LOS ANGELES — Video may have killed the radio star and song-swapping Web sites demolished CD sales, but musical scion Astrella Rothberg has drummed up a way to use technology to promote musicians in her new fashion venture.
Rothberg, the daughter of Sixties folk singer Donovan, is launching a line of fashion T-shirts that are packaged with digital albums that consumers can listen to and download on the spot. Each T-shirt from Astrella, as the brand is called, comes with a QR code that can be swiped on a smartphone to immediately stream the album for free. A consumer can own the album only when making a purchase and entering a pin number. Each code is unique to the T-shirt for a onetime download. If, for some reason, someone has already scanned the code, a bill is sent to that person and the shirt’s code is reactivated. The album sale is tracked by Nielsen SoundScan.
“It’s like selling a CD anywhere,” Rothberg said. “Nobody is sacrificing anything. Everybody is getting paid. Everybody is happy.”
Rothberg jumped from the family business of singing songs into the industry of printing Ts with a little help from her friends. When James Perse confided that his namesake clothing brand racked up $300 million in sales, her curiosity got the better of her. After providing some images of her father to John Varvatos to use in his line, she picked the designer’s brain. He nixed her fanciful idea to produce suits influenced by her father’s time in India (“Look, how many suits do people buy a year?” Varvatos asked her) and advised her instead to stick to fashion T-shirts.
David Fisher, an executive vice president at Bloomingdale’s, also reminded her that she’s pursuing shoppers of high-end retail — not musicians’ fans who covet concert Ts — with her organic cotton tops printed with low-chemical dyes, which retail for more than $70.
Having grown up in the recording studio, performed with her dad and married the former manager of the late Joe Strummer, Rothberg is well-versed in the way that both artists and record labels work. She spent nearly a year fine-tuning the contracts with the corporations to gain access to the music. Then she tracked the photographers and artists who created the album covers replicated on the Ts.
“It’s hard to get trust from these artists because they’ve done badly and been mistreated all those years,” she said.
Eventually, everyone liked the tune Rothberg was playing. At a recent photo shoot at the Grammy Museum, which is already selling Astrella’s inaugural collection adorned with the soulful visages of jazz masters like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk, she recruited Stevie Dacanay from the band Buckcherry to rock a couple of Ts with his guitar. The spring set includes Annie Leibovitz’s 1983 photo of a flame-haired Cyndi Lauper dancing in a froufrou skirt on the cover of her “She’s So Unusual” album. Elton John, too, jumped on the bandwagon, providing art not only to celebrate the 41st anniversary of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” but also to promote the U.S. release of his new album, “The Diving Board.” Up next is a classic rock tribute with Queen and The Who, as well as a Southern California compilation featuring bands such as Sublime and No Doubt.
Offered online, Astrella will hit stores by the end of the month. Rothberg is in the middle of negotiating with retailers including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Kitson and Barneys New York. She declined to project sales.
“The artists are quite attracted to it because the music business is in such a crazy state,” Rothberg said. “They’ve been calling me a Trojan horse, taking them into a retail space where they don’t exist.”