There was a survey in yesterday’s Metro (yes, that’s the Mirror, but I couldn’t find the Metro one) saying that British women spend over £4bn a year trying to look like celebrities. That’s the GDP of an impoverished African country, spent on hair extensions, manicures, fake tans and ridiculous clothes. Apparently women want to look like Sienna Miller. The only things I know about Sienna Miller are that she must be posh, with a name like that, and that she’s shagging Jude Law. Beyond that, I have no idea who she is or what she does. She looks rather boring – I certainly wouldn’t spend £400 on having my hair done like hers.
Back in the mists of time, I remember many short-lived playground fads, started by the cool kids and slavishly followed by everyone else. For a while, everyone was obsessed with Trillions, little tiny sweets that my mother wouldn’t let me have as they were a choking hazard. A few months later, all the cool girls had hideously realistic baby dolls that they would nurse at breaktime. My Little Ponies followed, and we would sit together in little knots, combing their spun plastic hair. Lo-Lo balls, a device consisting of a waisted beach ball with a circular platform on which you stood and bounced, were popular for a while and the cause of many lost teeth. Needless to say, my mother wouldn’t let me have one of those either. When I taught kids myself, Pokemon cards were the thing to have. Genuine distress would be caused if Butterfree went missing.
You may have noticed a proliferation of nail bars and beauty salons in the last couple of years. The grooming business is booming as the celebrity press (OK, Hello, Heat et al) have gradually revealed the secrets of the stars. We discovered that the Hollywood red carpet dresses were held together with double sided sticky tape. We found out that the lustrous golden hair proudly tossed by that singer was in fact someone else’s hair, glued on to her own at vast expense. We realised that the all-year tan that gave that soap star her special glow was in fact fake tan – a chemical sprayed onto the skin that reacts with sweat to make an orangey dye. The cover star of a men’s magazine doesn’t in fact own the fantastically toned thighs she displays. Recently we’ve all learned that Gwyneth Paltrow hasn’t spent the weeks since giving birth doing enthusiastic press-ups and in fact simply wore two pairs of highly elasticated control knickers to hold it all in.
I’m sure the initial intention was for us to mock the stars. Could we still admire them as remote goddesses when it was revealed that the proud cleavage displayed in that complicated dress was in fact an artful construction of blusher, silicon pouches and sticky tape? The celebrity press pulled back the curtain and showed the little man operating all the levers and pulleys.
But instead of realising that celebrity women are, in fact, just like everyone else and can be ignored rather than worshipped, it appears that ordinary women used this information to try and be even more like their heroines. Posh Spice gets her nails done twice a week – off they all go to the salon. Christina Aguliera has an airbrush tan – they obediently schelp off and pay £50 to stand in paper knickers whilst a complete stranger sprays them with some weird smelling stuff that makes them orange. The accessibility makes one closer to the celebrity one aspires to be. You may not have their beauty or their talent, but you can use St Tropez too. Pass me the Lo-Lo ball and Pokemon cards.
I first became aware of all this during the Juicy Couture phase about a year ago. It seemed, for a while, that every celebrity woman was papped (having your photo taken by the paparazzi) wearing a sort of velour leisure suit with a hooded jacket and hipster trousers, displaying the obligatory two inches of firm belly. These outfits cost around £100-£150 and whilst not cheap, were certainly in reach of anyone with a credit card. Pretty soon I saw them everywhere: on school run mums in their Challenger Tanks, sorry, 4x4s, on the orange women on Mill Hill Broadway, down the pub… For a while I toyed with the idea of getting one myself. I tried one on and fortunately, being one of the Little People, looked utterly ridiculous, lost in folds and swathes of burgundy velour that cascaded over my wrists and feet.
What happened then is quite interesting, if you’re still following all this. Juicy Couture, the tiny American design house that started the trend, was doing very well out of the tracksuits but losing their celebrity clientele. Madonna and Kate Winslet don’t want to look like the woman on the Edgware omnibus. Without their endorsement, Juicy would soon fade, so they extended their range. Most designers start a “diffusion” range, making their brand accessible to normal people. Juicy couldn’t do that – they needed to appeal to the very rich. So they re-made their signature outfit in cashmere and charged £500 for it, and began making very pricy baby clothes. All they then had to do is give a few outfits away, make sure they were seen on the right person, and bingo. Ordinary women would still buy the velour version, still imbued with the celebrity cachet. Juicy turned the designer diffusion concept on its head.
It’s fantastically cheap advertising for manufacturers and retailers – send Sienna Miller your dress, she wears it, your name is mentioned, the cash rolls in. Sometimes Ms Miller will get to keep the stuff – depending on how much it cost – sometimes she’ll have to give it back. There was a green Chloe dress that was on the front cover of a lot of magazines over the summer and worn by Kylie Minogue at a premiere – I can almost guarantee that it was the same one. Tesco produced a copy that sold out in days, and I’m pretty sure Chloe sold out of the real version too.
Now that we have a surfeit of famous people thanks to soap operas and reality TV, a whole industry has sprung up to exploit the resource. PR companies can use ex-Big Brother contestants as mobile billboards, one step up from adorning Formula 1 drivers’ jumpsuits in dozens of company logos. Soap actresses can take time out from drunkenly falling out of cars to claim they use a particular shampoo or lipstick in return for some free stuff. Stylists on photo shoots in need of something to dress their celebrity in can phone a clothing company who’ll courier round some stuff they’re having trouble shifting, in return for a namecheck.
This self-perpetuating industry will only end either when the burden of debt becomes too great for UK women or when they finally realise that what looks good on Madonna probably won’t look good on them. Yes, they exploit a lot of tricks to make themselves look thin, but they can also afford personal trainers and private chefs to make them genuinely thin. Yes, you can buy the dress Catherine Zeta Jones wore, but you still won’t have her money or her lifestyle, nor will you be in the situation where a designer will design a dress specifically for you. You can use Christina Aguliera’s fake tan, but you probably won’t be able to sing like her.
I think modern British women need to consider what it is about famous people they really admire. If it’s simply the products they use and the clothes they wear, then surely the whole thing is pointless. Newly financially independent, they are being milked for their cash and don’t seem any happier for it.