By  on January 3, 2002

HOW CORPORATE AMERICA HELPED KATHRINE BAUMANN KICK OFF HER HOLLYWOOD-HIP ACCESSORIES LINE.

For Kathrine Baumann, life is a medley of licensing.

When the designer of a certain line of coveted crystal-studded minaudieres needs a little inspiration, all she has to do is look at the list of 23 brands that license her to transform their corporate symbols into sparkling handbags and accessories.

"I wanted to take American icons and make them functional, wearable art," said Baumann during a trunk show at Lilly Dodson in Dallas that sold over $50,000 of bags and jeweled eyeglass cases.

"The bags are like calling cards. Suddenly people come up to you to talk."

Warner Bros. was her first license, sealed in 1993 with a handshake agreement for some Betty Boop handbags.

Walt Disney Co. was a bit more problematic. Baumann was able to sell her Minnie Mouse bags via a limited license for Disney World in Orlando, Fla., but wanted a general license so she could sell the products to other retailers.

It was a deal that seemed impossible, but after several failed attempts to connect with the powers at Disney, Baumann discovered that Michael Eisner's wife, Jane, had purchased two Minnie Mouse minaudieres for herself and socialite Mercedes Bass at Disney World. Baumann called the licensing department for one final try, politely asking, "I want you to know that Mrs. Eisner is carrying my bag, and would you like to see the line?" Within days she had a contract.

A similar tactic worked with Coca-Cola. Baumann created three sample bags that closely resembled a can of Coke and sent two to the chairman with a note that one was a gift for his wife.

"I learned a valuable lesson," she said. "If the chairman's wife likes you, you're in."

Baumann's team now creates crystal-studded handbags that personify the Pink Panther, Tweety Bird and Sylvester along with hundreds of other cartoon characters and products, such as a bottle of Perrier Jouet champagne.

She also styles her own concepts, like red crystal lips, or a red, orange and black Chinese take-out carton with a gold fortune-cookie pillbox inside.

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