June 5, 2023

Book Reveals Celebrity Product-Placement Ploys

Why have we seen a dozen paparazzi photos in recent weeks of celebrities wearing Current/Elliott’s leopard-print “ Stiletto” jeans?

Surely it’s not a coincidence that Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicky Hilton, Mandy Moore and Isla Fisher all have the same jeans. More likely, it’s that a publicist “seeded” them, meaning the jeans were gifts to famous fashion influencers.

Much more “seeding” took place last Sunday at the Emmy Awards, where recipients and presenters notably wear lent or gifted apparel and accessories. In fact, Evan Rachel Wood, wearing a stunning black gown by Elie Saab, bemoaned the fact that “I have to give it back; that’s the only unfortunate part.”

Seeding is just one of the machinations of celebrity dressing explained in Will Work for Shoes: The Business Behind Red Carpet Product Placement, a new book by former fashion publicist Susan J. Ashbrook.

Ashbrook, who lives in Los Angeles, helped pioneer the product-placement game in Hollywood, founding the company Film Fashion in 1994. For 14 years, she played matchmaker between fashion companies and celebrities, engineering red-carpet moments and paparazzi opportunities that helped raise brand awareness and sales at Escada, Stuart Weitzman, Lanvin and others.

“In middle America, people still come up to me and say, ‘You mean celebrities get dresses for free?’??” Ashbrook said when asked whether the public knows how much money and how many products change hands before Katie Holmes, Fergie and Jessica Simpson appear in Us Weekly or In Touch carrying the same high-end handbag.

But the book, released earlier this month, isn’t so much a memoir as it is a how-to guide for getting products on celebrities, whether they be of the Hollywood or hometown variety.

“Celebrity marketing can work for a tire store in St. Louis just as well as it can for Armani,” Ashbrook said.

She also shares a fair amount of star-studded dish:

• Trade secret: She offered gift certificates to celebrities to get them to shop at maternity wear retailer A Pea in the Pod — $5,000 for A-listers, $2,500 for B-listers.


• Dish: Holly Robinson Peete took a free baby crib in exchange for having her nursery photographed for a weekly magazine. Sarah Jessica Parker said, “No way.”

• Low point: Oscar red-carpet dressing got so competitive one year that Ashbrook found herself sitting alongside another publicist in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby until 2 a.m. waiting for actress Ziyi Zhang. Both Ashbrook and her competition were vying for the actress to wear their clients’ shoes. The experience inspired the title of the book.

Staff Writer

The Columbus DispatchView Comments

The New York Times News Service contributed to this story.