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Business Bubbles Over for Studio Shoppers for Nighttime Soaps

November 29, 1985|MARY ROURKE | Times Staff Writer

When you think of prime time soaps, you might think of glitz, glamour, sex and scandal. But here's how Bill Travilla, costume designer for Lorimar productions, sees the soaps:

"The costumes I design for 'Knots Landing' and 'Dallas' alone amount to 40 changes a week, and there are 30 or 31 shows per season. That's about equal to the wardrobe of 40 major movies. And I don't delve into spectator sportswear wardrobes for the shows. My forte is dress-up clothes."

To say the wardrobe requirements of the nighttime soaps are staggering is not saying too much. Aside from the custom clothes that Travilla at Lorimar and Nolan Miller at Spelling-Goldberg Productions turn out on a weekly basis for the show's stars, other categories of dress are covered by cadres of professional shoppers armed with vast spending powers and daily lists of urgent fashion needs.

Lorimar costume department head Richard Egan says he employs two professional shoppers per show on four regular shows and a steady stream of TV pilots and movies-of-the-week. Eilish Zebrasky, Egan's equivalent at Spelling-Goldberg, has a shopping staff of 14 for seven weekly shows.

While the studios' fashion budgets are their own business, as they like to say, Travilla gives some sense of the spending that goes on when he recalls, "I once saw a check for $40,000 sent from the studio to one specialty store. That covered maybe two or three segments. And that was the bill from just one store. We probably spent twice that at another store we use more often. Every season my budget is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars' range."

Egan calculates it this way: "I'd say about one-sixth of each specialty store's annual budget is spent by Hollywood."

With that kind of clout, it's no wonder that studio shoppers find themselves being courted extravagantly by specialty stores around town. Stiff competition has caused the stores to come up with any number of exclusive offers and special attention made available to their Hollywood studio clientele. The stores' personnel who provide the special treatment fall under the general heading of "Studio Services."

Neiman-Marcus, Saks and Bullock's are the stores studio shoppers mention most often, with I. Magnin, Nordstrom and Bullocks Wilshire also on the list. But the shoppers say they scour L.A.'s downtown garment district, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Hills boutiques and the suburban shopping malls as well.

When it comes to lavish treatment, however, Neiman-Marcus has set the standard to date. Their private Studio Service quarters, tucked away on the store's second floor, features a dressing room the size of a small parlor, a bar, a refrigerator stocked with cold drinks, an assortment of china and silverware and quick access to the store's restaurant for ordering tea, sandwiches or the chef's "studio plate"--raw vegetables and a little guacamole.

Beyond that, when the soap stars stop in for final fittings or to help select wardrobes, they can book airline tickets and vacation cruises, send store staffers to do their personal gift shopping, book beauty treatments, phone their agents, hire their housekeepers, call their kids.

Victoria Kaye, Neiman's director of Studio Services, sprinkles her conversation with Stanley Marcus-style quotes on how to run a retail business. Her attitude is: "If people take the time to park at Neiman-Marcus, we don't let them leave empty-handed."

Behind closed, Studio Service doors, Hollywood extravaganza shopping stories abound.

One of Kaye's best is about the producer who came Christmas shopping.

"He wanted a fur coat to be delivered by limo at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve, at the start of a party, with a jar of Beluga caviar and a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka on the box," she recalls.

"We took care of it all. That's hard to arrange in a lot of stores."

Deal-making stories abound too.

"A star who appears on the nighttime soaps came shopping with her manager one day," Kaye begins. "He got a phone call while they were here and a major negotiation went on. She got the part, had to leave here, get to the airport, catch a plane in 45 minutes and start filming in New York the next day."

Kaye has seen agents book actors, music producers book musicians, stars hire house-sitters as part of daily life in her little parlor.

"There' a camaraderie that exists here," Kaye says. "Lots of times a sort of party gets going."

Kaye refuses to name-drop. But the "hold" tags on some of the outfits in her storage room show the names in plain sight: Linda Ronstadt, Donna Mills, Constance McCashin.

The rise in popularity of nighttime soaps is certainly sparking the rise in the Studio Services business.

In 1982, when Kaye took over at Neiman-Marcus, she says, "our office was a fitting room in the Bridal Salon. It was a very low-income generator. Now, it's substantial."

Bobbe Passov recently took over as studio coordinator for Saks in Beverly Hills, although the store has offered a smaller-scale studio service for a number of years.

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