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How Ryan Seacrest Went From American Idol to Selling $50 Million Worth of Menswear a Year

The mega entertainer is parlaying his on-camera success into a lifestyle empire that already includes a popular fashion brand. His next challenge? Getting ‘regular’ guys to buy into beauty.
The Ryan Seacrest Distinction Autumn 2017 campaign | Source: Courtesy
  • Lauren Sherman,
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — Does Ryan Seacrest ever pause? On a Monday morning this past autumn, the recent New York transplant (and co-host of the popular talk show Live with Kelly and Ryan) showed no signs of wear after spending the weekend auditioning singing hopefuls in Nashville for the upcoming return of American Idol, which he will again host at its new home on the broadcast television network ABC.

Inside an intimate studio on the Upper West Side, Seacrest and co-host Kelly Ripa brought a charming energy to their live show’s growing viewership of approximately 3 million people per day. During commercial breaks, he clowned around with Ripa and the day’s guests and took selfies with fans in the audience. Hovering nearby, assistants captured the moments for social media.

But wait — that was just his first stop. Each weekday, after Live with Kelly and Ryan concludes at 10am, Seacrest heads downstairs to a newly built recording studio just in time to narrate the morning commute in Los Angeles and record syndicated radio shows that reach a total of 20 million listeners each week. He then spends the rest of the day prepping upcoming shows and other projects. Once American Idol’s live shows begin a few weeks after its debut on March 11, he will fly to Los Angeles on Fridays to rehearse for the Sunday evening broadcasts. A red-eye flight will get him back to New York so that he can be live on the air with Ripa at 9am ET on Monday mornings.

That’s on top of additional hosting duties throughout the year including the Jingle Ball, the iHeart Radio Music Awards and hosting and executive producing ABC’s New Year’s Eve show.

In America, Ryan Seacrest is a straight-up star. Outside of the US, his most notable work might be behind the scenes, where he executive produces 12 television programmes including Keeping up With the Kardashians (and all the spin-offs that go with it). He’s also an investor in Pinterest and the meditation app Headspace, among other companies, and has endorsement deals with brands including Ford and Coca-Cola. The radio personality-turned-American master of pop culture ceremonies has spent the better part of the last 25 years building a unique entertainment career — complete with a namesake philanthropic foundation — that now earns him over $60 million a year, according to industry sources.

The schedule may be grueling and the ambitions outsized, but Seacrest is not complaining. Ever. “The busyness of it keeps me on my toes, there is no room for error,” he tells BoF. “Since I’ve moved to the East Coast, I actually get more sleep than I’ve ever gotten before.”

This weekend, the entertainer will head to Hollywood for a different event — the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards — returning for the 12th awards season to host the E! network's red carpet show, of which he is also executive producer, clad in a tuxedo fit for an A-list nominee. But the name on the label won't be Tom Ford, Gucci or Burberry….it will be his own.

Ryan Seacrest interviews Mandy Moore at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards | Source: Courtesy

That's because, these days, red carpet events are more than just a gig. They’re also an important marketing moment for Ryan Seacrest Distinction, the menswear brand he launched four years ago exclusively at Macy’s, which is on track to hit $50 million in retail sales in 2018.

Between the fashion line and a new men’s skincare range that soft-launched in the autumn, Seacrest is carefully parlaying his on-camera success into branded products for men by leveraging his public platforms, likability factor and network of connections.

Why fashion first? Seacrest's appreciation for smart tailoring emerged after he started hosting American Idol in 2002. He later developed a formal relationship with Burberry's Christopher Bailey, who custom designed his suits for red carpets and New Year's Eve starting in 2009 and American Idol in 2010. Seacrest paid close attention to Bailey's tailoring tricks and flourishes. "That was part of what gave me the comfort to host a live show, so that's where the interest began," says Seacrest, who gained widespread national recognition during American Idol's rise.

The close-fitting suit style became Seacrest’s signature, but he knew that most of his audience was not privileged enough to have Bailey on speed dial. “I wanted to [create] something that provided that same sort of feeling to people when they would put it on,” he says. “Something that was accessible in its price point, that really was made of great quality, for the guy who had an eye for detail.”

