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'The O.C.' Brand Puts Style on Sale

The hip teen show launches lines of music, cosmetics, perfume and more, letting anyone buy a piece of this happenin' place.

September 08, 2005|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Who among us hasn't lost sleep wondering how to duplicate Marissa's "barely there nude lips" from the Fox-TV series "The O.C."?

And what rational human hasn't yearned to decorate the bedroom with the same Victorian lamp that illuminated Summer during Season 2?

At last, help has arrived. Thanks to the merchandising geniuses at Warner Bros., "The O.C." is no longer just a salacious suburban soap opera. It's a lifestyle that even someone in Chino can buy.

Moving beyond the traditional repertoire of souvenir T-shirts and trinkets, the company is marketing "The O.C." as a brand complete with furniture, cosmetics, music, artwork, clothing and perfume.

The products are aimed at people who want to emulate the upscale vibe of the show's Newport Beach characters and setting, said Lisa Gregorian, senior vice president of marketing for Warner Bros.' TV division, which produces the show. "It's an extension of the entertainment experience."

Tonight, as "The O.C." kicks off its third season, the merchandise bonanza shifts into high gear.

Amazon.com has unveiled an exclusive line of women's apparel inspired by the show. And Starbrand.tv, which was launched by a Canadian businessman whose previous claim to fame was a device that cools pitchers of beer, will update its website during each new episode so people can buy the fashions and props appearing on that show -- from Sandy's sunglasses to Marissa's "Honolulu roller suitcase" to Summer's "smoky-eyed beach beauty" makeup.

Other companies -- such as Sephora -- are peddling "O.C." hydrating body gel, necklaces, underwear and shot glasses.

Still in the pipeline: a board game, sleepwear, sandals, cosmetics, jewelry and cologne.

"I guess people want a piece of the California dream," said Elaine Cali, spokeswoman for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, which has noted an uptick in tourist inquiries since the show's debut.

The branding of "The O.C." could herald a trend in Hollywood marketing. Similar ventures are underway for "CSI: Miami" and Showtime's "Barbershop: The Series."

But some see a dark side to the phenomenon. "We've been hurtling forward as a culture toward being increasingly dissatisfied with real life and enamored with fictional life," said Stuart Fischoff, professor emeritus of media psychology at Cal State Los Angeles. "This caters to that. We're stepping through the looking glass."

Where does it stop, he wonders: "Do you build housing tracts with homes that look like sets from the show?"

Then again, Orange County has a history of blurring fact and fantasy. The Mighty Ducks hockey team is named after a movie team. And the county airport is named for an actor.

Perhaps it's fitting that a show inspired by the county would produce a county influenced by the show.

"They bounce off each other," said fashion designer Ady Gluck-Frankel, who created the 12-piece "O.C." apparel line for Amazon.com.

The fake O.C., which revolves around a group of Newport Beach friends and a new arrival from the 909 ("Chino ... eeww"), sprinkles in references to real-life Orange County's South Coast Plaza, Daily Pilot newspaper and The Arches restaurant.

In turn, the real O.C. is now taking cues from its television twin.

The Newport Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau recently created a tourist map pinpointing "hotspots" from the series, and Newport officials handed out keys to the city to cast members.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors briefly toyed with the idea of renaming John Wayne Airport "The O.C. Airport -- John Wayne Field" and erecting freeway signs at county lines saying "Welcome to the O.C."

If the supes had been on their toes, maybe they could've beaten Warner Bros. to the punch by developing a line of "The Real O.C." products.

For now, however, Warner Bros. has cornered the market, mainly through its OCInsider website, which sells backpacks, watches, picture frames, bowling bags, snowman-and-matzoh ball wrapping paper (based on the show's hybrid Chrismukkah holiday), music CDs, even romantic greeting cards with lines from the series (sample sentiment from character Seth Cohen: "Fate will take care of this. Cupid's my wingman"). The only thing missing is the gun from last season's cliffhanger.

For $24.95 a year, the site also offers cellphone ring tones, access to an "O.C." music station, fashion tips and a quarterly magazine.

The latest issue included a two-page shopping guide to Marissa's bedroom. Her pagoda birdcage? Available at Target. The atrium pillows and aluminum candle coasters? Visit Crate & Barrel.

The initial "O.C." merchandising push has centered around online vendors to cater to the show's "Internet-savvy audience," Gregorian said.

But department stores and boutiques are expected to roll out high-end "O.C." fashions this fall, she noted.

Unlicensed O.C. enterprises have also begun popping up.

A Laguna Beach woman is selling lunchboxes with "OC" (no "The") stamped across photos of beach scenery. And business consultant John Lewis said one of his clients might bid to set up an airport gift shop specializing in clothing and other products made by Orange County companies.

Media psychology professor Fischoff finds the whole trend bizarre. Besides, he said, if you're going to jump into a fantasy life, there are better choices than "The O.C." Why not choose a lifestyle where the people are always laughing, the women are gorgeous and alcohol flows freely?

"If everyone lived in a beer commercial," he said, "life would be fantastic."

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