Celebrities and Department Stores: A Love Story

Jennifer Lopez Kohls

Over the past few years, the story has been “Celebrities Sell Product.” Now, that story has evolved into “Celebrities Sell Product, In Exclusive Lines.” Department stores and celebs are forming a symbiotic relationship, in which both stand to see substantial gain by leveraging the star’s brand with the department store’s accessibility — with a little “one-of-a-kind” thrown in.

Here’s how it works: A star will launch a product line, but then cut a deal to offer it exclusively at a particular store — resulting in the Miley Cyrus line at Wal-Mart, the Lauren Conrad or  JLo line at Kohl’s, Rachel Bilson’s dinnerware at Macy’s, or the eponymous Kardashian collection at Sears, just to name a few.

The New York Times reports:

In an effort to stave off rounds of price-slashing with competitors over the same brands, stores are increasingly relying on merchandise that can be found nowhere else. Retailers can mark these exclusive lines down at their own pace, with a far more profitable outcome than with a national brand.

Though such lines have existed for years, the recession made them more prevalent as the designers became willing to cut exclusive deals rather than risk being cut from store floors altogether.

This trend marks a stark shift from the traditional idea of a department store, which carries, well, basically the same things as every other department store of its kind. Differentiation and individuality have become key selling points, be it for the Martha Stewart paint line offered only at Home Depot or a “metal-heeled Louboutin” sold exclusively at Neiman Marcus.

Granted, leveraging this much on a single celebrity has its risks — think the Miley Cyrus scandals of late — and the quick rise and fall of many celebs means that plenty of these lines won’t have much longevity. But at the moment, when department stores are struggling against the unstoppable force of e-commerce and a slow economic recovery, every starlet counts.