Bailey went from outfitting Seacrest to mentoring him. “It’s incredibly rare to find somebody not formally trained who enjoys and has a vision for construction, pattern, fabrics, details and fit and whilst I would love to claim credit for his sharp and immaculate dress sense, it genuinely does come from Ryan himself,” says Bailey via e-mail. “He is an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word and when he told me he was starting his own collection, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised and never once questioned its potential for success.”

The relationship with Macy's — currently the exclusive retail partner for Ryan Seacrest Distinction — started as he began approaching different manufacturing partners, many by Macy's recommendation. Peerless Clothing International, which manufactures and distributes tailored menswear lines such as Calvin Klein, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and DKNY, signed on to produce suit separates, sports coats and evening wear.

For accessories such as ties, pocket squares, belts, cufflinks and jewellery, he went to Randa, the world's largest men's accessories manufacturer which also works with Tommy Hilfiger, Levi's and Geoffrey Beene. And, after initially partnering with PVH on dress shirts, Seacrest now works with Japan's Itochu, which also produces the sportswear collection that hit stores in September 2017.

For Macy’s, Seacrest has become a crucial partner and a reliable sales driver during a period of disruption and contraction in the department store market, particularly in the mass market. “Guys could specifically reference his style, what he wore, and that was an important element for us to venture into this partnership,” says Macy’s group vice president and fashion director for men's, Durand Guion. Macy’s saw Ryan Seacrest Distinction as a more adventurous alternative to the name brand tailored menswear lines from Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, but still competitive in terms of quality and price point. “How can we start to inject that next level of coolness into the clothing — a space that historically can be very block and tackle, very serious, very subdued?” Guion adds. “We knew there was already a shift happening.”

From Seacrest’s perspective, the goal was to appeal to the modern man whose schedule might rival his own. “My life involves velocity and moving from one thing to the next… whether that be professional or social,” he says. “Because that is part of our DNA, it perhaps appeals to a younger customer that's living this lifestyle.”

The collection wasn't a bulls-eye from the get-go. Not soon after launching, Seacrest realised the line's ultra-slim and tapered look was alienating a segment of men.

“It was a real material issue and it was also something that was perceptual,” he says. “The combination of those two things had us go back to change the fit and make it more mainstream and broader.”

But the modern brand identity remains. For Macy’s and the label’s manufacturing partners, the collection has provided a valuable access point to Millennial men.  The line’s average customer is 25 years old, younger than Macy’s overall average, and more than half of the customers are men (more than half of Macy’s menswear purchases are made by women.)

“On a floor of navy, black and grey, Ryan has a vibrant blue [suit] on the floor and that’s our best selling suit,” says Matteo Gottardi, who joined the label as creative director in 2016. In addition to his own line, W.R.K, Gottardi and his agency WRKSHOP design collections for anywhere from five to eight menswear labels at a time. “Ryan speaks to a lifestyle that is maybe not addressed by other brands,” Gottardi posits. “He’s not the concept of classic Americana. He's the modern American male, he travels all over the world and he's successful, he's his own made man. He’s very international.”

Gottardi and WRKSHOP were hired to bring a central vision to the product lines under the Ryan Seacrest Distinction umbrella, and to also launch the new sportswear collection after Macy’s encouraged the label to expand its offering. “There’s a consumer there that likes the Ryan Seacrest aesthetic… Where’s that guy shopping for a sportswear?” says Gottardi. “We only sell suit separates and I think that it lends to giving him ancillary items.” To facilitate the expansion, everything in the first sportswear collection can be worn with a suit blazer. “Now as we're seeing what's selling, we are realising that the Ryan customer is interested in things that are a little bit more unique,” he adds.

Now as we're seeing what's selling, we are realising that the Ryan customer is interested in things that are a little bit more unique.

The tailored clothing and sportswear collections are now available at 150 Macy’s doors, while the dress shirts and other accessories, like ties, can be found at over 350 doors. “We’ve got tailored up and running,” Seacrest says. “Our focus is on making sportswear work.”

