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Oh, the Possibilities!

Think of it--one dress, more than 30 styles. That's what the ad promises for the Infinite Dress, a tube with two long tails that can be tied in many ways. But can it deliver?

September 17, 1998|JULIE LOGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Went to the lingerie department at Neiman Marcus. I tried on a strapless bra called Fantasie by Rigby Peller, who, the company rep told me, are corsetiers for royalty. Well, gee. The fit was sensational, though, and for a strapless surprisingly supportive. It also converts to a 3-way. I'd stumbled on the strapless of my dreams and it looked terrific under the dress too. It cost $97 but I decided to go for it. I also tried on a bandeau bra by DK Intimates, 18 bucks for a band of stretch fabric, but it was really comfortable and looked smooth under the dress. So I got that too. In the parking lot it hit me. I have just spent nearly $100 for a bra. A bra!

As it turns out, the Infinite Dress is neither the work of a shadow conspiracy nor the offspring of a couple of rubes from the sticks, but indeed the byproduct of shrewd marketing. Marketing director Wendy Fielding and her husband, executive producer Rory Fielding, own Tower Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla. A veteran New York fashionista, Wendy worked in licensing for Calvin Klein, was a merchandising editor at Seventeen magazine in the late '70s and public relations director of the Manhattan Shirt Co. in the 1980s. After relocating to Florida in 1990, the couple produced infomercials for other companies before realizing that the real profits came from owning the product.

"The original dress was something that was designed and patented in the 1970s," Wendy Fielding explains. "Nobody is exactly sure where it came from, but I do know that it was expensive and that it didn't do well at retail because, let's face it, it has zero hanger appeal. The rights had been floating around the industry for almost 20 years but nobody wanted them. Rory saw it and his instincts kicked in. Remember, this is a man who can't put a tie and socks together. But he brought it home, I tried it and we knew this was it."

Fielding is under no delusion that the fabric is deluxe but stands firmly behind her product, "For this price point, we had to compromise a little, but it hasn't hurt us."

The Fieldings acquired and licensed out the rights in 1995 but nothing much happened. When they got the rights back earlier this year, they took the Infinite into their own hands to build the franchise themselves. Media buys on hundreds of stations around the country began in the spring.

"Everyone told us not to do it," Fielding recalls, "because there had never been a successful info mercial on a fashion item in the history of the industry. But it just felt right, so we went with it. Since April, we've sold over 100,000 units and it's not stopping. It sells across the board, in all sizes, to all ages, and a lot of customers buy more than one. We're back-ordered by 8,000 units and we can't ship it out fast enough."

"When we repackage," she sighs with resignation, "we're going to call it the 'Original Infinite Dress' because for sure we're going to get knocked off."

Day 20: Style 6

Went to the chiropractor in Style 5, but the tails kept flapping around my knees and getting in my way and then the shoulders kept falling down, leaving me bare on top. The DK Intimates bandeau bra, well, comfortable but zero support. The chiropractor looked askance when I told him about the Infinite and said he really didn't like Style 5 too much. When I tied the tails back around the waist into Style 6, he thought it looked better. He warned me that halter bras can put too much pressure on the neck and that I should stick with the strapless.

"For you," he explained, "it's a health issue."

Day 28: Style 29

Went to the first night of the Preston Sturges retrospective at LACMA with friends Charlie and Tom. The air conditioning in the theater was on so high that in the Style 29 backless halter configuration, I was shivering. So, seated in the dark and unbeknownst to anyone, I untied the Infinite and rewrapped it into Style 8 with a back and a little sleeve. No one was the wiser (even Charlie didn't notice and he was right next to me) and I didn't freeze.

The Fieldings plan on riding the Infinite wave--it shows no sign of slowing down--for as long as they can. Infinite accessories are in the works too. Meanwhile, they're launching their new product, a portable piece of exercise equipment called the ChestPro 2000, which is, you guessed it, convertible too.

"You know," says Wendy Fielding, "my husband is a sensitive and talented man. He went to NYU Film School, worked in the news for years and produced award-winning documentaries. Now we're making infomercials. Funny how life turns out, isn't it?"

"Before I die," adds Rory, "I want to produce a show that doesn't have an 800 number in it."

Day 30: Style 16

The end is in sight. But I can picture it now, I just know that I'm going to have to trot out the Infinite and take requests once in a while. Tomorrow, I shall reintroduce myself to my clothes. My bra struggles will soon be over. What should I wear? All this freedom and responsibility is a little scary.

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