Lifestyles From the Rich and Famous

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\"CelebrityAh, Robin Leach, you won’t believe what they’re doing now.

Back in the heyday of your incredibly ridiculous – and every bit as addictive – breakthrough TV series, you gave us a measured and breathless peek into how the superstars of the entertainment world actually lived. OK, so maybe it wasn’t so actual, but that wasn’t the point: aspirational voyeurism was.

Well, now we don’t need Robin (Leach, not Lewis) to enlighten us. The rich and famous are doing it themselves…and trying to make a few bucks in the process.

Over the past year or three, a whole slew of TV, movie and ersatz celebrities have launched businesses selling us the products they themselves actually use…once again with the proviso that this is much more about perception than reality.

Ellen DeGeneres is the latest to go this route with the introduction of her ED program earlier this summer, but she joins an ever-growing list that now includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Alba and Blake Lively to name just a few. Most of these launches are online, though there have been pop-up shops and DeGeneres is about to announce a secondary line that will be wholesaled to other retailers.

And while apparel, health and beauty and the oddball food item can be found in many of these programs, many are centered around home products. Paltrow’s Goop business – which grew out of her seemingly endless need to share way too much personal information about her life – includes home products ranging from traditional throws and candles to an automatic nut milk maker. ED has an extensive home offering, including textiles, tabletop and inordinate number of items with horse and animals themes. (Perhaps DeGeneres got the bug when she was the advertising spokesperson for about 10 minutes during the initial launch of Ron Johnson’s ill-fated JCP venture.)

What’s common throughout all of these programs is that these are not licensed products in the traditional sense of celebrities who have largely just lent their names…and collected their royalty checks. From Shirley Temple to Mary Martin to George Foreman, these were products and programs that used name recognition rather than an emotional connection to go to market. These new collections are supposedly curated and, dare we say, blessed by the celebrities themselves…though some of us may have trouble conjuring up the image of Gwyneth making her own nut juice.

They all have one more thing in common: they are the direct spiritual descendents of Martha Stewart. Miss Martha may be in the declining years of her popularity but make no mistake about it, she created this model and to date has done it better than anybody else ever has. And don\’t count her out of this game yet either. With the pending sale of her company to an intellectual property marketing firm, Martha is going to a direct merchandising and licensing model where she knows the tricks of the trade very well. Her Macy\’s home program — right now the breadwinner for the brand — seems to have recovered from any Penney-induced fallout and Terry Lundgren may even renew the program when it expires next year, something that seemed highly unlikely last year. She ain\’t the Grand Duchess Diva of Home for nothing.

But this new generation of rich and famous going into business for themselves represents a fresh twist on an enduring strategy. It’s why instead of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, now it’s much more likely to be almond milk wishes and kale dreams.

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