Byline: Kavita Daswani

LOS ANGELES — Universal Studios, the moviemakers behind such enduring classics as “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and the “Jurassic Park” trilogy, is putting new zest into its apparel licensing.
No longer will it do to simply stick a decal of a cartoon character onto a short-sleeved cotton T-shirt. These days, the consumer products linked to movies and TV series are being lifted out of the realm of the cheap giveaway or short-term souvenir — and into the arena of trendy fashion.
Following the success of “Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the Jim Carrey smash that has pulled in some $340 million worldwide, Universal recently announced that Mike Myers will star in the film adaptation of another Seuss classic, “The Cat in the Hat.”
The magical, whimsical animation of the Seuss characters means there is much to build on when it comes to creating a fashion sensation. Although still in its initial stages, the apparel line linked with the “Cat in the Hat” project, set for release for holiday 2003, is slated to be sporty and fashionable, the kind of thing more suited to better boutiques than a concession stand.
“We will work with elements from the film, doing interpretations of Seussian characters in fashion colors,” said Carolyn Foreman, vice president of licensing for the consumer products group of Universal Studios. “We’re planning lines for men, women and children, as well as products in the general lifestyle category. It will be huge.”
So big that Foreman sees stores ranging from Bloomingdale’s to Wal-Mart and other merchants in between. The better sportswear line will comprise sweaters, fleece-lined jackets and T-shirts. For more upscale stores, some of the pieces will be embroidered and appliqued.
“It’s a big color story,” said Susan McIntyre-Young, senior art director for the consumer products group at Universal, pointing to some of the mock-ups slated for the girls’-to-women’s items. “The idea is to be hip, fashion-forward and trendy.”
That is achieved by taking the essence of the Seuss character — a line-drawn, lanky cat wearing a tall red-and-white striped hat — incorporating the other shades that are the book’s signature (blue and white) and spinning all these elements into a fashionable range.
“It’s not just about putting logos on or slapping on a character here and there,” said McIntyre-Young. “We have to think about how the characters can work from a modern design perspective.”
So the classic red and white stripe is muted or brightened, depending on the apparel type.
“We have reds, berries, pinks, oranges, and we have taken the line art and made it colorful,” she added.
Throughout, there are interesting textures, fuzzy lines and a sense of the unexpected. For tweens, in a line to be called “Sally,” after the girl character in the book, shades of peach and red, enhanced by touches of periwinkle, appear on pajamas and trendy tops.
There is a greater sense of sophistication in the adult collection, where bright blues and magentas are central shades in a collection that extends to home decor, accessories and underwear. Leather coats feature the embossed black silhouette of the cat, a signature that will appear in many of the adult pieces, so as to avoid “anything too cartoonish,” she said.
While details regarding pricing and distribution are yet to be worked out, Foreman said they will be somewhat in keeping with the last Seuss effort, the upscale sportswear created to coincide with the holiday 2000 release of “Grinch.” There, sweaters done in conjunction with Los Angeles-based sweater specialist Suss Designs went for upward of $150 and were sold at Barneys.
Meanwhile, new items are constantly being added to the Curious George line, based on the cute monkey born in 1940 by H.A. and Margret Rey. The line is no longer restricted to plush toys and other playthings, but has found a sizable new market in funky T-shirts and other accessories sold at trendy stores like Gadzooks. That line alone grosses about $100 million a year.
Another Universal staple, Chilly Willy, can also be seen in the form of apparel and accessories at retailers like Hot Topic and Gadzooks, as well as Nordstrom.
Even so, Foreman said that the upcoming “Cat in the Hat” merchandise would be one of their most extensive, and their sportiest and most fashionable to date. She could not project sales figures this early on, but given previous volumes on studio merchandise, it is predicted to be healthy. The “Jurassic Park” series has thus far brought in some $1.5 billion at retail worldwide for Universal. The licensing division of the corporation cleared some $1.5 billion in retail sales last year.
Also just rolled out is a new Bruce Lee sportswear line — from T-shirts to thick leather jackets, at retail prices stretching to $400 — directed for men, but which has found favor among women, as well. Foreman said it would eventually “evolve into a women’s collection.” The Bruce Lee collection is now available at 375 better speciality stores nationwide.
Other projects include a “Fast and the Furious” collection, in keeping with the extreme sports/NASCAR phenomenon that a surprising amount of women are taking to. For as with the rest of fashion, licensing is about keeping one step ahead of the game.