Her Films May Flop, but Kate Hudson Remains a Fashion Star


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Kate Hudson arriving at the Giorgio Armani Privé show in Paris in 2014. “She’s the girl you want to hang out with,” a magazine executive editor says.

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Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Flanked by a pair of zealous escorts, Kate Hudson was trotted like a show horse onto a makeshift red carpet at the Standard High Line hotel in the meatpacking district.

She was sheathed for the occasion, a celebration late last month of her debut as Campari’s latest calendar girl, in a scarlet scorcher of a gown that made the most of her yoga-toned curves.

Her handlers, a contingent representing the Italian liquor brand, held Ms. Hudson, 36, on an extra-tight leash, fending off would-be interlopers and herding photographers behind steel doors, where they lined up four deep as the actress fielded reporters’ questions outside.

How did she plan to spend the fall and winter holidays? (She’d be baking cookies, she told the strictly vetted gathering.) Who is the more demanding parent, her or her famously ebullient mom, Goldie Hawn? (“I’m stricter, I think.” )

What makes her such a magnet to the fashion tribes?

Coyly, Ms. Hudson replied, “Fashion people really like anybody who loves and appreciates fashion.”

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That they do, with seemingly plenty of marketers prepared to promote the actress as a radiant — and racy — beacon for their brands.

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Ms. Hudson is featured in the 2016 Campari calendar.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Ms. Hudson sparkled in Armani at the designer’s couture show in Paris last year, perched near Sophia Loren and next to the just-minted Oscar winner Jared Leto. She riveted spectators when she arrived with her mother at the Versace haute couture show in January, wearing a searing red dress sheared to expose vast swaths of hip, thigh and derrière. She was deemed a showstopper in October at the InStyle Awards, as she posed cheek to cheek for selfies with her close friend Gwyneth Paltrow.

And just this month she was frothy in pink on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and vixenlike on the front of Allure, wearing a scandalously sheer black evening dress.

She was photographed this fall embracing Michael Kors as she showed off a Kors goldtone watch in the designer’s much ballyhooed media campaign to fight world hunger, and last May wore one of the designer’s gowns when she accompanied him to the Met Gala, ending the night on many best-dressed lists.

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This month’s Harper’s Bazaar issue.

Capping that luxury tour de force is her apotheosis in the 2016 Campari calendar as the latest in a stable of celebrities (among them Jessica Alba, Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz) to grace the company’s colorful marketing vehicle, distributed to V.I.P. clients.

All this, yet there is no apparent correlation between Ms. Hudson’s style-world allure and her box-office pull, a mystifying paradox that underlies her popularity.

She had past successes, to be sure, in particular the comedy, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” which came out 12 years ago. But her latest project, “Rock the Kasbah,” in which she plays a genial hooker opposite Bill Murray, vanished from theaters within weeks of its opening in October.

The fact is, Ms. Hudson has not had an unqualified hit since her star turn as the winsome band promoter Penny Lane in the 2000 coming-of-age story “Almost Famous.”

Does it matter? Not so much.

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Ms. Hudson with Patrick Fugit in the 2000 film “Almost Famous.”

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Neal Preston/DreamWorks Pictures

“These days, being a star like Kate is not necessarily measured in box office,” said Laura Brown, Bazaar’s executive editor, who orchestrated Ms. Hudson’s star turn in the magazine’s December issue. “Relying on box office is a really old-fashioned way of looking at things.”

With or without a theatrical hit, Ms. Hudson manages to hold the public eye. She is prominent in a constellation of professional beauties — Jennifer Aniston, Blake Lively, Katie Holmes and Ms. Paltrow come to mind — who have risen above the occasional career lull to thrive as fashion billboards and media personalities, their exposure in the glossies or endorsement of a brand a proven spur to sales.

“I call Kate cover gold,” Ms. Brown said, noting that each of Ms. Hudson’s covers over the years has performed impressively. She is perceived as warm, engaged and not overly intimidating, Ms. Brown said: “She’s the girl you want to hang out with.”

On the website for Fabletics, the athleticwear label in which Ms. Hudson is a partner, “people comment on her style a lot whether or not she’s on the red carpet,” said Geraldine Martin-Coppola, the general manager for the brand. “They ask a lot of questions about her workout regimen and want what she has on. Whatever she’s wearing usually sells out.”

Ms. Hudson is thriving in a pop culture climate that favors those with media savvy — and a rippling set of abs. In the era of Goop, Ms. Paltrow’s aspirational lifestyle and e-commerce site, “You have a whole swath of people who haven’t had a movie for the past 10 years, or never made a movie at all,” said Robert O. Green, a television and film producer. “Yet they maintain their relevance.”

