LOST EXPOSURE

Byline: Kristin Young

LOS ANGELES — Even among those who make a name for themselves on the runways or in retail, the lure of Hollywood — both for fame and fortune — is hard to resist.
Several designers and manufacturers here churn out items, from special one-of-a-kind items to orders of thousands for film and TV, boosting their brand awareness and bottom lines in the process.
Although industry observers say this particular segment would be the least vulnerable part of the Hollywood machine to a strike because sales to studios are generally a small portion of their overall wholesale business, there could be thousands of dollars of lost exposure at stake. The exact magnitude of the impact is difficult to quantify, they concede.
“It all depends on how long it lasts,” said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association.
A strike shorter than six months would be negligible, she said. But anything more than that period of time, and “it’s time to start assessing the impact,” she said.
Many designers, though lamenting the possibility of lost visibility, said they mostly fear the strike’s ramifications on a retail level.
Mandalay, a locally based better dress line that brings in about $6 million at retail, produces up to 10 percent of its wholesale goods for film and television.
“Whenever a business as large as this stops, there’s going to be concern,” said Glenn Kay, whose works with his mother, Joyce Kay, who is the owner and designer for the line. “I definitely think the women’s apparel industry will suffer. It has the potential to be a long summer.”
A double-beaded V-neck jumpsuit that Kim Cattrall wore in a Los Angeles episode of “Sex and the City” was from the Mandalay collection. Other credits include “Ally McBeal” and “Frasier.”
“It’s free exposure and consumers recognize [products] in store windows or on the retail floor,” said Kay. “There will be lots of lost purchases.”
Designer Sarah Shaw runs two businesses that could feel the pinch — Sarah Shaw Handbags and Rags-to-Order, a costume business.
Sarah Shaw Handbags sometimes produce up to 250 pieces for a particular project. Future cameos of her product include upcoming films like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Legally Blonde.” The $1 million company does not have an advertising budget and has come to rely on celebrity endorsements, said designer Shaw.
While Shaw doubts the strike will debilitate her accessories business, Rags-to-Order is a different story.
“It ceases to exist when [Hollywood is] not in production.”
Still, like Kay, Shaw is more concerned about sales at retail, especially if the strike lasts more than six months.
“I think a lot of people are going to lose their homes and be severely in debt,” she said. “It will take years for people to recover. People are going to get back to necessities. They’re not going to be buying luxury items such as handbags. It could make for a weak fall, even in other areas like New York.”
Kevan Hall, former creative director for Halston, who opened an atelier here last month housing the Kevan Hall Collection, said 5 percent of his business is producing clothing for the movies. He most recently produced gowns for the upcoming movie “All That Glitters” starring Mariah Carey.
While he values the sales to the studios as well as the prestige product placement on celebrities bring, he said he won’t miss it when it’s gone.
“[The strike] is not something I’m going to concern myself with,” said Hall, who sells to Neiman Marcus and other specialty stores. “There are other ways to generate dollars, such as going straight to the customer via trunk shows.”
And some designers say that if a strike occurs, they will use the time either to diversify their businesses or concentrate on core divisions. Suss Cousins, who manufactured 250 sweaters for last year’s holiday hit, “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” said that placement increased her business at her retail store here on Beverly Boulevard. “Now,I will not get those customers,” she said. Instead, Cousins is going to concentrate on expanding her wholesale business and is looking for retail space in New York to open a second store there by the fall. Designers John Cherpas and Kellie Delkeskamp, who produce contemporary lines under the Fever Jeans, Josephine Loka and John Cherpas brands, have been building their $20 million business with a venture called Sew Reel. The sideline has has manufactured thousands of costumes for movies such as “Windtalkers” and the two upcoming “Matrix” sequels. It has also provided more work to local contractors who have seen a considerable amount of junior and contemporary business go to factories south of the border and to Asia.
If a strike occurs, Cherpas and Delkeskamp have also decided to concentrate on their wholesale business.
“I’m not really worried about a strike, even if it goes on for an extended time,” said Cherpas. “It is a sideline thing that we do to bring in extra income. I’m still going to be able to pay my bills.”

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