Beverly Hills' glitzy name, which has helped turn T-shirts and movies into gold mines, is being pressed into service again--but this time by the city's financially strapped schools.
School district officials are lending the Beverly Hills High School name to a line of fall clothing, watches, beach towels, sneakers and other items. The district plans to use its share of any profits to save teachers' jobs and preserve programs--such as the high school's television station and planetarium--that have placed Beverly Hills' public schools among the nation's best.
Licensing and sales of the BHHS line is being handled by 20th Century Fox, which became interested in the deal after one of its executives, a parent who lives in Beverly Hills, persuaded Fox that the idea would sell. The Great Southern Company of Macon, Ga., will manufacture the more than 50 products.
The BHHS line follows other money-making ventures--from Camp Beverly Hills T-shirts to the movie "Beverly Hills Cop"--that have benefited from the city's tony reputation.
But Shannon Richey, director of marketing at Lucas Enterprises, a San Diego-based marketing company that is promoting the products, contends that the BHHS line is "not just another camp shirt or T-shirt, this is something with attitude. Attitude is the feeling that you get when you put it on. BHHS says something."
The Beverly Hills High School products, featuring pastels and geometric designs, will be formally unveiled today at a men's fashion exposition at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Despite all the fanfare, not everyone is happy about the idea.
"This is one more piece of tinsel being added to the city. Rodeo Drive is a circus and it has taken over everything," said Betty Harris, a longtime resident and community activist.
Students Not Impressed
And Beverly Hills High students, just back from summer vacation, did not appear overly impressed this week with the prospect of seeing their school name emblazoned on sweat shirts sold worldwide.
Senior Irene Chung, 16, leaning out the window of her black 1988 BMW, said, "Yeah it sounds like a good way to raise money, but I don't know how it's really going to do because I haven't seen it, you know?"
Another senior, Bita Paya, 17, said, "It sounds like something that the people in the Valley would wear--with the socks matching the pants and the shirt, but Beverly Hills kids like the Melrose Avenue look."
"I wouldn't wear it," added Paya, who was dressed in a denim jacket, white T-shirt, white tights and pink ballet shoes. A string of safety pins dangled from a loop on one ear. "You don't want to advertise that you come from Beverly Hills, it's embarrassing because people think you're a snob."
$5,000 a Year Per Pupil
The Beverly Hills district spends an average of more than $5,000 a year to educate each child in the district, compared to a statewide average of about $3,000. The money is used to support a system that pays teachers comparatively high salaries, keeps down class sizes and offers students more hours of daily class time. During lunchtime in the high school cafeteria, students may buy a set meal, order from an a la carte menu or select from the salad bar.
But a number of factors have combined to strain district resources in recent years, including falling enrollment and an increase in operating expenses. Also, depressed oil prices have curtailed income from several oil wells on the high school campus that have provided a windfall to the district over the years.
In addition, Beverly Hills, like many affluent districts, has been hit hard by Proposition 13 property tax limits and squeezed by a landmark California Supreme Court decision in the 1970s that required the state to distribute funds more equitably among districts. The Beverly Hills district cut spending by $3 million over the last two years to balance its $26-million annual budget.
To help defray costs, the district now takes public contributions and it leases auditoriums, libraries and playgrounds for public use.
School board member Frank Fenton said he came up with the idea for the clothing line three years ago. "I want to capitalize on the aura and magic of Beverly Hills," Fenton said at the time. "Not every child can attend a Beverly Hills school, but I want to give every child the opportunity to wear our T-shirts, sweat shirts and our logo."
But the idea didn't get off the ground until Fox showed an interest. The district and Fox signed an agreement last year giving Fox exclusive rights to the Beverly Hills High School trademark in return for 40% of the royalties. The district gets 60% of the royalties and retains the right to approve all items produced under its name. Fox officials said the clothing would be sold in "upscale" department stores, although they would not quote a price range.
There are no firm estimates on how much the district expects to earn from the venture. "It may be lucrative or it may not be. We don't know," Fenton said. "We feel that we have the only high school in the country that could get away with marketing a line of clothing in the same way as major colleges like UCLA do."
'It Will Be Very Popular'
But school board member Dana Tomarken said: "We are realistically hoping to generate $250,000 the first year. My gut feeling is that it will be very popular in the Midwest and South, where people are enthralled with the California life style."
Fox will promote the clothing line next month in London, said Pamela North, director of licensing and merchandising for Fox. Her department developed a line of perfumes, formal wear and jewelry for the "Dynasty" television series.
Beverly Hills Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum, who has three children in the district, called the clothing line "a sensational idea" that could place the city's public schools "on par with the best private schools in the nation."
But Beverly Hills High School Principal Sol Levine, while supporting the business venture, said he understands why some might be turned off by it.
"I can understand the mixed feelings," Levine said. "Yet, there is also the financial need of the district to save staff and programs."