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clothed in CELEBRITY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Seeking a touch of that lovely Jennifer Lopez je ne sais quoi? Coveting the cool threads on 'N Sync's Chris Kirkpatrick? Or how about those sleek shirts that add panache to Tiger Woods' golf swings?

Well, here's some good news -- buying your very own sliver of celebrity style has never been this easy. Nordstrom now has golf shirts galore from the Nike Tiger Woods Collection. Bloomingdale's is the place to check out that hot 'N Sync flavor. And as for the sexy Ms. Lopez, come November, her new J. Lo by Jennifer Lopez clothing line will provide young women with all the tush-hugging jeans their hearts desire.

For many celebrities, it sure seems as though it isn't enough anymore to win another golf tournament or have an album go platinum.

With the proliferation of television shows and magazines like In Style that glorify celebrity lifestyles, people now are more consumed with the personal lives and styles of stars than ever before. And with celebrities wising up to the fact that their fashion statements often generate big (monetary) ripples, stars from rap artist Snoop Dogg to tennis' Venus Williams are hitting the drawing boards and launching their own apparel lines.

"How many people around the world watch the Academy Awards not because they're wildly interested in movies but because they want to see what the movie stars wear?" asked David Wolfe, creative director for the Doneger Group, a fashion and retail consulting firm in New York. "Celebrities have always started a lot of fashion trends and crazes, but the celebrities themselves haven't really cashed in on them. Our society has become so cash-conscious that we know celebritydom is worth a lot of money, so now people think that if you have to put up with constantly being in the spotlight, then you should be able to make some money off it."

The selling of celebrity style has been going on for years, with stars like Jaclyn Smith and Kathie Lee Gifford hawking their fashion visions in stores like K-Mart or Walmart. But until recently, the celebrities who ventured into retail tended to target commercially safe demographics like women over 30 or niche groups like plus sizes that usually were less fickle than teens and twentysomethings.

Then in the late 1990s, rap mogul Russell Simmons' fledgling trendy menswear line Phat Farm began gaining popularity, and in 1998, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs launched the wildly successful Sean John label, which brought in $100 million last year. And rapidly the younger, hip celebrity crowd began following suit.

Rapper Jay-Z's Rocawear line, which began selling in 1999, reportedly raked in $70 million last year. And Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Garnett was spotted at New York's Fashion Week in February handing out information on his new menswear line, Official Block Family (OBF).

The impact of MTV

Tom Julian, fashion trend analyst for the New York company Fallon Worldwide, said MTV is partly responsible for young celebs becoming fashionistas. In shows on the network, singers and other celebrities suddenly had a much larger forum than magazines or concert tours in which to showcase their styles of dressing.

"It was the impact of MTV going beyond music videos and into style and lifestyle," Julian said. "Sean John was built as a result of the urban marketplace and the style statements that were made in the music world."

Indeed, Sean John executive vice president Jeffrey Tweedy said Combs launched his line after seeing fans mimic his style in music videos.

"Every time he would wear clothing in a music video, whether it was Versace, Gucci or FUBU, he noticed that sales went up," Tweedy said. "So he thought, 'I have a great name. Let me develop it.' "

Today, Sean John offers collections that include a wide range of looks -- preppy shorts and shirts, flashy urbanwear and natty pin-

striped suits. And fans of the line include big names like Michael Jordan, Leonardo DiCaprio and Andre Leon Talley, the high-profileVogue editor at large, who has been ubiquitous at New York's Fashion Week clad in Sean John.

Combs, like many star fashionistas, doesn't actually sit down and sketch each outfit in his collections. While Lopez has said she will design her line, many celeb designers usually just offer ideas for looks or colors and oversee sketches. Sometimes famous friends help with ideas -- Chris Kirkpatrick's label FuMan Skeeto produced T-

shirts that say "Made in the Fu SA" after fellow 'N Syncer Justin Timberlake blurted the phrase in jest one day.

For the masses, the appeal of these celebrity clothing lines is obvious. Golf fans who watch Woods pump his fist in victory dressed in his signature red shirt may want to buy their own Chianti-hued polo from his Nike line. And fans of TV twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen may adore them enough to head to Walmart to buy their tank tops and swimsuits.

