As head of Dualstar Entertainment in the ’90s, Robert Thorne and his longtime collaborator, Greg Redlitz, built a brand licensing business around youthful TV stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen that was the first of its kind.
“There really wasn’t anything to look to as a model at the time, save for maybe Martha Stewart,” says Thorne, noting that well-known performers previously adhered to the “Hollywood representation model” when they sought to enter the merchandising world.
The problem, he adds, is that most agents and managers don’t have time to keep track of what manufacturers and retail partners are doing with their client’s name and likeness. “You can’t just do deals and go away from them,” Thorne notes.
Thus, under the guidance of Thorne and Redlitz, Dualstar developed a comprehensive strategy whereby manufacturing and retail partners are responsible for getting licensed product onto store shelves, while, according to Redlitz, “We take the lead to bring them marketing, promotion and press. The energy has to come from the brand. We do everything outside of the store.”
Buoyed by Olsen apparel deals with the likes of Wal-Mart, Thorne and Redlitz grew merchandising into a billion-dollar enterprise for Dualstar, but were bought out by the twins in 2005. They quickly established the Robert Thorne Co. in Beverly Hills and signed a new client, Hilary Duff, who already had a sizable tween following.
As a merchandising force, Duff has emerged even more quickly than the Olsens, establishing tween-targeted apparel lines such as Stuff by Hilary Duff, as well as the Elizabeth Arden fragrance offering With Love … Hilary Duff.
“Her publicity level will continue to age up,” Thorne notes, “and as she gets older, her business base will continue to expand.”
Understandably, there are a number of tween performers who would love to have Thorne and Redlitz in their corner. But with resources limiting how many clients they can juggle at once, the duo recently decided to vary their portfolio, signing music legend Quincy Jones.
“We decided to expand into a more male-oriented business,” Thorne explains.
Recent breakthrough: From fragrances to apparel, client Hilary Duff has conquered the international merchandising world for juniors fashion, focusing next on the Young Misses section.
Role model: “We haven’t really borrowed from anybody,” Thorne notes. “With (former clients) Mary-Kate and Ashley (Olsen), we created the tween branding business.”
What’s next: Thorne and Redlitz will attempt to age up — and man up — their brand strategy with Quincy Jones, establishing a merchandising campaign that involves such things as fashion and book publishing around the 74-year-old music impresario.