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JOEL STEIN | [Love Your Work]

$tars' $tinky $weaters. Buy!

November 06, 2005|JOEL STEIN

WE'RE about 10 years from Fidelity launching a Magellan Q-Rating Fund made up of items previously owned by celebrities. In February, JFK's rocking chair went for $96,000 at a Sotheby's auction. Britney Spears' bra was bid up to $47,000 on an eBay hurricane relief fundraiser. Last year, 130 of Katharine Hepburn's canceled checks sold for $12,600. I would happily pay $500 for Tom Leykis' microphone, provided he wasn't allowed to get another one.

Luckily, buying stuff used by celebrities has never been easier. In the last few months, Fox and Universal have discovered a new profit source by selling items from their wardrobe department used by actors on TV shows and in photo shoots. Fox holds silent auctions in its cafeteria, where bidding on a pink Betsey Johnson cami-dress (retail value $200) worn by Paris Hilton in "The Simple Life" started at just $75. I figured used Paris Hilton clothes were sure to skyrocket in value until I realized they're probably littered throughout every hotel room in Europe.

I don't normally love shopping, but it seemed a lot more exciting knowing that my body could rub up against materials softened by contact with real celebrity skin. It felt like an adventure. If you think matching your hands against the prints outside Mann's Chinese Theatre is fun, imagine the thrill of checking out the sizes of your favorite actors. Ryan Seacrest? A slim, almost girlie, 31-inch waist. Paris' shoes are a size 10; her dress a 4. "Arrested Development's" Jessica Walter? An 8. I intend to dine out on that fact for quite a while.

Though I couldn't get into the Fox auction, Universal sells its celebri-hand clothing to visitors at the Universal Studios theme park. There are racks of clothing from shows such as "Crossing Jordan," "Passions," the defunct "Dennis Miller Show" and "The Tonight Show." I could only dream of owning the magic Kevin Eubanks suit that makes everything seem funny. But the thought of owning a piece of clothing worn by Miller (40 regular, 34-inch waist, neck: 15 1/2 inches) was a little too exciting to pass up, even though the button-down shirt was light pink. People would see me from a distance, head confidently bobbing side to side and think: I'd like to hire that guy just so I can fire him in a few months.

I snapped up the shirt for $25. Then I snagged a black cashmere John Varvatos sweater worn by the character Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald on "Passions," a soap opera on NBC. Not only was it a $500 sweater selling for $40 but, from the little I knew of Luis, it seemed like a piece of clothing that would make my life more exciting. People at work would worry that I'd steal their sister's ex-husband's mistress' murderer. Or at least they'd ask me where I got the cool sweater.

Both of my items came with a "certificate of authenticity" written in an Old English font, with a gold, embossed "Universal Hollywood" stamp and the reassuring signature of Vice President of Food and Retail Brian Bacica. This guy was working harder to make things look official than the barrister who sends me e-mails from Nigeria offering 2 million pounds sterling.

As soon as I got my sweater, I called Galen Gering, the guy who plays Luis, in order to make double sure it was authentic. Gering seemed to remember it: "You have my sweater, you bastard."

When I refused to give it back, Gering made a brilliant tactical move. Because one day in "Passions" world can last for up to 45 episodes, Gering said he probably wore it for three months straight. "I may have sweat it all up," he said. I had worn it twice without dry cleaning it.

Universal Hollywood's vice president of public relations, Eliot Sekuler, told me that celebri-hand clothing has been so popular that the company is going to expand to selling items from Universal movies. I worried for a moment that if people get used to this kind of access, celebrity itself will become hopelessly devalued, taking my Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald sweater down with it.

But it's more likely, I think, that our appetite for connections to the famous will only grow, just as putting films on videotape and cable in the 1980s made people go out to the movies more. As our lives intersect more and more with famous people in this celebrity-drenched culture, they become as much a part of our lives as our families. I'm checking with my accountant, but I think dry cleaning the sweater would be a mistake.

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