The Kohl's collaboration may, indeed, be a smart move on Conrad's part. Analyst Wachs said that stars generally have more success when they partner with big retailers because retailers have the infrastructure necessary to develop and sell a line.
Of course, even joining forces with a retailer isn't foolproof -- as Parker's experience with now-bankrupt Steve & Barry's has shown -- but Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman said that for many celebs, flirting with the fashion business is worth the risk.
Bragman said that while there have been plenty of failed celebrity lines -- even before the recession struck -- those that do succeed can bring windfalls to their star backers. In 2007, for instance, rapper Jay-Z sold his Rocawear line for $204 million to the fashion company Iconix. The rapper kept a stake in Rocawear and continues to market the brand.
The ultimate celeb fashion success story may belong to former "Charlie's Angel" star Jaclyn Smith. She started her fashion line in 1985 and, nearly 25 years later, clothes bearing her name still line the racks at discount retailer K-Mart. More than 100 million women have purchased clothing or accessories from Smith's brand, according to her Web site.
"She targeted a mass audience, she was smart," Bragman said of Smith. "A celebrity doesn't guarantee success and they're not recession-proof but when you go into a store and there's hundreds of lines. It's a name you know."
When celeb designers don't find sartorial success, experts say there's still a light at the end of the tunnel, possibly from a paparazzi's flash bulb.
"It allows you to expand your brand and gets you known for something other than just acting, if that's your goal," Bragman said. "It's a chance for more attention and publicity."
How long that publicity lasts is another story.
"Celeb-backed lines are great for an instant flash of publicity. It's almost a guarantee of getting that blip on the public's radar," blogger Uehara said, "but staying there is the tricky part."