Four months after Seacrest's arrival at Live with Kelly and Ryan in May 2017, the sportswear collection hit stores. The television show has become a runway of sorts, where he serves as the embodiment of the line's sophisticated-casual ethos by wearing, for example, a bomber jacket with a shirt and tie or, to much initial consternation from viewers, dress shoes with no socks. (GQ even weighed in, writing a piece entitled "Leave Ryan Seacrest's Socks Alone.")

Between his television appearances and following of 3 million on Instagram, Seacrest is living his brand across multiple channels.

Seacrest knows from experience — both in front of and behind the camera — that cutting through the noise requires being top of mind. "At the end of the day…having a presence in culture is important for a brand to grow and a brand to succeed and a brand to gain trust," he says. After all, he has a longstanding relationship with some of the most powerful personal brands in culture today: the Kardashians. "Kris Jenner and all of the family are some of the most brilliant marketers in the world, as you've been able to see with the empires they've been able to build together and individually," he says.

"Over the last year, Ryan has been more active on Instagram than ever," says Kevin Systrom, co-founder and chief executive of Instagram, via e-mail. "By combining the facets of his life, he's built a 360 brand."

As for Ryan Seacrest Distinction’s future, Seacrest remains loyal to the core partnership with Macy’s despite the challenges department stores are facing as Amazon continues to gain share of the US market. “I obviously defer to their expertise, but it’s something we think about and look at,” says Seacrest. “We try to stay in our lane of what we know how to do and what our partners know how to do.”

Macy’s private labels, which in menswear include Alfani, Bar III and Club Room, are integral to its strategy moving forward. Chief executive Jeffrey Gennette, who assumed the top job in March and has since shaken up the management structure and streamlined the business, plans to grow private labels from about 30 percent of sales to 40 percent by reorganising the teams that produce it and accelerating the supply chain. Exclusive collections like Seacrest's play a similarly valuable role. “We can control it, our customers expect it of us,” said Gennette to investors in May 2017. “[It will] cement Macy's as a place to get fashion — where we can kind of flex our fashion chops.”

But Ryan Seacrest Distinction does plan to expand its distribution channels in 2018 through new partnerships with retailers (it is said to be in discussions with Stitch Fix). “We don’t want to cannibalise anything,” he says. “But at the same time, we want to try to make ourselves accessible to the customer wherever the customer may be.”

It’s all part of Seacrest’s goal to transcend the expectations of a celebrity-fronted brand. Those limitations are less of a concern for Seacrest’s new men’s skincare business, Polished by Dr. Lancer. The product of a joint venture with his friend and dermatologist for 15 years, Dr. Harold Lancer, the line doesn’t immediately advertise its relationship with Seacrest. Polished is currently available only through its own e-commerce site, and will officially launch with a major retailer in early 2018.

Seacrest approached Lancer about a men’s skincare concept about four years ago and the well-known dermatologist, who launched the prestige Lancer Method Skincare line for women in 1983, agreed that it was time to address a market gap. The male grooming consumer, however, is notoriously difficult to track and reach because he often buys unisex products across categories and because women are often doing the actual purchasing.

But while global prestige men’s skincare sales were flat in the year ending September 2017, according to research firm NPD, the data doesn’t tell the whole story. Dr. Lancer has noticed that more and more male companions of his female patients were borrowing his Lancer Method products. Plus, the other men’s skincare lines available today are “basically weak, noneffective, nontargeted products,” Lancer says. “Men are just not great patients, not great consumers and they have to be taught from scratch.”

The solution was to develop a five-item line that was easy to use and relatively affordable. (The most expensive product is a $55 anti-aging serum.)

“The key is, ‘How do you make it simple, at a good price point, how do you make it routine?’” says Seacrest, who had spoken with different beauty brands about the growth potential of the men's skincare category. “Guys are more focused on health and fitness and well being just in general — they are more focused on longevity.”

The same could be said of Seacrest, whose meticulous approach to launching and growing his fashion and beauty lines demonstrates his commitment to their longevity — even if it goes against his fast-paced instincts. “I am, by nature, a pretty impatient person, so I have to really use self-discipline to have patience with things,” he says. “With the fashion business and the skincare business, I have to really tap into that…. Wearing it is my favourite part.”

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