Danielle Deabler, Nordstrom spokeswoman, said 'N Sync appearances have a big impact on sales of FuMan Skeeto's young women's line. FuMan Skeeto has menswear available in Bloomingdale's, but Nordstrom began carrying its teen and young women's clothing -- featuring $20 T-

shirts and tank tops and $30 denim skirts -- in November.

When sales go up

"They sell like hotcakes after a concert," Deabler said. "And anytime they do an interview with the press and they're asked, 'What are each of you up to?' and FuMan Skeeto is mentioned, sales go up."

Pikesville seventh grader Eileen Flax said some her friends who are big fans of 'N Sync were ecstatic when FuMan Skeeto began selling at Nordstrom.

"One of my friends bought a bunch of them, and she wears them a lot," said Flax, 13, who added that she's not too hot on the label because Kirkpatrick isn't her favorite 'N Sync member. "He's, like, OK. If it was Lance [Bass] doing it, I would definitely buy it."

In the entertainment industry, young fans like Flax often are fickle, which means celeb apparel lines sometimes face more risk of failure than regular fashion houses. Carolyn Zonino, vice president of marketing with New Dana Perfumes, said her company considered several budding divas before deciding to collaborate with Christina Aguilera to launch Fetish, a new makeup line, last month.

"With Christina, there is no question that she has an unbelievable voice," said Zonino, whose Fetish line features lipstick, nail polish, blush, eye shadow and stick-on body jewels in Aguilera-

approved shades that cost between $2.99 and $7.99. "Her voice certainly gives her staying power."

But no matter how big the celebrity, most are still careful to keep their fashion lines separate from their main careers.

"We've been very specific about not mixing FuMan Skeeto with 'N Sync," said Danielle Raabe, president of FuMan Skeeto. "It's a plus that [Kirkpatrick] is successful, but we want to make sure this company stands on its own no matter what happens."

Broadening the appeal

The key to enduring success, execs at Sean John and Phat Farm said, is broadening the collection to appeal to more than just the celebrity's initial niche group.

Sean John, for example, recently launched a children's line that resembles clothing from The Gap but includes hip touches like faux fur trim on a boy's winter coat. And Phat Farm's offerings of everything from understated casual khaki shorts to hip urbanwear has attracted fans as diverse as rap artist Dr. Dre and actors Will Smith and Adam Sandler.

"We've been around for almost 10 years, and our clothes have grown up with us," said Marcie Corbett, president of Phat Farm's parent company, Phat Fashions. "If you offer just the trendy stuff that everyone else has, then it might not last."

At Nordstrom in Towson on a recent evening, the Woods collection scored a coup by inspiring a shopper to stop at the display not because of the golfer but simply because he liked the look of a shirt. Breezing through the menswear department, Frank Langwith paused to examine a sleek blue polo shirt but expressed surprise when he realized it was part of Woods' line.

"I didn't even notice his picture" on the display, said Langwith, 61, a Mercedes salesman in Baltimore. "I never buy polo shirts, but this shirt I'll wear. Usually polo shirts have soft floppy collars and they're kind of shapeless, but this shirt has a nice collar and shape."

Langwith's response is the reason that celeb apparel execs insist that quality of their product remains the most important factor for success.

"Celebrity can only go so far if your collection's not right," said Sean John's Tweedy. "It's like, 'Puff, we love you, but these jeans don't fit.' "

Of the new celeb labels, fashion observers are most excited about Lopez's partnership with Andy Hilfiger, younger brother of Tommy.

"I've gone shopping with Jennifer many times, and she's a really stylish person," said celebrity stylist and fashion commentator Phillip Bloch, who also designs a jewelry line that's sold on QVC. "She knows her clothes, she knows her style and she always looks amazing."

At a press conference last month, Lopez unveiled a few outfits that were true to her skimpy style. From the looks of Lopez's initial offerings, the trademark of her fashion house likely will be jeans so low-slung let's just say they're ideal for showing off nice underwear -- if you're wearing any, that is.

As for the future, Wolfe predicted that television shows like HBO's hip "Sex and the City" might be launching pads for new lines. But he paused for a moment and wondered what would have happened if decades ago, stars had thought to venture into fashion.

"Can you imagine," he asked with a chuckle, "if there had been anyone smart enough to sign the Beatles to a clothing contract?"

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