TV Designer Originals The top guns who are putting high fashion in home shopping


Hold the remote. There's new excitement on the TV home shopping networks. We're talking glamour, fashion and star quality. We're talking designers with allure.

Fashion snobs who have looked down on shopping networks as 24-hour home companions for idle women with couch-potato figures are beginning to take notice.

The fledgling industry, which started out with endless hours of disembodied hands waggling sparkle rings, has discovered the appeal of the total image.

The astounding success of the first designers to make the TV plunge has a raft of celebrities ready to dive in. Even Roseanne Barr is rumored to be negotiating a spot to sell plus-size fashions.

But the glamorous pioneers who first put themselves on the call-in line live still have the edge.

Diane von Furstenberg, whose little knit dresses made her the princess of American fashion in the '70s, may well become the reigning queen of home shopping -- with a little help from her friends.

Media and merchandising mogul Barry Diller gave her the start on QVC and and she's not looking back.

"My first show of the Silk Assets line last Nov. 7 did $1.4 million," she says. That's a lot of silk separates. This Sunday she is premiering a new line of bath and beauty products called Surroundings which, very appropriately, will be telecast from her garden and home.

"I love nature and I feel I'm getting closer to it as I get older. The Surroundings line is a blend of natural essential ingredients." She talks florals and herbs and candles. "Perfume comes from the Latin per fuma which means through smoke -- it was the way ancients spoke to the gods." Who else but a fashion princess would tell you these things?

And that's the appeal of star shopping, a chance to chat with the designer who has rubbed elbows with all those other beautiful people.

Next on her schedule are a show of her fall Silk Assets coordinated with the premiere of her coordinated DVF accessories in September. Her coffee table book "The Bath" hits stores in October and her 1-year anniversary show of holiday wear comes in November.

The star on the Home Shopping Network, perceived as the working-class cousin of QVC, is Ivana Trump. The girls who have followed Ivana's fortunes in the supermarket tabloids believe in her. She has spunk, looks and she works hard at her image.

There is a House of Ivana cosmetics line down the road, and in the meantime it is suits and jewelry she is selling this fall.

"I go to the Florida studios for the weekend and go on air two hours in the morning, again two hours around lunch and then afternoon and again evening," she says. The woman is unsinkable. "You have to have incredible concentration -- giving the women advice. You are there and you have to be fully dressed, even when the lights melt makeup."

She has to look charming and relaxed, all the while watching the numbers. "I talk -- why I designed, lengths, combinations. We ship in a conservative length, but I tell them, 'Ladies, if you like to show your legs, this is what I do.' Then I pull up my skirt very short to show them," she laughs. She knows how to be one of the girls.

"All the time they are calling, I have to make sure I watch the computer. If I have 10,000 suits and I see that 9,000 have been sold, I have to stop selling and turn to the next model.

"Even if we have a few left, I can't oversell. The calls come very quickly and I do not want to run out and disappoint the ladies.

"For fall I have 15 suits -- day into evening. I take a black day suit and transform it with a detachable rhinestone collar and buttons, the suit it becomes evening instantly. I give women ideas. I try to make it easy."

Her suits retail from $180 to $250, a low cry from the designer outfits she is famous for wearing.

Three American designers who made reputations by dressing and accessorizing those select and glamorous ladies who lunch now have the attention of millions of ladies who munch in front of the TV set.

Nolan Miller, whose "Dynasty" designs for Joan Collins made media waves, has really taken to television with a line of glamour jewelry.

"I was very nervous because my retail venture into the dressy 'Dynasty' line was disastrous. Now I have complete say over my jewelry designs and I'm adamant about my line.

"When I came to QVC I saw what they go through for quality control and realized these are my people."

He says he's doing very well despite the preponderance of jewelry on home shopping stations.

"Perhaps people are more adventurous in jewelry than buying a dress; however, clothes are going to become much more important than frying pans and kitchen knives."

The volume of merchandise that is moved through QVC central with 4,000 operators on call and 40 million viewers is staggering.

"What made me a believer," says Mr. Miller, "is seeing 3,000 blouses at $85 sold out in four minutes. Who needs a showroom?"

He is glad he was one of the first to try this new sales venue. "There were people who were sure they wouldn't touch TV shopping in a million years, now QVC is being bombarded with people wanting to do collections. There is, of course, the tremendous amount of money to be made."

Kenneth Jay Lane says he started designing costume jewelry 30 years ago. "Now I'm a TV personality, and that's a lot better than getting your name in the society columns." He's frequently out and about at toney society galas, but on his own shopping show is intimate and relaxed.

"I always do my shows on weekends and it really is no more tiring than sitting next to someone you don't know at a dinner party," he says.

He doesn't really sell, he says, the hostess does that. "That's the interesting thing about selling on QVC, you can sell things that need demonstration. Some people are afraid to combine certain things. Bangles look better in pairs, much more stylish, but you have to show them."

Arnold Scaasi, designer of evening gowns to first ladies, does a line of dresses for QVC. His next show is still in the talking, but he say his past experience is nothing but positive.

"I think it's a wonderful way to sell clothes. It reaches people in rural areas who do not have a chance to shop in city stores," he says. "It's also great fun to be on, nice to have some contact with the viewer out there. But they're not country bumpkins, they know exactly what's going on and see the same newspapers and magazines everyone else does."

Arnold Scaasi of the extensive art collection, the dramatic duplex, charming country house and seaside villa shops on TV, too.

"I bought two VCRs, recording sets and some non-stick frying pans. Shopping was easy and the prices were very good."

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