She Can Act and Sing, but Can She Sew?

From posh Saks Fifth Avenue to budget-conscious Steve & Barry's, shoppers can now find everything from yoga wear to lingerie designed by celebrities. And there's more to come.

This month, Spice Girl Melanie Brown unveiled a clothing line inspired by leopard prints, while Heidi Montag of MTV's "The Hills" launched a collection of junior apparel called Heidiwood.

In the summer, teens can expect to see singer Avril Lavigne's "rock glam" style at the local mall in time for back-to-school shopping and a beachwear line from actor Matthew McConaughey.

Celebrities and the fashion industry have long shared a symbiotic relationship. After Grace Kelly was photographed trying to hide her pregnancy with a Hermés bag in 1956, demand for the crocodile handbag soared. Today, lesser-known designers have seen their sales spike when stars have been snapped in their designs, everywhere from the Oscar red carpet to casual Starbucks runs.

Buoyed by their influence and the success of brands headlined by famous names like Gwen Stefani and Sean "Diddy" Combs, a growing number of celebrities have been crossing over to claim the "fashion designer" title in recent years.

Retailer Macy's, which carries merchandise from the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Donald Trump, has centered its current advertising campaign on these Hollywood designers by featuring Jessica Simpson and Combs in its television ads alongside established names like Tommy Hilfiger and Kenneth Cole.

Designer Yeohlee Teng, who studied at Parsons before establishing her own successful design house in 1981, welcomes the trend if it heightens the awareness of fashion and "makes available a lot of different ideas at many different price points" for consumers.

But the expanding list of celebrity designers has some thinking that when it comes to landing a label deal, a star pedigree may be more valuable than a degree from Parsons.

Joanna Mastroianni, a New York-based designer who has dressed stars like Eva Longoria and Beyoncé, is concerned about the increased attention and resources going to famous faces.

"There are a lot of hardworking people in our industry, but dollars from the stores, store space, press and everything else does not necessarily go in that direction," said Mastroianni. "And there's something a little disappointing about that."

Both Mastroianni and June Weir-Baron, a former editor at Vogue and Women's Wear Daily, agree that in this celebrity-obsessed culture, it is easier for retailers to sell a brand with built-in name recognition and publicity than to gamble on a talented unknown.

Some of the distinguished brands are also not immune to the shift.

"It doesn't make it any easier when you see good houses like Dana Buchman and Ellen Tracy having a really hard time getting space in stores. And on the other hand, you have people who have never even been in a studio or workroom doing just fine," said Weir-Baron, who now teaches at Parsons and New York University.

Mastroianni, who presented her collection at the 2008 Fall New York Fashion Week, likened the trend to a designer deciding to record an album by hiring the best resources available and labeling herself a singer.

"There is something very misleading about it when we start to believe that these [celebrity] brands are designers. They're not designers, they're brands that are being created. There is a difference."

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