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Ms. Hudson with Jared Leto and Sophia Loren at the Giorgio Armani Privé show in Paris in July.

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Michel Dufour/WireImage

Mr. Green spooled off a roster of stars and film executives — the likes of the YouTube star and beauty entrepreneur Michelle Phan; Jill Soloway, the creator of the Amazon.com series “Transparent”; and Whitney Port, star of the former MTV reality series “The Hills” — to have parlayed a lively social media presence into a newfangled demicelebrity.

In the case of Ms. Port, who has an Instagram following one million strong, “It’s almost as if ‘The Hills’ was an opportunity to launch a social media career,” Mr. Green said. “If you do enough of that, and you do it right, it starts to matter a lot less that you actually get another screen role.”

Ms. Hudson, of course, is hardly on Tinseltown’s endangered list. She’s been cast as Jennifer Lee Pryor, one of Richard Pryor’s wives in the forthcoming film biography of the comedian, to be directed by Lee Daniels.

As germane to her career, though, is her adroitness in merchandising her perceived warmth and candor on the web, her 2.9 million followers responding avidly to Instagram posts that show her as a devoted daughter, sister and mother of two growing boys.

She turns up on her fans’ miniscreens as a madcap partygoer and, in the instance of Fabletics, a do-it-all businesswoman, and not least, as a good old gal just kicking back at home. In an Instagram post she is seen collapsed on the sofa at home, balancing a mimosa on one knee and a coffee cup on the other as she watches a football game, with comments varying from “You’re smoking hot” to “So glad you’re just like us.”

Friends and followers alike appreciate her versatility. “She can sing and dance up a storm and knows how to have fun with social media,” Mr. Kors said. “What could be more relevant than being a stylish multitasker in today’s world?”

For the Campari calendar, now in its 17th year, brand executives bypassed the lustrous likes of Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie in favor of more understated or unconventional beauties.

“Kate’s look is fresh, simple and fits with our purpose,” said Julka Villa, a global senior director at Campari. Better still, her fame is not extreme.

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Ms. Hudson with her mother, Goldie Hawn, and Donatella Versace at the Versace show in Paris in January.

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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

“We’re not looking for big names,” Ms. Villa said. Rather, the company seeks out personalities who will likely enhance, not eclipse, the brand.

In films, on the web and in advertising campaigns that have varied in recent years from that of Ann Taylor (in which she has modeled with her sons, 2 and 10 at the time) to the more upscale Jimmy Choo, Ms. Hudson’s trump card is her extreme relatability.

Allure’s fashion editor, Paul Cavaco, who styled Ms. Hudson for the magazine’s December cover, said, “Stars have two qualities: They’re unattainable, so they’re goddesses, or they’re like amped-up versions of real people.’’

To her myriad admirers, Ms. Hudson is the latter, he said.

“Whatever impression she’s made with the public over the years has certainly created a high awareness and strong emotional connection with consumers,” said Henry Schafer, the executive vice president of Q Scores, which measures consumers’ familiarity with a celebrity.

In tracking her performance for the last three years, the company found that 67 percent of Americans are familiar with Ms. Hudson, compared with 37 percent on average for an actress. Among women older than 35, Ms. Hudson’s name recognition soars to 80 percent.

Her fans respond to her perceived authenticity, and her familiar lineage.

“We grew up with her mom and her stepdad,” Mr. Cavaco said, referring to Ms. Hawn and her longtime partner, Kurt Russell. “We kind of feel like we know the family and we can say anytime, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’”

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Ms. Hudson was also featured on the November 2015 issue of Allure.

Ms. Paltrow was more poignant, telling guests at the October InStyle gathering, “I don’t have a little sister by birth, but if I had one, she’s the incarnation of my beautiful, carefree, spirited little sister who brings music and spontaneity and fire into my life.”

Even Ms. Hudson’s somewhat splintered personal style — a saucy amalgam of ’70s-inflected bohemia, red-carpet bombshell and, by association, rocker chick (she was married to Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, engaged to Matt Bellamy of the Muse, and more recently has been linked with Nick Jonas) — seems somehow approachable.

“She’s a California blonde, she gives you that,” Mr. Cavaco said. “With that golden skin and yellow hair, and the way she holds her body even in a plunging see-though dress, she’s sexy. But she’s always clean.”

“Boys want to sleep with her,” he said, then added tellingly, “Girls want to be her.”



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