LOS ANGELES — A cute outcast living in the outskirts of Hollywood has a tough time in her suburban high school because she loves to wear vintage prom dresses and her jeans jacket, watch old films and basically dance to her own beat.
Are these the liner notes for the 1986 teen angst classic film “Pretty in Pink?” Try the life and times of Jennifur Brandt. But instead of getting the guy she likes at the end of the film, this effervescent former self-anointed “dork” is making a modern move in the girl-power age, building an empire from a hobby she started at 16 to escape her classmates’ torment.
Brandt began her career by cutting, pasting and copying her thoughts and dreams and Fifties-era beauty tips into a ‘zine entitled “Pesky Meddling Girls.” The collage pages fulfilled her “dream of being the editrix of my own fashion magazine,” she recalled. They also resonated among readers beyond the circle of “freaks” who were her friends.
The girlie-heavy issues, which Brandt published at home on her parent’s Xerox machine two to four times a year, quickly attracted hundreds of fans by word of mouth. Within the first couple of years, copies landed in the hands of designer Anna Sui — who commissioned Brandt to design two T-shirts for her collection — and shoe maven Steve Madden, who hired her and her younger sister, Lizzie Brandt, to design, photograph and model for a magalog advertorial inserted in Seventeen magazine.
Other well-known readers have included David Bowie, Marilyn Manson and Drew Barrymore, who befriended Brandt in elementary school when the two were fellow outcast classmates and who continues to lend her support with endorsements.
Now, Brandt has attracted the attention of Warner Bros. Consumer Products Studio. They are kicking off the relatively nascent enterprise with a book that was published last December, a television show under development, games and an initial rollout of a half-dozen apparel and accessory licenses all under the Pesky Meddling Girls brand.
The tween-targeted merchandise is conservatively expected to rake in $4 million in its first year, starting with the upcoming back-to-school season.
Next month, Brandt starts a column for Teen Style magazine, and negotiations are under way to extend the Pesky presence to other media outlets. On the Internet, Webisodes, a snippet of a television series now in development, are slated to debut on the Pesky Meddling Girls page of acmecity.com.
If it all sounds like a movie, consider Brandt’s modus operandi, also the title of the book published by Warner Books, “Life Is a Movie Starring You: The Pesky Meddling Girls Guide to Living Your Dreams.” The soft workbook is filled with 136 pink, yellow and blue pages of information, advice and collages that appeared in the ‘zines. There’s an interview with Sui and how to choose a theme song for getting prepped in the morning.
“‘Life is a movie starring you’ means you can create your own destiny,” Brandt said last week, perched on an Art Deco sofa in the movie-poster decorated Pesky office. “You can be different characters every day, whatever you feel like being. It’s your life. It’s not about being famous. It isn’t about going out on auditions and being an actress. It’s just symbolic of a different way you can think about living life. You can be your own writer, director, producer and star.”
The “office” is part of the North Hollywood house where she grew up and where she lives with her business partners and parents, Moira and Larry Brandt. Her photographer sister Lizzie, 23, lives in San Francisco. Despite living in the entertainment industry capital and Jennifur’s cameo in the film “Clueless” — a gig she landed when one of the film makers got a copy of the ‘zine — this isn’t the Southern California cliche of stage parents grooming their little girl to become a star.
Though her parents have been licensing consultants in the entertainment industry for 15 years, they point out that the possibilities of their daughter’s ‘zine didn’t hit them until two years ago.
“Once we had the initial meeting at Warner Bros. and they wanted to do the book, I think my dad realized this wasn’t a hobby anymore,” Jennifur said. “Watching my parents in the licensing business also fueled me because I saw the problems they were having with licenses and people trying to create stuff that didn’t have any content behind it which would then fail.”
The Brandts have orchestrated first-tier licensing deals for handbags, room accessories and rainwear with Pyramid Accessories; footwear with ES Originals; apparel done by Evy of California; underwear and hosiery with Handcraft; headwear by Drew Pearson; jewelry and accessories with Designs by Skaffles; sleepwear by Wormser, and games of the board, card, hand-held and electronic variety with Mattel.
As the initial wave of product — designed by Jennifur and overseen by Moira as creative director — hits retailers this summer, there lingers a genuine sense of disbelief from Larry that the source has been under his roof and nose all these years.
“It always amazes me when we get into these [licensing] meetings and they ask for ideas and she takes out 10 pages of research that she’s done,” Brandt said. “It happened at Mattel this week with the games. She gave them a whole agenda. They were blown away. I’m still amazed.”
Focus groups are now reviewing game ideas that could be ready by next year, he said, as will product from a second swell of licensed deals being finalized at press time and in the next months.
“We have healthy expectations for the first year,” he said. “What we’re bringing to the table is fashion for the masses, and I really think there is a void there.”
Among the retailers being targeted are Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Mervyns and Kohls, as well as specialty stores such as Wet Seal and Gadzooks.
A spokeswoman for Warner Bros. Consumer Products confirmed that a formal announcement will be made later this month for nearly a dozen licensing deals that will launch Pesky Meddling Girls.
Michelle Sucillon, vice president of studio licensing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products, said, “We looked at the marketplace and saw a need for a tween-teen girl’s property. The opportunity to tap into that demand in combination with the release of the book and a television series in development convinced us this was a property with legs.”
“Pesky Meddling Girls is a fashion/lifestyle brand, not a character license, so it is very different from our core properties,” Sucillon said. “With that in mind, we are being very cautious about the categories we are targeting, and likewise, we have been judicious with the number of licensees we bring on board.”
Mass fashion for young girls is also something Moira knows well as a former buyer for the Contempo Casuals chain and designer for Body Glove and Cherokee. While Warner Bros. suggested the tween customer target, Jennifur said she insisted on mass retailer distribution.
“I was made fun of when I was young, and that has fueled everything so far that has taken me on this path,” she said. “I want to empower girls who maybe don’t have the means — or maybe they do — to be more creative. I want to change the things that are offered to them in mass-market stores like Wal-Mart.”
That means disco denims to boa-trimmed tops, wholesaling from $12 to $20; fur-edged pillows, leopard-print cell-phone cases and desk gear, $6.99 to $24.99; Lucille Ball-inspired tiara-foil print pajamas, from $6 to $13; glittery belts, Day-Glo plastic jewelry and charms, $2.50 to $5.50; pink “roller derby”-inspired sneakers and rhinestone-studded slippers, $4 to $10.
There are slides with a bead kit for do-it-yourself decorating, and the shoe boxes can double as makeup cases.
“With my stuff, it’s ‘Please buy my product because it’s going to be reasonably priced, and then do your own thing to it.’ Change it, make it your own,” she said.
Cosmetics, a natural in the Pesky Meddling Girl universe, is in the plans as proposals are explored. Asked where she’d like to see the fledgling empire go, Jennifur responded, “Martha Stewart is my idol.”