changing a heel from block to wedge. Oh, the glamour.
While we’re on the topic of lifestyle, a friend sent me the LA Times review for a new book called Self Care, “a blistering fictional takedown of VC feminism” written by Leigh Stein. I think it might be exactly the book I want to read right now and it’s in my library – who’s reading it with me?