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Bridget Foley's Diary: Yup, She's a Lifestyle Brand

Over lunch in New York, the focus was Ellen DeGeneres’ ambitious E.D. launch, but the discussion wended through a multitude of topics.

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WWD: When I interviewed you seven years ago, you said you wore a lot of Jil Sander. Whom do you wear now?

Ellen: Me. Most of the stuff that I wear, especially for the show, we design. We have been all year long.

WWD: Is that a relatively recent thing?

Ellen: Yes. When I started I had such a specific style. I loved suits and I was limited to either Stella McCartney or Jil Sander. In the very beginning, it was really hard for me to find suits that fit, other than buying a men’s blazer to cut down. So we just started making my own stuff. But I wear Rag & Bone. I wear some Thom Browne, I wear Dries, I wear Public School and The Row.

WWD: In fact, this isn’t your first foray into fashion design. Years ago when you hosted the VH1 Fashion Awards, you made a pitch for ass-less pants.

Ellen: It didn’t catch on. I don’t know why. I’d forgotten that I did that. That was hilarious, the ass-less pants.

WWD: Back to less avant-garde fashion, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have said they learned about fit while having their television wardrobes tailored. I imagine having your own clothes made will inform a great deal of the collection, what works and what doesn’t.

Ellen: It also showed that there was a giant hole in the market; I’m not the only one who likes to dress this way. Yes, it informed me. For example, short-sleeved shirts. At a certain age you don’t want a shirt like a polo shirt that cuts you right there [mid-upper arm]. It’s not always flattering for women, so we designed short-sleeved shirts that are more flattering, with the sleeves a little longer.

WWD: Talk about that hole in the market.

Ellen: Obviously, I realized that I didn’t have things to choose from. And then I watch people show up to the show and I see people dressing similarly to me and I can see that there’s been an influence, yet it’s not exactly quite right because it’s just not out there yet. Of course people are going to keep buying what’s out there, but if you give them something new, they don’t know what they want until you give it to them. I think there’s room for fashion to grow into different areas. I was reading the article you wrote on me in W and what I was talking about still applies. We go to a red carpet and Portia is pulled aside for the fashion shot and they’re asking me to step aside. A suit is fashion. Men go to events in suits and they look great and there are really cool designs. But for whatever reason suits just aren’t as appreciated as dresses at red-carpet events.

Everybody responds to what they’re attracted to, but that doesn’t mean that your eye can’t learn to appreciate other things. People make it such a big deal that I only wear suits. Katharine Hepburn only wore suits. Some women just like to wear suits. There’s nothing wrong with having something that you’re more comfortable in. It doesn’t mean I don’t like dresses. I shop and buy stuff for Portia all the time and I have great taste in dresses. I just don’t buy them for myself.

WWD: Do you foresee putting your collection on the runway at some point?

Ellen: I don’t know about the launch but at some point I hope to do that, for sure.…The rollout for this and the marketing — I obviously don’t know all of that yet. I know what I want it to be, and when you say, ‘How big do you see this getting?’ I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want it to be the biggest brand name that you can imagine.

WWD: You said you shop all the time. Are you an all-purpose shopper…home, clothes, food?

Ellen: Not food; I don’t like grocery stores. They’re too overwhelming for me. Too many aisles, too many fluorescent lights.

WWD: Let’s talk about social media. You have this gigantic platform already. How will you integrate the brand launch?

Ellen: Oh easy. Sometimes it will be with humor; sometimes it will just be straightforward. Reaching people and talking to people is just another form of communication, so it doesn’t matter in what form. [Social media] is the form that everyone is using lately so that’s fine.

WWD: Twitter — you have an amazing 29.5 million followers. How involved are you?

Ellen: During the summer I’m less involved, but during the year I’m fully involved in everything. We obviously have departments. It’s a giant business and our social media is huge but I’m involved with every aspect of the show in every way.

WWD: Will the E.D. social media staff be separate from the show staff?

Ellen: They’ll cross over and integrate but I’ll have a separate staff.

WWD: Will you be the face of the brand or will you use models?

Ellen: I don’t know; we haven’t gotten that far. I mean, I would definitely hire models. There are pretty people out there and that’s what they do to make a living, so why not use them? So I would definitely hire models. I mean, I would always want to be the face of it because it’s mine, but…

WWD: You’ve been a pitch person and model and had some positive and negative experiences — J.C. Penney, Cover Girl.

Ellen: Actually J.C. Penney was very positive until it just wasn’t going in the direction that everyone had intended to go when we signed on. The first few commercials we did for the Oscars were huge, the budget was huge, we did really creative things. I was really excited about it and everything changed and people got fired. I really don’t look at anything as a negative experience. It went well and then it didn’t.

WWD: What happened with the Mothers Against — whatever the mothers were against.

Ellen: Supposedly it was One Million Moms. I don’t think there were quite that many.

WWD: But there is alliterative advantage to One Million Moms. That group protested against you being in a Christmas commercial. That was extremist. In terms of mainstream acceptance of gay people today, are you surprised at where the world is now versus in 1997 when you came out on your sitcom?

