By Alice Baghdjian
LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Pop singer Rihanna launched her first clothing line with British high-street retailer River Island on Saturday, adding A-list glitz to the British leg of the international fashion circuit.
The fashion credentials of the British high street have flourished in recent years as more household clothing brands inch onto the catwalks of major fashion centres.
Models strutted in a line through a tiered catwalk of five square compartments at Rihanna’s show, pausing in each to showcase midriff-bearing mesh tops and yellow shift dresses.
Denim tops teamed with slouchy jeans and monochrome dresses with thigh-high slits mirrored the Barbados-born singer’s dressed-down but raunchy style.
“I loved it - it’s so Rihanna, it’s got Rihanna’s name all over it,” Los Angeles model Tolula Adeyemi said in the crowd.
Rihanna, a chart-topping R&B star, has already made a foray into fashion, teaming up with Armani Jeans in 2011.
With Britain facing the prospect of a triple-dip recession, many retailers have been forced to grapple for consumers facing income squeezes. The start of 2013 has seen a number of retail casualties, such as the demise of music retailer HMV.
But fashion industry and marketing experts warn A-list credentials are not always a sure-fire strategy for long-term brand success, and the haute-couture setting of the launch could even alienate Rihanna’s target mass-market high-street audience.
Mary Ellen Muckerman, head of strategy at international brand consultancy Wolff Olins, said it was not hard for celebrities to create buzz.
“The celebrity has a built-in network to get word out and raise the profile of the collaboration very quickly, but what collaborations do struggle with is probably sustainability - how can this not just be 15 minutes of fame,” Muckerman said.
The boyish designs are Rihanna’s first with River Island, a clothing chain that traces its history on Britain’s high streets back more than 60 years and is known for its youthful clientele.
The crowd-drawing clothing line between British retailer Topshop and supermodel Kate Moss in 2007 is widely credited with initiating the burst of celebrity lines onto Britain’s high street, paving the way for Madonna and Kylie Minogue.
“Celebrity dressing drives a large part of the industry. If celebrities are wearing it, there is confidence that you and I will want to wear those clothes as well,” said Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council.
British value chain New Look said it attributed sales of just under 3 million pounds ($4.66 million) to its Kelly Brook line in 2012. The retailer reported group sales from its 1,100 international stores at 710.5 million pounds ($1.10 billion) for the first half of 2012.
Clothing retailer N Brown said its line with former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff accounted for around 5 percent of sales for menswear brand Jacamo and had spurred a ripple effect.
“The wider halo effect is what I see as being the real benefit of using a celebrity,” said Paul Kendrick, marketing director at N Brown.
London Fashion Week, best known for cutting-edge design, is also hosting upmarket retailer Whistles, as chains increasingly share the runway schedule with up-and-coming designers such as Mary Katrantzou and Holly Fulton.
British Vogue Editor Alexandra Shulman said in the British press this week she viewed the high-street foray into fashion as positive, but warned there was a saturation point.
Wendy Hein, a lecturer in marketing at Birkbeck College, said there was a mismatch between London’s high-fashion catwalks and the high-street label.
“River Island is very much a high-street retail brand and wouldn’t have that much of a connection to high fashion and couture,” Hein said. “I think considering this mix, there’s a danger here in terms of how this is being presented to high-fashion audiences and markets.” ($1 = 0.6442 British pounds) (Additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang and Katharina Urban-Oberberg, Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Cooney)