Comics Relief : Fun Sophisticates From Top Designers Make Warner Bros. and Disney Stores High-Class Hangouts for Heroes and villians From Mickey to Riddler.
It used to be that a logo T-shirt and a commemorative button were enough to appease cartoon and comic-book fans.
Then came the ball caps and boxers, watches and neckties, toddler rompers and leather bombers--an entire wardrobe cut around drawn legends. Play golf? Hit any of the half dozen Disney Stores in Orange County and find Mickey and Donald theme socks for your feet or your clubs. Have a penchant for in-line skates or Lycra? Browse the Warner Bros. Studio Store in South Coast Plaza for stretchy gear stamped with the Acme insignia.
Still, collectors wanted more. At least that’s the word among the folks at both mega-studio stores. As one employee said: “You don’t really know how sick these people are.”
To augment their private label goods and further their hold on pop culture, Warner Bros. and Disney have enlisted top designers to interpret the likes of Batman and Mickey Mouse. The results, tailored to satisfy sophisticated tastes, are high-end items, many of them signed, limited editions.
To promote the release of its film “Batman Forever,” Warner Bros. Studio Stores turned to one of fashion’s brightest stars, designer Todd Oldham. The 23-piece collection made in Oldham’s Texas factory includes socks, pajamas, ties, shirts, slip dresses, jeans, backpacks and barrettes, mostly based on the movie’s villains.
Oldham was surprised that the studio approved what he called his “wilder stuff”: charmeuse green tights punctuated with black question marks a la Riddler and jeans with one leg of yellow-based leopard print, the other of red and black zebra stripes, in the spirit of Two-Face’s dual persona.
In Los Angeles recently to promote the line, Oldham said that, while he’d never considered doing anything like this before, he accepted Warners’ invitation because of the opportunity it offered.
“I wanted to take movie merchandise into a different direction than it’s typically done. It’s generally logo driven, but I wanted to do something that would be interesting past the movie release.”
The studio placed no restrictions on him, and what’s more, Oldham got to try on the Riddler’s jacket that lights up in the movie. “That was it. It was research, you know,” he quips. “I love [director] Joel Schumacher’s vision. When I take on projects, I just go by the people involved.”
But Oldham said he also wanted to bypass mass-market appeal. There are plenty of T-shirts, hats and miscellaneous Bat product being hawked everywhere. Still, with a price range from $20 for a satin baseball cap with metallic embroidery to $280 for a set of green silk pajamas with black question marks, just about anyone can wrap his hands around a Todd Oldham.
“One of the reasons we’re seeing these kind of promotions with designers and the studios is because the studios have to be more clever now to get their returns on such lavish productions,” Oldham said. “Besides, movies and fashion have always been entangled.”
Karine Joret, vice president of marketing for Warner Bros. Studios Stores, agreed. “There’s a natural marriage between the entertainment and art worlds. Each one seems to complement the other. Todd has an incredible talent with design and color. Joel Schumacher’s vision is incredibly vibrant. It seemed automatic to go with Todd.”
For a series of sterling silver accessories based on the Bat signal, as well legendary symbols such as Superman’s shield and Wonder Woman’s encircled star, Warner Bros. Studio Stores went to Robert Lee Morris. His minimalist sculptural approach to metals has led to collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld, Geoffrey Beene, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan.
Morris--a self-admitted D.C. Comics addict--added seven Bat and Riddler themed pieces to his signature collection. Oldham cinched his worn Levi’s with Morris’ Bat buckle and leather belt.
“The appeal of going to a designer,” said Joret, “is that they have a vision and a different perspective. It’s refreshing to bring them into the mix.”
At the Walt Disney Gallery in MainPlace/Santa Ana, that vision is being cultivated on a permanent basis.
The 3,100-square-foot store, which opened in November, takes a museum shop approach to its merchandise, offering everything from animation art to collectibles, research books and laser discs, as well as the work of artists Amadio-Smith Raku, Bob Kliss and Paul Butler.
In the realm of fashion, there are marcasite cuff links and necklaces by Judith Jack, watches by Gerald Genta, sterling silver by Judy Kuo and Bill Schiffer and pave minaudieres and purse accessories by Kathrine Baumann. Soon Nicole Miller will introduce a collection that includes a toiletry kit, eye wear case and backpack. There is also an array of better goods for Disney’s private label.
“Price, quality and the level of execution is very different from that of the Disney Store,” said Doug Murphy, vice president of the Walt Disney Gallery. “As people get older and get reacquainted with Disney, they appreciate seeing their favorite characters executed on a more sophisticated level. Some of the product is very subtle. But they all turn out to be conversation pieces.”
Among the most talked about is Baumann’s limited edition minaudieres--crystal covered purses shaped in the heads of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Baumann created Tweety and Sylvester versions for the Warner Bros. Studio Stores. These $1,600 jewel boxes have been snapped up by Jane Eisner (wife of Disney’s Michael), diet guru Jenny Craig and cereal heiress Mercedes Kellogg Bass, among others.
To Baumann, it’s a matter of taking the nostalgia of youth and finding a special place for it in daily life.
“I’m a product of the baby-boom generation. I grew up on cartoons--and cartoon collectibles. I just wanted to create something that was fun, that made everyone smile. You should see how Minnie or Tweety do at a black-tie event. They just make people sparkle.
“And,” she added, “they look fabulous next to a little black evening dress.”