By  on December 27, 2000

NEW YORK -- The written word is making a major imprint on the fashion crowd.

The designer-celebrity connection has been well documented over the years, and now book tie-ins with retailers and fashion firms have become the rage. Bergdorf Goodman, Prada, Kate Spade, Lord & Taylor, Burton, Felissimo and DKNY are among the companies tying into the literary trend, partially to bring customers into stores, but also as a cultural connection between the crafts.

Take DKNY's inaugural literary series at its Madison Avenue store, where "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell's new book, "Four Blondes," was a natural selection to kick off the event. Guerrilla journalist Hunter Thompson was scheduled to cap off this year's program, but a bout of pneumonia kept him in bed.

"There's been so much with celebrities and fashion, with music and fashion, and movies and fashion. Why not have books and fashion?" said Patti Cohen, executive vice president of global marketing and communications for Donna Karan.

In the merger with literati, fashion stores and design firms see a worthy combination, leading some to host book signings or author appearances, and others to delve directly into print publishing.

Prada aptly named its new book "Luna Rossa," after Team Prada's yacht in this year's America's Cup finals. Packed with 600 photos, the 300-page book highlights Luna Rossa's races and the event's history. It is being published in Italy.

Kate Spade forged into the book scene with "Contents," which fittingly features colorful shots of the random items women cram into their handbags. Books were also featured prominently in a recent ad for the company. Vivienne Tam also got into the game last month with "China Chic," her 300-page take on Chinese culture, style and spiritualism.

Bergdorf Goodman also has committed to the book world. The upscale New York retailer has set up the Jane Stubbs Books and Prints Boutique on its seventh floor, where 550 vintage books, as well as prints and drawings, are for sale. Stubbs, a seasoned book purveyor, ran her own Upper East Side shop for a decade, and has now tweaked her offerings to appeal to the Bergdorf customer.Golf, for example, was not a point of interest at Stubbs' store, but it is popular at the new boutique, she said. However, there is less interest in more obscure books such as "The Pleasures of Torture" and a biography of the Duchess of Pless, Stubbs said.

While the Stubbs boutique is not the kind of place to find a first edition F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, most shoppers plunk down about $100 for a book. Titles retail from $50 to $2,500. Store traffic has "definitely" picked up as a result, according to Nicholas Manville, buyer for decorative home.

Interest in the boutique has been so strong that Bergdorf's is offering "a well-rounded library" in its holiday catalog. Geared for the person who has everything, the library is a $30,000 gift consisting of 750 books.

This fall, Bergdorf's held book parties for Viscount David Linley and for "Steichen's Legacy," a book about Edward Steichen's photography. The latter coincided with an exhibit on the same subject opening at the Whitney Museum of Art. At the end of next month, the retailer will launch Town & Country's wedding book in its bridal boutique.

Felissimo is also serious about the book business.

As part of this month's "Inspired Principles for Daily Life Series," Felissimo staged discussions and book signings with four authors. Feng shui specialist R.D. Chin offered brief consultations and Mary Sue Wallace signed copies of her book "Happyism: A Practical Guide to Happiness." Attendees at Wallace's event had a chance to win a weekend trip for two at her family's Camp Solitude in Lake Placid, N.Y.

With about 70 people at each event, Felissimo sold 70 percent of the 100 available books, according to Lisa Kwok, marketing and operations manager. Felissimo plans to offer more author appearances next year, since these events tie in to the retailer's aim to offer experiential shopping, she added.

"When I find we get a range of ages, talents and careers, that's great because we've made a friend," Kwok said. "If you make a friend, they're there and they come back."

Actress Helen Hunt, for instance, is one such friend, and sometimes those friends bring friends. Last month, Hunt visited the store with Kevin Spacey, who wound up spending several hundred dollars in the store, Kwok said.DKNY's Literary Series has helped pull in customers who had never visited the store, according to Cohen. The program was a natural for Karan, whose store is designed to sell a lifestyle, and one that includes books.

"Donna has always said it's not about just the clothes -- there's so much more to it," Cohen said. "We want to cultivate different people from different lifestyles."

