By  on May 3, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Summer movie season is big business for fashion.

Studios are taking movie merchandising, particularly in the top retail tier, to ever-higher levels. In addition, product placement and the influence of movie stars' personal and on-screen styles on fashion are converging, creating myriad possibilities for retailers and customers.

On Monday night, paparazzi lined up outside of Kitson, the specialty retailer on Robertson Boulevard here, to await the arrival of "Superman Returns" stars Kate Bosworth and Brandon Routh. The store was already crowded with guests checking out the themed merchandise, from $48 enamel charm bracelets to $4,500 diamond cuff links and a slew of $100 T-shirts, tank tops and hoodies.

"When we did Batman years ago, we actually ran out of black blank T-shirts to print logos on," said Karen McTier, executive vice president of domestic licensing and worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "We were going into all tiers and we didn't have the concentration of specialty and retro merchandise geared to adults that we do now."

These days, it's hard to imagine a licensing campaign would leave anything to chance. In the last few years, the studio has partnered with Kitson to promote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and its Looney Toons and Tweety Bird merchandise, as well as with Henri Bendel to promote "Catwoman." Juicy Couture, C&C California, Constanca Basto and Isabella Fiore created limited-edition "Catwoman" items ranging from $57 cotton T-shirts to $595 boots for Bendel's, which also hosted the premiere after-party.

This summer, brands as varied as Belstaff, the Italian clothing house, to Sama Eyewear will get into the game. Belstaff has created the leather jackets for Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III," and Sama Eyewear has frames on Colin Farrell in "Miami Vice" as well as Cruise and his co-stars, Maggie Quigley, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

"Superman Returns," in theaters June 30, marks the first time the studio has staged a promotional retail event with a film's stars. Apparel and accessories comprise about 15 percent of the film's merchandise, McTier said. Fashion-forward fans get their first taste at Kitson, where selected items will sell exclusively for two months before hitting other stores."Focusing on the high-end as a platform and as a very viable business and a publicity and fashion opportunity has been more of a recent phenomenon for us," McTier said. "We used to reserve these [high-end specialty] items for our studio stores, but now that we don't have those anymore, we use other retailers to provide that platform for us."

As movies become more costly to produce, the pressure to leverage the brand intensifies.

"The stakes are higher and I think retailers have become more demanding and more sophisticated and we really have to present something to them that is very compelling and unique because they have a lot of things to choose from," McTier said. "That's raised the bar for everybody. With production costs increasing, these ancillary revenue streams are very important to the film and they are important when you are going to finance a film."

Kitson owner Fraser Ross isn't putting all his eggs in one basket with "Superman Returns." The store is also doing promotions with the Lindsay Lohan movie "Just My Luck" and the Meryl Streep-Anne Hathaway film "The Devil Wears Prada," which hits theaters the same day as "Superman Returns."

Ross said, "It's just as important to have a Kitson window as a billboard on Sunset. Every person who is walking in the door is seeing the windows and that is telling them, 'Superman ... is it becoming hip?' Is Kitson kind of like Oprah in promoting movies at a new level? Two of my staff don't own TVs. The new generation doesn't know who Jay Leno is. [A store event] is a new way to get them into buzz about a movie and here you learn a little bit more about the star while they are in the store ... Girls see Kate Bosworth and go, 'Oh my god, she was at Kitson. She must love it. I love it, too, I'm going to go promote her.' That's how it works."

There are many ways to parlay movie buzz into sales. For "Just My Luck," one "TRL" audience member (Lohan is to appear on the MTV show next Monday) will win a trip to Los Angeles and a $5,000 shopping spree with Lohan at Kitson, where one of the items for sale will include a four-leaf clover phone charm tied to the film.During June, the store's shopping bags will read 'The Devil Wears Kitson' on one side and 'The Devil Wears Prada' on the other, which Ross calls, "very concentrated guerrilla marketing."

Currently, studios pay nothing to have their merchandise in Kitson's windows for two weeks, but that might change. "The next movie might be a little more costly," Ross said.

The store's two-week-long window displays generate $50,000 to $100,000 in sales of whatever products are featured, Ross estimated.

On Monday night, Bosworth, clad in a ruffled blouse and skinny jeans, exuded cool-girl charm as she tried on T-shirts and necklaces. She was modest about being a fashion icon. "They should see me at home," she laughed. "It's all fun — the fashion, the logo. Even before this film was made there were so many T-shirts and backpacks and different things with the logo on it ... Now that the film is coming out there will probably be a big surge."

She realizes that she is part of an already powerful brand. "[Director] Bryan Singer told me when I first got the part that if you walk into the jungle and you hold up a cross and a Superman emblem, it's pretty much 50-50 that they will recognize one or the other."

Still, It Girl actresses like Bosworth influence fashion at every level.

Stylist Jessica Paster, who works with Bosworth, thinks the Hollywood effect carries to the streets from the screen. "You saw it in the Julianne Moore movie ["Far From Heaven"] when everyone started wearing little Fifties dresses, and in 'The Aviator,' when everyone was wearing Forties-ish suits and Old Hollywood glamour like Cate Blanchett did. When there is a beautiful actress who dresses beautifully, people definitely emulate ... with 'Superman,' I'm sure we're going to see a lot of little pencil skirts."

Paster said that sometimes there is a direct cause-and-effect among films, runways and red carpets. "Take a Cate Blanchett, who's a fashion girl, and she's got this Forties look in a movie ... I think that inspires designers to go 'Oh, maybe I should go that direction in my collection.' Every kind of outlet inspires all of us. I just saw Julianne Moore in 'The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio' and I did a fitting with an actress a week later and brought her all these Fifties dresses because it was so adorable I wanted this girl to look like that."While a great paparazzi shot can do wonders for visibility and sales, fashion houses also take a more proactive stance with product placement.

Giorgio Armani led the way with Richard Gere's sharp suits in "American Gigolo" 26 years ago. This summer, Armani's designs will be seen on Farrell and Jamie Foxx in "Miami Vice" and on Hathaway and Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada."

Circle back to the endless red-carpet shots and movie stills that fill magazines and it's clear that consumers are also buying items inspired by celebrities' real-life and on-screen looks, not just those specific items placed by companies or licensed by studios.

"It's a fine line between having an affinity for a celebrity and liking the way she looks in a movie," said Jaye Hersh, owner of Intuition boutique here.

In the case of Jessica Simpson and the shorts she wore in "The Dukes of Hazzard," all the elements worked. "The first pictures came out in January 2005 and the movie wasn't released until June. We have been selling those shorts for almost a year and a half now," she said of the $150 True Religion denim cut-offs.

Above, all Hersh notes, "An item has to fit into a consumer's lifestyle.

"People aren't going to want to wear a period gown just because they see Keira Knightley wearing one," she said. "But if she does turn up wearing a shirt inspired by the look of the movie, people may emulate it."

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