TV UPS THE FASHION QUOTIENT

Byline: Merle Ginsberg

LOS ANGELES — While everybody’s kept busy oohing, ogling and mining movie, pop and hip-hop stars for new fashion trends, it’s been the stars of television who have been not only selling clothes and creating buzz at retail, but influencing designers and inciting them to attempts at product placement rarely seen in fashion circles outside of glossy magazines.
“We’ve been selling large pin-on flowers for a while,” says Helen Hwang, owner of trendy Los Angeles boutique Yellow. “And no one was biting until Sarah Jessica Parker starting wearing big flower pins on ‘Sex and the City’ this season. Now there’s a real demand for them. Sarah Jessica is a real trendsetter.”
Retailers all over the country discovered that last summer, when Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw wore a signature-name necklace, sparking that girlish Seventies trend all over again. Suddenly stores had to stock them, due to demand.
Industry observers agree that “Sex and the City” is having more influence over what young women want to wear — and buy — than any other TV show, let alone film.
“I don’t really pay attention to TV,” says self-proclaimed knockoff king Allen B. Schwartz, design director of ABS. “The Oscars remain the ultimate fashion show for me. But if a dress gets on ‘Sex and the City’ — the right dress — I am influenced by it. And my consumer recognizes it’s from that show and she buys it.”
But the HBO hit isn’t the only series translating items into direct sales. Ever since “The Sopranos” debuted, pinkie rings for men have been blowing out of downtown jewelry district shops and the likes of Bulgari.
The cable hit-maker isn’t the only network gunning the fashion machine.
“Amy Brenneman used our large black tote bag in every scene of ‘Judging Amy’ last season,” said Alexandra Grane, West Coast publicity director for Tommy Hilfiger. “It blew out of the store. Viewers called the costumer for the show and Amy’s publicist to find out what it was.
“The same thing happened when Debra Messing from ‘Will & Grace’ wore our gold hoop earrings and gold cuff on ‘The Tonight Show,”‘ continued Grane. “Her publicist and costumer got barraged with calls. Now we can’t make the gold hoops fast enough. Television’s opened up a whole new world of marketing for us. And lucky for us, TV’s programming has definitely gotten better.”
For Hilfiger and other designers targeting a young hip audience, television is now a more powerful tool than movies, where there’s no guarantee of audience demographics and size. On the other hand, designers can tap into what the young and the trendy are tuning into weekly: HBO, MTV, “Will & Grace,” “Friends” and the WB’s Gen Y lineup — including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Popular” and “Felicity.”
Here’s how it works: the designers work with the shows’ costumers, sending them look books and providing access to pull outfits from their L.A. stores. Hilfiger works regularly with “Dharma and Greg,” “The West Wing,” “E.R.,” “Third Rock,” “Will & Grace,” “Felicity” and “Judging Amy.”
Designers strike their own deals with the television stylists. This practice used to be the domain of mostly moderate and contemporary labels. These days, companies as sophisticated as Prada, Tod’s, Jimmy Choo and Burberry are falling all over themselves to get clothes on “Sex and the City” and other programs.
Where there’s connection these days, synergy soon follows. American Eagle Outfitters struck a deal last week for an undisclosed sum with Miramax’s Dimension division to outfit four of their youth-oriented movies. Last year, American Eagle cut a deal with Columbia TriStar to be the official wardrobe provider for WB teen drama “Dawson’s Creek.”
Hollywood watchers believe this is just the beginning of apparel brands paying production companies for formal placement.
Sharon Lee, co-president of Look- Look, a youth market research company and online research data base, credits InStyle and Joan Rivers’ fashion commentary on the E! network with heightening television’s fashion profile.
“We’re living in a celebrity-infused environment. Movie stars have alliances with major designers, so companies like Bebe and BCBG pursue the stars of television, such as the girls on the WB. Most of the TV audience couldn’t go out and buy the Armani hankie-topped orange dress that Keri Russell wore to an awards show. But the other companies picked up on the trend, made it more accessible and it sold really well. An episode of ‘Friends’ will inspire 30,000 calls about where to get Jennifer Aniston’s pants. TV creates the celebrity. Then the celebrity sells the clothes,” said Lee.
Brad Turell, executive vice president of network communications for the WB — which is very excited about the fashion synergy possibilities for their new Darren Star-created series “Grosse Point” — noted that even movie casting agents are now looking to the WB for trend direction.
“It’s unbelievable what’s going on with the fashion side of our programming. Our actors are very appealing, and they all work hard on their look. It’s amazing how many young girls look to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ for fashion ideas.”
Leslie Bibb, star of the WB’s “Popular,” agreed. “Teens look at our style. They may not have our style at their mall, but they can go out and buy stuff that’s similar to it. It’s really fun for us to strategically plan what we want to look like for a whole season.”
So when did TV get this hip, fashion conscious?
Off screen, television actresses such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Portia de Rossi, Katie Holmes and Lara Flynn Boyle, all influenced by trend-conscious stylists, now wear designer clothes as diverse as Vera Wang, Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, BCBG, David Cardona and Calvin Klein.
But fashion always had a leading role on the small screen.
Certainly, classics such as “The Mod Squad,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Avengers,” “The Sonny and Cher Show,” “The Monkees” and “Miami Vice” pioneered the inclusion of hip street and high fashion looks on television. Since most programs have mostly dealt with issues close to home — the family, the single dad, the single mom — there wasn’t as much opportunity for glam. That is, until the rockers and VJs of MTV shot hip into almost every home in America.
“We’re certainly very fashion conscious at MTV,” said Chad Hines, senior producer of MTV’s “House of Style.” “A very solid effort goes into dressing our on-air talent like Ananda Lewis and Carson Daly, and also into how to present fashion to our audience. “We like the big fashion houses like Gucci and Versace,” continued Hines, “but we also cater to the audience in Nashville that shops at Dillard’s. So we use celebrities to introduce high fashion to our viewers. We put Dolce bathing suits on Lil’ Kim. Since hip-hop stars and country stars both use labels in their lyrics, even our youngest viewers now know what they are. Believe me, Kid Rock and Eminem are very up on fashion.”
And it’s not only in the videos. What the stars wear to MTV’s Film Awards and Music Video Awards is now so important to the viewer. “House of Style” does a post-show for every one of their awards shows — a la Joan Rivers — to review the looks. “Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, N’Sync, Puff Daddy — these people are pretty style-y,” added Hines. “If you’ve been watching MTV for two years, you’ll see a huge evolution in their look.”
And that’s what keeps the fashion enthusiasts watching: the styles on television are always changing.
Last year, “Sex and the City” was all about the Fendi baguette. They must have paraded at least 20 different styles of the ubiquitous beaded bag. This year, the gals are onto the next: the Dior saddlebag, the Tod’s tote and the Prada bowling bag.
“Pat Field and I do five-hour fittings every other week,” said Sarah Jessica Parker. “The clothes are like characters on ‘Sex and the City.’ A girl like Carrie isn’t going to stick to one trend too long.”

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