The standing room only crowd at Bushnell's book signing at DKNY's Madison Avenue store were more familiar with the designer's knee-length skirts and leather jackets than the crowd that was expected for Thompson's appearance. But the author is expected to be invited back when the program gets under way again in February.

About a handful of publishers have approached DKNY about inviting other authors to the store.

"It doesn't cost publishers anything and it's a very good match," Cohen said. "It attracts completely different customers."

DKNY Jeans is now getting into the game. Author, photographer, artist, adventure racer, yoga practitioner, spiritualist and African tribe member James Stephenson's new book, "The Language of the Land: Living Among the Hadzabe in Africa," was celebrated earlier this month at a party at Laparue, a trendy TriBeCa watering hole where his photographs and paintings were showcased. He got the nod for being "such an incredible person" who epitomizes what the brand is all about, a DKNY Jeans spokeswoman said.

"We wanted to show that DKNY supports this man and his art and his path. It's not about showcasing our brand," she said. "It's something the brand felt inspired to do since James is such an inspirational person."

Stephenson, who divides his time between Tanzinia and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, said he first met Karan at Jivamukti's yoga classes. After being approached by DKNY about an alliance, he said he was not put off by the commercial scope of his sponsor.

"I had some reservations, but nowadays authentic artists need patrons," he said. "You have to learn how to use the system to bring out something good to the people. If it helps the book, that's more important than it's from a commercial being. If you're a purist, there's no way your stuff is going to be seen."Stephenson also admitted that he could use the clothes -- designer or not.

Saturday afternoon storytelling -- not exactly standard department store merchandise -- is being offered at Lord & Taylor's new children's book section at the Fifth Avenue flagship this month. Thanks to weekly tales about Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine, Dumpy the Dump Truck and other characters, parents with small children and strollers can be found on the store's 10 shopping floors, said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising.

"One important factor about this is that we're bringing in a younger customers with young families who perhaps is a new customer for Lord & Taylor," she said.

Last month, 600 people turned out for storytelling and a fashion show for Barbie, and 300 others turned out the following week for Julie Andrews Edwards' reading with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. The six-week-old storytelling program ended Dec. 16, but will continue next year.

Olexa said she came up with the concept after noticing the plethora of children's booksellers at a national book fair this summer in Chicago. She said she periodically checks out book fairs to see where consumers' interests lie.

Burton, a Burlington, Vt.-based snowboard maker, is also using the children's angle. Images of the company's factories, employees and riders are featured in a new children's book titled "Snowboards From Start to Finish," which was published by Blackbirch Press last month.

Burton gave the project the green light after being approached by the book's author, Tanya Lee Stone, and its photographer, Gale Zucker, who are local residents.

Founder and chief executive officer Jake Burton is briefly profiled in the 30-page book highlighting the company's production. Burton's Web site also is plugged. Known for being run by a low-profile leader, Burton didn't change its factory's dress code to tout its own label for the book's photo shoot.

"At the factory, people were wearing T-shirts and hats on backwards. They were just doing their job," said Scott Rivers, director of marketing for Burton.

Already in its second production run, Tam's "China Chic" has 25,000 copies in distribution. Three years in the making, the book is an extension of Tam's design philosophy, blending Eastern and Western cultures including art, architecture, food, gardens, and of course, fashion, the designer said. It also took great persistence to convince her publisher, Regan Books, to use a red vinyl book jacket and red text."This reaches a lot further than people who spend a lot of money on fashion," she said. "This allows me to share my ideas with so many different types of people. People don't have to buy my collection, but they can read or buy my book to share my philosophies." Some will do both, as proven by her appearance at Neiman Marcus's Dallas store in NorthPark Center, last month. When Tam turned up to plug her book, the retailer sold 60 copies of the tome and $18,000 worth of her sportswear.

But Tam said she was more taken with the creative challenge of writing a book than any monetary rewards.

"Doing a book is quite fulfilling. Doing fashion is a very different feeling," she said. "I hope people who are not familiar with my work and philosophies will read this book and it will help them."

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