Nickelodeon is teaming with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in an effort to build a tween apparel franchise for its fashion-centric “True Jackson, VP” series.
For Wal-Mart, the new line of girly clothes and shoes for back-to-school — Mad Style by True Jackson — rounds out an exclusive portfolio of affordable fashion for young girls that includes two junior lines: Miley Cyrus is kicking off her fashion collaboration with designer Max Azria for b-t-s, and country star Taylor Swift has been designing sundresses for L.E.I.
Nickelodeon is launching the label with help from Jane Siskin, president and chief executive officer of Vernon, Calif.-based licensee L’Koral Industries, which is crucial to gaining credibility as a fashion brand. Siskin, honored as Wal-Mart’s supplier of the year for junior apparel in 2007, oversees L’Koral’s eight brands, including the contemporary labels Elizabeth and James, created by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and LaRok.
Retailing for less than $14, Mad Style by True Jackson is available in sizes 7 to 16, which would fit six- to 11-year-old girls, whom Nickelodeon considers the core audience for the show about a teen executive named True Jackson working at a fashion company called Mad Style.
While Nickelodeon declined to project sales estimates for the apparel venture, it’s taking steps to ensure that girls, whether they watch the show or not, know about the line. The cable network is broadcasting commercials nationally through the end of the month and placing ads in magazines such as Twist and Parent that target tweens as well as their mothers, who control the purse strings. It’s also counting on the show’s seven million viewers, who make it the second-most-watched TV show on Saturday night after “iCarly,” another Nickelodeon series.
“We wanted to bring the success of ‘True Jackson’ and the opportunity for customization and a fashion opportunity to as broad an audience as we could,” said Hal Snik, senior vice president of domestic licensing at Nickelodeon. “We want to have cutting-edge fashion at a price point so the girl can mix and match and not go wrong.”
The inspiration for the clothes is the show’s main character, True Jackson, portrayed by 15-year-old Keke Palmer.
Palmer began generating buzz in Hollywood three years ago when she starred as the namesake spelling wiz in “Akeelah and the Bee,” opposite Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. After appearing in Tyler Perry’s family-friendly “Madea” franchise, the Chicago native has embraced grittier movie roles, such as one of a troubled teen psychoanalyzed by Kevin Spacey in “Shrink.” She’s also been mixing pop, R&B and hip-hop on her second album to follow up her 2007 release, “So Uncool.”
With “True Jackson, VP,” which has been picked up for a second season, Palmer has melded twin passions — acting and fashion. She has a TV wardrobe stocked with outfits by Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch, as well as vintage pieces from the Sixties and Seventies. Palmer has gradually upgraded her own sartorial sensibility from Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters to Balmain, Jenni Kayne, Brian Reyes, Betsey Johnson and the designer brands sold on Web retailer Gilt Groupe.
The result is a medley of spicy and sweet on the red carpet: a body-hugging jumpsuit by Corey Lynn Calter for the Teen Choice Awards, a Max Mara maxidress at the Crystal + Lucy Awards and an edgy ensemble tossed together with a cropped leather Vita jacket over a zebra-print H&M dress, skinny jeans and Steve for Steve Madden boots at the Independent Spirit Awards.
“I am more savvy” about fashion, Palmer said.
Palmer was familiar with Siskin’s work at Elizabeth and James and LaRok. The actress collaborated with LaRok’s designers to whip up a dress for one of her public appearances, but counts Elizabeth and James as one of her favorite lines. She recently added a sundress from the label to her summer closet. “They have a certain sophistication about them, but edgy,” Palmer said.
Edginess also can be an aspiration for the elementary school set via Mad Style by True Jackson, which Siskin said she aimed to make fashion-forward with an opportunity for customers to tweak to suit their own style.
“Now we’re in a time that every trend is relevant,” she said. “The young people are really going to be in self-expression. That’s what fashion is all about.”
In the inaugural collection, which began shipping to all Wal-Mart stores last month, black dresses arrive accessorized with skinny belts and colorful shirts layered underneath, removable suspenders punch up pleated skirts and neon-tinted buttons pop on black and gray tunics emblazoned with the phrase “True Forever.” The holiday lineup glistens with metallic leggings, sequins on blouson tops and plaid shirts enhanced by a magenta tube top to mimic a waist-slimming corset. Spring’s grouping reveals more unexpected color combos with lots of layering, dresses and skirts. The line will expand with more offerings for b-t-s 2010.
“It’s not just a T-shirt with a celebrity image on it,” Siskin said. “That eight- to 12-year-old isn’t afraid. She’s interested in watching these characters on TV and emulating them.”
Keke Teen Choice: Keke Palmer in Corey Lynn Calter jumpsuit at the Teen Choice Awards
Keke Crystal: Keke Palmer in Max Mara at the Crystal + Lucy Awards
Keke Indie: Keke Palmer in H&M dress, Vita jacket and Steve for Steve Madden boots at the Independent Spirit Awards
Keke True: Keke Palmer as the namesake character from “True Jackson, VP”
Nickelodeon 1: A look from Mad Style By True Jackson’s fall collection
Nickelodeon 2: A look from Mad Style By True Jackson’s holiday collection