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August 29, 2010

Celebrity ‘design’: when will it be over?

So Meg Matthews has a wallpaper and scarf range on sale at Liberty (click the link to see a short video of her introducing it). I have nothing against Meg per se, but her getting a showcase at one of London’s finest department stores irks me on so many levels. 1/ By dint of celebrity-by-association, she gets a break where many other talented/trained designers do not. 2/ I assume department stores of such great repute choose to commission celebrity ranges because they believe they will sell. “Meg Matthews’ iconic wallpaper prints are like works of art”, trills the Liberty website. I think not. 3/ Who are these feverish consumers that want to buy into the Meg Matthews idyll of pink snakeskin, pineapples and skulls? Who! And do they really shop at Liberty? In short, something she does in her own home gets photographed and the next thing you know she’s calling herself an “interior dresser”. Now if she wanted to set up her own boutique selling custom knick-knacks and zany print, re-upholstered vintage furniture, then so be it, and I’d pass absolutely no comment. My issue is with the mainstream retail buyers who endorse this stuff with their patronage. Personally, I don’t think this will do Liberty any favours whatsoever.

I felt the same way when Habitat, back in 2004, launched their VIP (Very Important Product) range with offerings from Sharleen Spiteri (CD rack), Ewan McGregor (director’s chair) and even Linford Christie (a wooden shoe box)! Again, I have nothing against the individuals, all supremely proficient in their specialist fields, it’s just that design aint it! And when there are some of the best designers and design schools in the world, right here in London, all aching to add something to the world, I just don’t understand why key retailers persist in treading the celebrity route. It’s tired. It’s lazy. And it’s time it was over.

You can’t blame it on the consumer either. People can only buy what’s presented to them. And I don’t recall any public petitions imploring Meg, Linford et al to give up their day jobs and turn interior decorator.

However, in the same Habitat VIP range there was a shoe-horn by Manolo Blahnik; a heavyweight piece cum sculpture that recalled one of his whimsical sketches. It was arguably more functional as a door-stop but it ended up being a best-seller which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Why? Because Manolo “designs” for a living, albeit in a different medium, but he simply extended his language to create an interior object that bore his unmistakable, and globally-appreciated, creative signature. It works because it’s one degree of separation from his day job, same instinct, different application.

By this rationale, I concede that interesting results can be produced when fashion designers cross the track into interiors, Matthew Williamson’s wallpaper ranges for Osborne & Little are a great example. Likewise chefs collaborating on kitchenwares — it makes sense; they have appropriate expertise to bring to the table; but a singer, actor or athlete “designing” for my home? No thank you.

Sadly this trend sees no sign of abating. There’s Kylie bedlinen up for grabs (think sateen, sequins and diamante) even Beyoncé’s mum is doing sheets! It just doesn’t make sense. I think Adele is amazing, but I want to listen to her, not lie on her linens.



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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.