CARTOON SUPERSTARS: GETTING THE FASHION TREATMENT

Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Bugs, Tweetie, Mickey and Minnie are getting downright trendy.
At the Warner Bros. Studio store, Tweetie, Sylvester, Taz and Bugs turn up on everything from tank dresses to V-neck polo shirts with johnny collars. The store also has a supply of jeans in the hot low-rise and boot-leg styles.
Cartoon characters will ride the women’s golf craze in May, and in the fall, Scoobie Doo will appear on apparel tinted in retro shades of brown and green.
“We’ve never looked at this as a T-shirt and a screen-print program,” said Dan Romanelli, president of Warner Bros. worldwide consumer products. “In order to build a brand, you’ve got to take it to all different levels creatively. Fashion and lifestyle are important when defining Looney Toons.”
At the Studio Stores, 65 percent of the apparel is purchased “by adults for adults,” Romanelli said. “Warner Bros. has always been older in its appeal.”
Kathy Prost, senior vice president of merchandising, said the screened T-shirt portion of the Warner Bros. business is actually very small.
“Customers want better-quality fashion for their money,” she said. “It’s not leading edge, but it’s very current and on-trend.”
For example, a new WB Sport line uses jacquard knits and synthetics for hockey jerseys, shorts and T-shirts.
Since Warner Bros. caters to a broad audience, extreme looks are out of the question. But it does interpret the trends for its customers.
While the company eschews allover sheer looks, there will be items for holiday with sheer insets.
“Also, graphically, just to do straight screen printing or straight embroidery is not enough anymore,” she said. “We’re moving toward prints that are tonal or photographic and trying different techniques. In our junior area, we have little appliques filled with liquid.”
A collection for kids and adults called Flower Power features shorts, jumpers, skirts and fashion tops in stretch pique with large floral prints in cool blues and greens.
Warner Bros. has tried to partner with well-known designers like Todd Oldham, who designed the store’s first Batman and Robin collection.
“We sold between 25 million and 30 million T-shirts in 1989, but it went beyond that,” said Romanelli. “There was a huge explosion of that yellow and black logo” that influenced other areas of fashion.
In addition to superior style, designers create their own publicity, which is always a benefit, Prost said.
“The fact that it was Todd Oldham did bring customers into the store,” she said. “We think working with a designer is a plus. It’s one of the initiatives we’re working on. We’ve actually met with a couple of designers in Europe.”
Oldham was not available to design the collection for the upcoming film “Batman and Robin.” However, the company has collaborated with Mossimo Giannulli of Mossimo on a line of sportswear and accessories that arrives in stores this month.
The unisex collection is inspired by the laid-back spirit of Hollywood, with button-front shirts in seersucker or madras, polo shirts in cotton mesh or terry cloth, hats and bags.
Warner Bros. has also worked with Robert Lee Morris and Kate Spade and features Jeanette Kastenberg’s sequined dresses in its store galleries.
“For fall, we’re looking at the importance of corduroy and fur,” Prost said. “We’ve got a lot of characters that have fur, and we’re able to incorporate that into our product.”
The Walt Disney Co. has tapped into one of the biggest fashion trends in recent years — animal prints — with its hit film, “101 Dalmatians.”
The Walt Disney Co. has licensed the dalmatians to Hush Puppies for a shoe line with black on white spots; Judith Jack, for marcasite jewelry shaped like puppies, bones and dog houses; Marissa Christina, for a sweater line decorated with spots and puppies, and Bag Bazaar for bone-shaped handbags, said Mary Ellen Zarakas, director of apparel licensing.
The products are sold at discounters and mid-tier department stores.
“A property like ‘101 Dalmatians’ doesn’t come along every day,” Zarakas admitted. But Disney has been able to find fashion inspiration in many other films.
“Hercules,” the company’s latest animated film, which is being released on June 27, has a brown palette, which seems to tie in nicely with brown’s key fashion role for fall.
“The bulk of the business is T-shirts and children’s sets,” Zarakas said. “Yet, even within the basics, you’ll find current fashion colors and designs.
“We did baby T-shirts, not only basic T-shirts, and with ‘101 Dalmatians,’ we did rugby-inspired shirts,” she added. “We have a group in our licensing division that works exclusively on athletic and activewear, focusing on ESPN, the Mighty Ducks and ABC [which Disney owns].”
At the Disney Store, Winnie the Pooh appears on shortalls, jumpers, Empire dresses, skirts, tunics, shirts, leggings and tote bags.
“Pooh is the number-one selling character at the Disney Stores,” said a spokeswoman. “There is a nostalgia element. People are still very much attached to the character.”
More contemporary are silk jackets, ties, scarves and accessories by Nicole Miller, which update classics like Mickey Mouse in vibrant prints.
Maximal Art creates vintage jewelry, such as watch bracelets, antique necklaces, charm bracelets and pins, while Theodora designs silk scarves in deep, rich colors.
“When we first opened 10 years ago, our merchandise was mostly souvenirs, like caps and T-shirts,” the spokeswoman said. “We listened to what our guests wanted and expanded the product line to include apparel and accessories to fit their active lifestyles.”
Viacom is hoping to create some synergy when it opens its first store in Chicago next month. The company, which owns MTV, VH-1, Nickelodeon and Nick-at-Nite, is targeting the audiences of each of its cable television properties.
MTV is developing a House of Style line of apparel and accessories for a 1998 launch.
“It’s going to be head-to-toe fashion,” said Lisa Silfen, vice president of consumer products at MTV Networks. The junior line for men and women will be trend-oriented, but will also have plenty of staples.
“It’s going to be a fashion line, where we’ll be taking fashion further than we’ve ever taken it before,” Silfen said.
The company is also making a big play in the sports-influenced apparel arena.
“Over the years, you’ve seen more hockey jerseys, and now they are a fashion staple,” said Silfen. “We released a Beavis and Butt-Head jersey. We are also doing sports silhouettes, like baseball jerseys and basketball uniforms, that kids are wearing out to the clubs.”
MTV developed a line of apparel and accessories for its home video exercise/dance series, “The Grind.” Performance meets fashion in the line, which uses Lycra spandex and takes its cue from fashion trends.

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