How TV Costume Designers Help Fans Dress the Part

'Pretty Little Liars' and 'The Good Wife' among series branding, licensing clothing

Costume Designers Retail

The cultish fans who gather online to obsess over every detail of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” aren’t just entranced with what the characters are saying and doing: They’re very, very interested in what they’re wearing.

Given the wealth of commentary about the clothing choices on the Warner Bros.-produced show, it seemed a no-brainer for series costume designer Mandi Line to create a retail line for mall staple Aeropostale based on the wardrobes of the program’s key characters.

“These fans watch every single week to see how these characters communicate themselves through what they’re wearing,” said Maryellen Zarakas, senior VP of worldwide marketing and TV & studio licensing for the WB Consumer Products unit. “What better way to take that to the next level than working with the actual costume designer?”

The “Liars” collection, which hit stores the day of the show’s winter season premiere in January, puts Line among the ranks of “Mad Men’s” Janie Bryant, “The Good Wife’s” Daniel Lawson and other designers who’ve recently leveraged success on the smallscreen into retail deals.

New York-based branding and licensing firm Matchbook has been a catalyst for costume designers seeking to gain more recognition on the retail runway. The firm saw a niche to be mined when Bryant’s work on “Mad Men” connected with fashionistas, and has since expanded to rep Line, Lawson, Lyn Paolo (“Shameless,” “Scandal”) and Jenn Rogien (“Girls”) — all of whom have gained (or hope to gain) exposure in retail markets.

As social media plays a bigger role in fan interaction, it makes sense that below-the-line names pop up on fans’ radars, said Britta von Schoeler, president of Broadway Video Enterprises, the studio home of “Portlandia” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Flogging the show’s designers also helps elevate clothing tie-ins beyond T-shirts that feature joke catchphrases, for programs that aren’t as obviously fashion-friendly. Broadway Video is working with Matchbook on finding a retailer to help market the quirky costumes Amanda Needham creates for “Portlandia,” and it has already partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue on a product program for “SNL’s” 40th anniversary this fall.

“The costumes are so much a part of the character,” von Schoeler said. “They bring (them) to light — especially in ‘Portlandia,’ because the fashions are really defining each character and accentuating the qualities that make them quirky.”

There’s also the trick of setting the price point to match the means of the show’s core audience.

Prices for the line of upscale business attire that “Good Wife’s” Lawson designed for British label Number 35 start at about $370. But Lisa Gregorian, WBTV’s worldwide chief marketing officer, said they made a point of keeping the “Liars” line “aspirational but achievable” for the show’s young femme aud. In other words, you can get an outfit with a weekend’s worth of baby-sitting money.

ABC is balancing the need to be high end — but not too high end — for a line tied to sudser “Revenge.” The show already has teamed with Helzberg diamonds for  jewelry based on the series’ ubiquitous infinity symbol. “The fans aspire to have the look and the feel of that show,” says Victoria Chew, VP of marketing partnerships and synergy at ABC. “We want to be able to create a partnership with the right retailer that’s upscale with the brand but also affordable enough.”

The boom in retail exposure for TV-inspired merch is becoming another layer of marketing for shows — and for once-anonymous below-the-line artists. Bryant has a reality TV show in the works, and is developing what she calls a “Hollywood glamour” legwear collection that hits stores this fall, both of which use her name in the title. Line says she’s also been approached for oncamera work, and dreams of creating a sportswear collection a la fashion designer Rick Owens’ grunge-meets-glamorous look. And Matchbook is expanding its reach by signing on production designers and set decorators.

“TV costume designers are getting more name recognition because TV shows, in general, have become the medium in which audiences around the
world are watching great storytelling,” Bryant says.