THE FLIP SIDE
Byline: Mark Tosh
NEW YORK — Designers seem to have few problems adapting to the celebrity role, but can a celebrity cut it as a designer?
After stints as a singer, talk show hostess, author, model and commercial spokeswoman, Kathie Lee Gifford has found fashion a lucrative new outlet.
A co-host of TV’s “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,” Gifford launched the Kathie Lee Collection of career sportswear and accessories exclusively at 2,200 Wal-Mart stores last year, and in 10 months the signature line has exploded into a $250 million to $300 million business for the giant discounter. It is now being expanded into categories such as intimate apparel, sleepwear, watches and hair-care products.
Although she perhaps is the most successful “celebrity designer” simply because of Wal-Mart’s sheer volume, Gifford’s not the first personality to answer fashion’s call.
Cheryl Tiegs, who modeled for the cover of Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s 1966 spring catalog, launched a line of casual sportswear at Sears in 1981, and a Jaclyn Smith sportswear line debuted at Kmart in 1985.
Smith, who gained fame as one of “Charlie’s Angels,” has become the key label in Kmart’s women’s assortment, with sales last year estimated at $200 million. The line now includes jewelry, hosiery, lingerie and sunglasses.
Building on Smith’s success, Kmart launched a line of Kathy Ireland swimwear in spring 1994, which the company said was a natural step because “of the extensive knowledge Ireland acquired about swimwear” during 13 years as a swimwear model. After swimwear, Ireland introduced a bodywear collection and rugged-outdoor wear at Kmart.
Since getting into the fashion arena last year, Delta Burke, who played interior designer Suzanne Sugarbaker in the television series “Designing Women,” has accumulated nine apparel licenses aimed at plus-size women. They include core jeanswear under the Delta Blues label and career and casual sportswear with the Delta Burke Design label. One of the most recognizable celebrity lines, however, is Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, although Vanderbilt no longer has anything to do with the business. Sold in some of Federated Department Stores’ units and moderate chains like J.C. Penney, Vanderbilt had volume last year of $60 million and is projecting sales of $80 million this year.
Home shopping also has helped turn celebrities like Joan Rivers, Ivana Trump and Connie Stevens into designers.
Rivers has sold an estimated $60 million in jewelry on QVC over five years.
However, some celebrity lines don’t last as long as the celebrity. Sears, for example, dropped its Cheryl Tiegs sportswear collection from both the store and catalog in 1989, and Roseanne’s large-size collection never got off the ground after the comedienne and her former husband, Tom Arnold, ended up in a court dispute with the manufacturer, which Roseanne won.
Sears declined to provide a volume figure for its Cheryl Tiegs line, which has left a lasting impression with some consumers, seven years after it disappeared.
“A lot of people think we still have [the line] because they don’t shop at Sears and Cheryl Tiegs is still around,” a Sears spokeswoman said.