Twentieth Century Fox’s highly anticipated film, “The Greatest Showman,” about P.T. Barnum, opens in theaters around Christmas, but it’s also playing in a limited run, dubbed Home for the Holidays at Manhattan concept store Story.
Directed by Michael Gracey, with songs by the composers of “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman as Barnum, Michelle Williams as his wife and Zendaya and Zac Efron as acrobats, is filled with lavish costumes and locations befitting the 19th-century lifestyle of Barnum, who opened the first successful museum in the U.S. — so what if it was full of oddities? He’s also credited for popularizing opera in this country.
All of this gave Story owner Rachel Shechtman rich fodder for items such as jewelry with a colorful Big Tent pattern by Alexis Bittar, notebooks covered with a movie ticket pattern, Clare V. black-and-white makeup pouches, and onesies with felt appliqués of ringmasters and striped tent.
Shechtman collaborated with Jim Fielding, president of consumer products and innovation at Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, to bring the film’s themes such as magic and wonder to life in more than 2,300 stockkeeping units from 300 vendors. “He was a client of ours when he worked at Awesomeness and Dreamworks,” she said.
Story created a collection of exclusive, limited-edition gifts featuring original artwork by designers Zipeng Zhu and Sunday Afternoon. The patterns are featured on items from brands including Samsung, Sugarfina and West Elm.
Other products include Rockets of Awesome’s signature children’s bomber jacket in silver, necklaces found in Paris and made from mixed materials, ranging in price from $150 to $278, black clutches beaded with big tops, $120 and an Edie Parker clutch with a feather design, $1,295. Other Edie Parker designs at Story feature words such as “Believe” and “Dream” inscribed on clutches. There are also necklaces featuring some of the exact poses Zendaya strikes in the movie, $79.
“Given the buzz and excitement around this sensational film, we thought Story would be a perfect place to celebrate the creativity of this production through merchandise and design,” said Fielding. Having worked with Shechtman before, he said he knew that “the best thing is to let the Story team get creative. We tried not to put a ton of parameters on them. We had consultations and approvals. She always surprises us. That’s what Rachel does: surprise and delight.”
“Licensing and distribution isn’t what it used to be,” said Shechtman. “Traditional retail says you’re only one store on 10th Avenue. We’re store as showroom and press release. About 15 percent of the foot traffic during the week is B2B. I wanted to expand the opportunity.”
Even though Bloomingdale’s already had a project in the works with Twentieth Century for “The Greatest Showman” products for its holiday catalogue, Shechtman said, “I’m a massive fan of Tony Spring [chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s,]” she said. “I convinced him recently to walk [a show] at the Javits Center with me. I reached out to Tony and said, ‘We’re creating all this merchandise.'”
Shechtman stressed that Bloomingdale’s “Showman” collection and Story’s capsule are very different. Story’s merchandise will be displayed with Bloomingdale’s mix of curated and exclusive items inspired by “The Greatest Showman.” Bloomingdale’s partnership with Fox features apparel and accessories, including such high-impact designs as Zendaya x Aqua’s firework sequin cold-shoulder gown and Parker’s silver-and-black beaded dress. There’s also House of Sillage’s Greatest Showman for Her perfume. It may require a leap of faith to believe that Giuseppe Zanotti and Jimmy Choo’s mod platform shoes could have been worn in the film.
“We weren’t the only ones that wanted a front-row seat to the epic spectacle of “The Greatest Showman,” Bloomingdale’s writes in its holiday catalogue. “Story, the game-changing retail concept that curates its product according to rotating editorial themes, collaborated with top brands like Clare V. on a collection of exclusives inspired by the movie.”
Story’s rooms were transformed into a three-ring circus, courtesy of event impressario David Stark, who used hanging light fixtures shaped like top hats in the men’s section of the store. “I’ve had the biggest design crush on him,” Shechtman said.
“We refrained from creating an old-fashioned ‘period piece’ for Story,” said Stark. “Rather, we took inspiration from the film and made it into a contemporary expression that guests would find exciting and very now. The gold hoops that you might see animals jump through and special touches such as tight rope walkers and wide awning stripes throughout, trumpet the film.”
Product display tables are painted with colorful flags, striped carpet tiles cover the floor, and 6,000 of GE’s new vintage-inspired LED bulbs are showcased on the store’s main entry wall, greeting customers like a marquis, with the store’s logo in black. Gold fabric, colorful bunting and bright lights strung across the ceiling create an under the big-tent vibe. Shechtman commissioned Brooklyn’s Flavor Paper to create hand-screened wallpaper, while elsewhere in the store, aerial rings illuminated by tiny lights, hang on the wall.
Some products look like they could have been lifted from the movie, while others have a more subtle approach or evoke the Victorian era when Barnum was alive. “We worked in little nods to the circus,” said Shechtman, pointing out a coffee mug by Big Brew with a blue elephant peeking over the rim.
A plate with a woman wearing a snake around her neck represents the slightly creepy side of the circus, where carnies bark come-ons for oddities such as fat ladies and midgets. Barnum’s circus reportedly had both. Mary Powers, who was the former, and General Tom Thumb, the latter.
Shechtman seems to relish the role of impressario, doling out assignments and giving creatives the chance to sell their products. Stark enjoyed taking Story on a field trip to the circus, Shechtman said. Indeed, she said that playing match-maker is her favorite role. “We got Samsung into Bloomingdale’s,” she said, adding that the electronics giant had never sold to the department store. Its backup battery with the image of a movie ticket on the back, charges most smartphones.
“What I’m most proud of is creating access for small businesses,” Shechtman said. “Take this onesie. There’s a woman in Texas who is now licensing items to Bloomingdale’s and selling her products there.”
Bringing disparate brands, classifications and price points together also gratifies Shechtman, who has her own “big-tent” approach toward merchandising. “I say, just because you have a Birkin bag, doesn’t mean you use Hermès toilet paper,” she said.
“I get bored incredibly easily,” Shechtman said, explaining the quickly changing scene at Story. “We’ve done 37 themes in six years.”
Story invited local food trucks to park near the store from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31, including Korilla BBQ, Cinnamon Snail and Drive Chang, which will serve à la carte menus compliments of Story.
“A lot of the events Rachel has planned, such as the food trucks, are about the magic of retail,” Fielding said. “Her merchant team reminds of Marvin Traub, [Bloomingdale’s chairman and ceo,] in the Sixties and Seventies when retailing was about theater. It’s hard to do that now.”
Fielding said the fleeting element of Story’s themes prompts consumers to visit the store. “By the time the film opens, its run at Story will be almost finished. In traditional retail, the success of the box office, would matter, but Story is a destination. If it puts a smile on your face and would be a great gift, it will succeed. The world is tough place right now. I go into every theme Rachel does. I know it’s going to go away. It’s scarcity, and a celebration of everything the film represents.”