Ellen: No I’m more surprised that there’s still blowback. I’m still surprised and sometimes I get caught off-guard because I just expect everybody to have evolved to a place of open acceptance that everyone’s different and nobody should offend anybody else. Unless you’re actually prohibiting somebody from living the way they want to live.

WWD: Do you think gay people face animosity in everyday life?

Ellen: I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to it until it’s brought to my attention. There was something recently. My face was used for an invitation to some prom thing at a Catholic school and it was like they were burning my picture because my face was on the invitation. I didn’t know anything about it. I was like, “Wow, that really happens still?” So I’m surprised when someone brings something like that to my attention. No, I’m not surprised things have come so far. I don’t know why it takes so long for people to just accept everyone for who they are. It kind of goes back to fashion — there should be clothing for everybody. I mean, girls shouldn’t have to be pink and boys shouldn’t have to be blue.

WWD: Extremists aside, everyone seems to love you. Why does everyone love you?

Ellen: I don’t know.

WWD: Your popularity and public image will clearly fuel the brand. You must have considered that.

Ellen: I mean I’m grateful. I don’t know how to put this, but it doesn’t matter to me as much — I used to [care] desperately. I grew up wanting people to love me. And then, of course, my worst nightmare happens where they didn’t. So I think I got to a place where I really love myself and really accept myself, flaws and all. I’m not perfect. I have lots of things that I work on all the time. I really like myself and I don’t care what other people think. I don’t care if I dress in a way that they ask me to step aside to photograph Portia on the red carpet. I think it’s interesting. I understand why they do it. It doesn’t hurt my feelings; I like how I dress. I like how I put time into what I pick out and what I’m wearing. So I think it’s partly that I wouldn’t know if people didn’t like me.…I don’t know that people love me or don’t love me.

WWD: Any celebrity brand depends upon the connection of the celebrity with the consumer. Likability is a business thing. You don’t think about that?

Ellen: No, I don’t. Obviously I’m aware on some level. We wouldn’t be making a business deal if I weren’t doing well, if I weren’t a brand that’s popular. But if I think about that too much, then I’m thinking of myself as some kind of a business. I know that’s what we’re talking about, but it all stems from who I am as a person. I don’t want to even say “Ellen” because then I’m talking about myself in the third person and it becomes really weird. I’m just living my life honestly and authentically. It’s a ripple effect of an energy that goes out there, an authenticity. I think that’s what people are craving. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of it in the world right now, so that’s probably it. It’s just a ripple effect of honesty.

WWD: Your traditional ratings have gone up at a time when people can watch television whenever they choose. That’s pretty amazing.

Ellen: I really don’t think about all of that stuff. People bring it up to me and when we finished the season everyone at Warner Brothers was saying that this is a rarity — a show that’s on 11 seasons and that’s growing in ratings. It’s unheard of. I just do what I do, I acknowledge that and I’m grateful for it, but I don’t think about it as “why.”

WWD: Back to E.D., we haven’t discussed the pet element.

Ellen: Animals obviously are very important to me, so we’re doing a whole line of really great-looking items. I don’t want to be specific because I don’t want people stealing my ideas. It’s for dogs and cats. I think there’s a stigma about cat people — you know, the cat lady. I think there can be really good-looking things for cats. They don’t all have to be tacky; they don’t all have to be carpeted condos.

WWD: Do you have cats?

Ellen: We have three cats and three dogs. I have beautiful homes and I want my homes to be beautiful in every area. I don’t want ugly animal things around in our beautiful homes, so we’re going to put out a line of really good-looking pet supplies and leashes and collars and everything, toys.

WWD: That seems genuine from you. There was a moment when every major brand had the dog bowl and whatever.

Ellen: Right. Everything is going to be an extension of my lifestyle. It’s going to be what I see as a necessity. I mean, there are going to be frivolous, playful things as well, but the way I live is inspiring everything.

WWD: What’s the most frivolous thing you’ll do?

Ellen: When I say frivolous, I mean that everybody buys throws that you don’t really need but they’re good-looking. And who can’t use another throw? Coasters could be considered frivolous, but they could also be a necessity. There’s nothing wrong with having great-looking coasters so you’re not ruining your table. When I say frivolous, I don’t mean something really crazy that nobody needs.

WWD: You sound so excited about it — coasters and all.

Ellen: It’s really crazy. All of this makes such sense to me. If you’d seen me as a 13-year-old girl in my bedroom and what I was doing and cut to now, you’d go, “Oh well, that makes sense.” Like everything in my life kind of makes sense. Nothing is, “Boy, I’d never see that happening.” But it’s still pretty incredible that it’s happening, and who knows what’s next.

WWD: You seem to have a good idea.

Ellen: I think that “row, row, row, your boat gently down the stream” is a very profound song. Life is but a dream. I think that it’s your boat and you row your boat and you don’t pay attention to anyone else’s boat and you can dream anything you want. And if you have thoughts that it’s a bad dream and have thoughts that things don’t happen and it’s a tough world and it’s not fair, then that’s how you see it and it just depends on what you see. And I think I learned early on that I could dream and create anything that I wanted. So, you know, I did it.

 

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