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What's in a Name? Lots, If It's a Star's : Fashion: Linking a celebrity to clothes, jewelry or perfume can create instant appeal. But there are no guarantees; remember Telly Savalas suits?

July 30, 1993|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Taylor is designing jewelry for Avon. She's not hunched over a work bench with a jeweler's loupe screwed to her eye, but she's directing those who are. Her big hands-on moment will come when the money starts rolling in.

Taylor is the latest in a long line of famous names to become a fashion label.

Occasionally the star and the product are a match made in merchandising heaven. Mikhail Baryshnikov "designs" dance wear and Jaclyn Smith "designs" clothing and accessories for Kmart. As with Taylor, their role is to pass approval on the actual designer's work and--most important--to allow their names to appear on the labels.

Other stars have played this role with disastrous results, their business deals lasting no longer than some Hollywood marriages. Farrah Fawcett, Jerry Hall and Telly Savalas come to mind, although their products (perfume, swimwear and suits, respectively) have been long forgotten.

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When Kmart needed a fashion image for its stores in 1985, it couldn't advertise clothing like a traditional department store--it didn't have brand-name merchandise. So the company hired Jaclyn Smith. Her name and image gave it the cache it was looking for.

"Jaclyn's name got her customers into the store when we were not known as a fashion store," says Joy Corneliussen, manager of celebrity and events for Kmart.

Since Jaclyn Smith's sportswear collection debuted eight years ago, more than 30 million pieces have been sold, says a Kmart spokesperson.

What's in it for The Name?

Stars typically take home about 6% of the wholesale sales. Scale is anywhere from 5-10%, depending on the power of the player. Often there is a $25,000-minimum to $250,000-maximum guarantee, depending on performance. Contracts usually run for three years with a renewal clause that is also based on the product's performance.

What's in it for the customer?

"People invest in a product that has a brand name or celebrity endorsement because they attach a certain value or emotional connection to the name," says Jeffrey Ceppos, a Connecticut-based consultant who has negotiated deals for Paloma Picasso. "If they wear the item, there is a potential reward if someone asks them about it. People can say, 'It's an Elizabeth Taylor,' and from that statement they garner a psychic reward."

That little psychic stroke just might save a manufacturer hundreds of thousands of dollars. After all, it takes years and huge advertising budgets to establish a brand name. When a manufacturer enlists the aid of a celebrity it is an opportunity to get instant recognition.

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When Avon unveils Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry later this year, it will not only capitalize on her name, but on her famous film roles.

There will be several pieces that have roots in her history, such as the Cleopatra cuff. One necklace is a look-alike from her famous cache of sparklers, the 25-carat yellow, heart-shaped Taj Mahal diamond that Richard Burton gave her for her 40th birthday. And there is the "Elephant Walk" brooch and matching earrings.

Ceppos cites the new Anaheim hockey franchise--the Mighty Ducks--as another example of capitalizing on established names. He predicts the Mighty Ducks will be a top seller of team-logo merchandise this year because, he says, the names "Michael Eisner, Disney and the Mighty Ducks are all under a concept umbrella that has been pre-sold--just like Elizabeth Taylor has been pre-sold for over 40 years.

"There is another hockey team, in Florida, the Panthers, that is coming in the same time as the Ducks. But you've never heard of them because Michael Eisner is associated with one and not the other. That is what brand names are all about--looking for shortcuts," Ceppos says.

The cable shopping networks have recognized the financial gains that can be made from celebrity alignments. "They have gone to great lengths to invent designers and resuscitate fading celebrities to sell on their shows," says New York-based retail consultant Alan Millstein. Ivana Trump, Joan Rivers and Diane von Furstenberg have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars selling their apparel and jewelry on cable.

"The cable shows are in the same posture discounters were in the '70s--they need credibility. They can't crack the big names on Seventh Avenue, so they hire Victoria Jackson to hustle skin-care products," says Millstein. "It's the irony of the American consumers' passion for status that these 'celebutramps' can get away with it."

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But there are celebrity fashion lines that do fail.

Jane Fonda had the Midas touch with exercise videos, but when she tied her name to aerobic wear she lost her touch. All signs pointed to a good match, yet it didn't last.

"It was her politics and timing," says Norm Zwail, president of Weekend Exercise Co., which produced Fonda's aerobics line. He was considering another line of celebrity-endorsed exercise wear at the time, but the Fonda launch-and-burn gave him second thoughts.

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