Lion bites into retail

MGM, Neiman Marcus catalog pact

Leo is preparing to pounce on the retail marketplace.

At a Monday press conference, MGM formally unveiled prototypes for several new far-ranging lines of upscale consumer products that will attempt to harness Leo’s logo power as well as the studio’s venerable movie history to sell a range of “lifestyle”-oriented merchandise — everything from clothing to furniture to jewelry.

Upscale retailer Neiman Marcus Direct, the catalog sales arm of the ritzy department store chain, is MGM’s first sales partner. Neiman Marcus Direct plans to launch its “MGM Star” product catalog in August.

“Back in 1993 when I came to MGM, I felt it was one of the most underutilized brands in Hollywood,” said MGM chairman Frank Mancuso.

The studio’s consumer products unit had engaged in some logo licensing efforts, but had nothing to match the scale of the profitable and high-profile studio stores fielded so successfully by Disney and Warner Bros.

But MGM will weight its product lines toward an older-skewing population of consumers than those typically targeted by film companies, said Linda Berman, exec vice president and general manager of MGM consumer products. MGM currently has no plans to start its own studio stores, she said.

So far, MGM has announced six broad merchandise families, including retro-chic clothing and jewelry lines with an old-Hollywood, art deco feel, as well as more contemporary products for kids and adults.

Leo is seeking licensees to design and produce the individual products, said Berman, who estimated that the various lines would at first comprise between 150 and 200 separate products. Two new general categories will be added soon, she added.

Studio officials Monday met with approximately 200 prospective licensees and retailers to describe the type and style of clothing and accessories they wish to produce, but MGM itself has not created specific designs.

MGM spokesmen said the studio’s consumer products division is pursuing other retail partnerships, but only the Neiman Marcus joint venture has yet been announced.

MGM will also back the product launch with a brand-awareness marketing campaign anchored by a homevideo cross-promotion and print advertisements. Beginning in June, 30-second ads will appear on 97 MGM video titles.