LOS ANGELES — Lauren Conrad, the star of MTV's reality hit "The Hills," aims to have more than 15 minutes of fame by building her own fashion brand.
After making her television debut as a high school senior on MTV's "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," and moving to Los Angeles to study fashion and work as an intern at Teen Vogue, as chronicled on "The Hills," Conrad is launching a capsule collection of her namesake contemporary clothing line in September.
That would be a dream for any independent fashion designer, let alone a 21-year-old who has gained a degree of fame for being herself on camera. In addition, MTV is taking the unusual step of being a financial partner in Conrad's clothing business, the Lauren Conrad Collection.
"This is really a unique situation for us," said Lisa Silfen, senior vice president of program enterprise at MTV. "It seemed like a natural extension to us [to partner with Conrad]."
MTV declined to disclose the details of its financial stake in the Lauren Conrad Collection, but network executives said they introduced Conrad to her label's creative director and merchandiser, Sherry Wood, who was creative director of the Los Angeles sportswear label Tart. MTV also helped Conrad build an e-commerce site, shoplaurenconrad.com, which will be the exclusive retailer for Conrad's 10-piece fall collection after the site goes live on Sept. 15.
If successful, the formula could be repeated by other networks for reality TV personalities. Still, companies have yet to master the art of matching the right person with a loyal fan base to an appropriate product and supportive retailer.
"This is about taking someone [like Conrad] that is uniquely qualified with desire and talent and abilities, and helping her connect with her audience, which is also our audience," said Lori Megown, vice president of consumer products and radio at MTV.
It's a playing field full of potential and profits. The Aug. 13 premiere of the third season of "The Hills" was MTV's highest-rated show this year, drawing about 3.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Of that number, women under the age of 18 made up 17 percent, and women between the ages of 18 and 34 were 49 percent."I really think reality [TV] is going to be the next breeding ground for mega brands," said Maggie Dumais, a licensing agent for Creative Artists Agency, the Los Angeles-based talent firm that represents celebrities, including Carrie Underwood, who began shilling for sneaker maker Skechers after winning "American Idol" in 2005.
With her golden hair, green eyes and raspy voice, Conrad resembles a young Kathleen Turner via the O.C. The eldest daughter of an architect, she told her mother she wanted to be a fashion designer when she was in sixth grade. She folded T-shirts in a surf shop on the Pacific Coast Highway, modeled for board sport vendors at the ASR Trade Expo and was an intern in the showroom for Garden Grove, Calif.-based knit brand Three Dots. Conrad decamped to San Francisco to study fashion design at the Academy of Art University, but she missed the Southern California sunshine. Conrad left after a semester to move to Los Angeles, where she began studying product development at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and working at Teen Vogue.
In addition to her clothing line, which she began creating in April, Conrad will unveil a set of clutches and bags produced by Los Angeles-based accessories brand Linea Pelle for the resort-spring seasons. Conrad, a spokeswoman for Avon Products Inc.'s Mark, also sketched horseshoes, four-leaf clovers and other lucky charms that will be marketed by the makeup line tailored to 18- to 24-year-old women. She will begin wholesaling the sophomore collection of her apparel line to specialty and department stores on Aug. 27 at Project Global Tradeshows in Las Vegas.
"The clothes are pretty feminine,'' Conrad said. "They're very comfortable and easy to move in....The pieces are clean. I did that on purpose. I like to accessorize. You can buy a simple dress and accessorize."
Youthful and flirty with hemlines floating inches above the knee, the spring lineup is crafted primarily out of jersey, voile and gauzy cotton. Wholesaling from $22 for a tank top to $100 for a floor-grazing gown, the 44 pieces are imbued with a rich palette of sienna, peacock green and midnight blue. The sole print is that of a row of overlapping dots, and adornment is limited to eyelet trim and a matte gold button that looked as if it was taken from a grandmother's cardigan. Though a big fan of dresses, Conrad also included billowy tops and a white linen romper with a matching sash that can be worn as a belt or scarf."We really took her background of growing up on the beach and moving into the city," said Wood, adding that the two conducted market research by shopping, checking with trend services and studying other labels such as Ella Moss, Splendid, Juicy Couture and Velvet. The first-year wholesale sales target is $2 million, and Conrad hopes to see her clothes sold next year in Madison, Fred Segal, Intermix, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and, in her words, "just the stores I shop at anyway."
Conrad's practicality influenced the designs for the $45 coin purse, $145 clutch and $350 tote bag that she designed for Linea Pelle. "Function, in addition to fashion, proved to be just as important to her as the overall look and feel of the bag," said Andrew Cotton, Linea Pelle's vice president and creative director, noting that Conrad maintained clean styling with simple silhouettes and colors such as black, mahogany and dark olive green.
Viewers "like Lauren Conrad," said Jane Buckingham, president of The Intelligence Group, a trend forecast, marketing and research firm owned by Los Angeles' Creative Artists Agency. "They are interested in what she's doing. She has access to the best clothes, the best handbags [and] what Hollywood has to offer."
As for the young entrepreneur, "I've always wanted a clothing line," Conrad said. "This is my first collection and I do really want to make a very good impression."
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