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Celebrities use fame to develop fashion lines in retail stores

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Monday, December 3, 2012 - 12:01 am

This holiday season you're likely to spot singer Jennifer Lopez in Kohl's. You could get a peek at pop music icon Madonna in Macy's. You might even catch a glimpse of reality TV star Kim Kardashian in Sears.

Well, not literally.

These celebrities likely won't be making guest appearances in the aisles of your favorite department stores. But clothes, shoes and even ties that bear their names will.

It is part of a big push by stores to cash in on celebrities' money-making names. The move can be savvy. After all, who wouldn't want to don the stylish duds of a superstar? It can also be risky. The stars, figuratively, have to be aligned for celebrity lines to become a hit with shoppers. That can mean having the right celebrity pair up with the right store at the right time with the right amount of involvement in the design of the line.

"If it's simply to monetize your moment in the sun, it is not going to work in the long term," says Ivanka Trump, the daughter of real estate mogul Donald Trump who is an executive vice president for his Trump Organization and appeared on his "Apprentice" reality TV show.

Trump, 31, has a line of $150 handbags and $125 pumps at Lord & Taylor and other department stores. "You have to be involved in every aspect of the product line," she says.

Celebs have long dabbled in design. But with the growth of TV shows and websites that follow everything celebrities say, wear and do, interest in their clothing lines has increased in recent years. Indeed, revenue in North America from celebrity clothing lines, excluding merchandise linked to athletes, rose 6 percent last year to $7.58 billion, according to The Licensing Letter, an industry trade publication. That's on top of a nearly 5 percent increase in 2010.

Major department stores, facing growing competition from trendy fashion chains such as H&M, Mango and Zara, have jumped on the trend. They're hoping to reap benefits from the lines during the holiday shopping season in November through December, a time when stores can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. Big stores now get as much as a quarter of their sales from celebrity brands, which is up from under 10 percent five years ago, according to market research firm NPD Group.

As interest from stores and shoppers grows, so does the list of celebs with their own lines. Madonna, 54, has a new Truth or Dare line of perfume, over-the-knee lace-up boots and other shoes at several department stores. Nicole Richie, 31, former reality TV star and daughter of singer and songwriter Lionel Richie, earlier this year rolled out an eponymous clothing line of $86.50 floral maxi skirts and $49.50 lace tops on QVC home shopping network.

And singer Jennifer Hudson's new fashion collection was launched on QVC this fall. Her line includes $96.50 hooded jackets, $53 blouses and one of her favorite wardrobe staples - $50 leggings. Hudson, a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers weight-loss program, says her goal is to appeal to women of all sizes.

"Every piece is a part of me," says Hudson, 31, who recently slimmed down from a size 16 to a 6. "And it came from something that I have worn or would wear."

The pioneers

Jaclyn Smith, who starred in the popular 1970s series "Charlie's Angels," pioneered the celebrity brand business in 1985 with a line of clothing and accessories at Kmart.

For more than a quarter of a century, the line that carries everything from $79 striped trench coats and $49 faux fur trimmed vests to $299.99 artificial Christmas trees and $179 dining sets, has become a staple at the discounter. In fact, the products' success has risen even though Smith, 67, has long been out of the spotlight. Kmart officials declined to give sales figures, but retail consultant Burt Flickinger estimates that the collection rings up about $250 million in annual revenue, which is considered healthy.

"She's a beloved American icon," says Flickinger, adding that the merchandise in the line has remained popular because they're "timeless, in good taste and have quality."

Kathy Ireland, 49, a former Sportswear Illustrated swimsuit model, also turned her celebrity brand into a moneymaker. Since 1993, she has built a $2 billion global retail business, according to fashion trade publication Women's Wear Daily. Her line includes more than 15,000 items from curtains to wedding dresses that are sold in more than 50,000 small chains.

Ireland attributes her success to her methodical approach to expansion. In fact, her first foray into the business was socks. She wanted to see how something simple would sell before she rolled out swimwear, active wear and other items a year later in 1994.

"If women would embrace something as basic as a pair of socks, that would tell us we were on to something," says Ireland, who sketches looks for her line for a design team to refine.

More recently, singer Jessica Simpson, 32, has built her brand into a billion-dollar brand in the past seven years. She now sells more than 29 products from shoes, clothes and perfume to purses and luggage in department stores such as Macy's. For the winter holidays, items include $89 platform bright blue platform pumps and $128 strapless belted lace dresses.

Her formula for success has been having a relatable personality: Even as her singing career has wavered, branding experts say Simpson has been able to connect with her young fans because she's vocal about everyday issues like her struggles with weight gain.

Peggy Merck, the publicist for the brand, also says she's very involved in designs for the line, which reflect her casual but sexy style. Her collection, which ranges from size 2 to 16, features lots of cowboy boots, vintage jeans and wedge shoes. Simpson is "hands on," Merck says.

Simpson's business savvy has inspired other celebs. "I admire Jessica Simpson a lot because she has branded her line to become a huge success," wrote "Jersey Shore" reality TV show star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi in an email to The Associated Press.

Polizzi last year started selling perfume and nail polish, among other items at HSN home shopping network and to beauty chain Perfumania. This fall, she expanded her collection to include jewelry. She also plans to add headphones and accessories next year.

"I bring in my ideas on what type of bottle shape I'd like, to different designs of animal print or clothing designs to my favorite smells from soaps, lotions (and) hair sprays," Polizzi wrote.

Beyond the name

Attaching a star's name to a tee shirt or earrings does not guarantee success. Generally, how well a line does varies greatly, and depends on a number of factors, including the star's popularity and involvement in the design, the quality of the merchandise and the marketing of the brand.

There are all sorts of ways celebrity lines are started. But in many scenarios, the idea of starting a collection comes from the celebrity, who shops the concept around to manufacturers and stores. How the deals are structured varies widely.

The lines can be a gamble for stores. For one, their success often is closely tied to one person whose popularity can fade quickly among finicky fans. And while shoppers may grab celebrity brands when the lines debut, they may not return if they don't like what they see after that.

“The celebrity name draws the fan base to the product but at the end of the day, the product has to stand on itself,” says Michael Stone, president of The Beanstalk Group, a global brand licensing agency. “It has to be well-priced and well-designed.”

Indeed, industry experts say for every celebrity brand that is a hit, five others flop. Anyone remember hip- hop star and actor L.L. Cool J's casual clothing line with Sears? It lasted less than a year after its launch in 2008. One reason was that the collection of hooded sweat shirts and jeans failed to catch the eyes of Americans at a time when the country was in a deep recession.