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That Sinking Feeling

'Titanic' Merchandising Sounded, Well, Iffy. Then a Stage Mom and a Los Feliz Tailor Threw in the Towels.

December 14, 1997|Ed Leibowitz

Irmelin DiCaprio was less than thrilled with her first batch of Titanic bath towels. Her son Leonardo was starring in what will probably emerge as the most expensive movie ever made, and she had turned to Cengizhan Karacuha and his family's Golden Needle Tailoring shop in Los Feliz to embroider 300 tokens of Leonardo's appreciation for an overtaxed, thoroughly waterlogged film crew. Embroidered only with the ship's name, Karacuha's prototypes, she felt, failed to evoke the grandeur of the luxurious ocean liner--to say nothing of director James Cameron's wide-screen opus.

"Something was missing," Karacuha admits.

Using a computer and a sumptuous illustrated history of the Titanic that DiCaprio gave him, the tailor reproduced the crest and billowing flag of the defunct White Star Line--the steamship company that operated the liner--and integrated them with his original design. During his reasearch, Karacuha, whose first name translates as "Genghis Khan," discovered he had a cultural affinity for those Titanic towels. "The Turkish bath was a big deal on the Titanic," he says, so he printed replicas of an actual ticket good for a dip in the ship's bath and tied it around each towel with a crimson ribbon. Now entirely pleased, DiCaprio delivered the favors to Leonardo's crew.

Displaying a few extra towels in his window, Karacuha found himself being offered as much as $120 for one. Since the Titanic and White Star names are public domain, he knew he could churn out additional Titanic terry cloth in the back of his modest store without fear of copyright attorneys. In anticipation of the movie's Dec. 19 opening, Golden Needle's front window is stocked with hand towels, washcloths, bathrobes and baseball caps--all flying the White Star flag.

Karacuha acknowledges being taken to task for profiting from a tragedy.

"This lady came in and said: 'Why don't we leave these people alone. It's their grave!' " In his defense, he raises the far stranger spectacle of the "Titanic" musical. " 'We're sinking! We're sinking!' " Karacuha quotes an imagined number from the show. "It won five Tony awards," he notes. "I think that's odd."

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