How TV Costume Designers Help Fans Dress the Part

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

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.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Snoop Dogg Weed

    In the Cannabis Business, Not All Star Strains Are Created Equal

    With the cannabis green rush in full swing, many celebrities are jumping into the fray with their own brands, including such well-known stoners as Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. But as it turns out, not all star strains are created equal, so we assembled a trio of crack experts to put the product [...]

  • Richard Branson Jason Felts

    Kaaboo Festival Acquired by Virgin Fest Owner Jason Felts

    Kaaboo, which says it has “shifted the music festival paradigm by offering a highly amenitized festival experience for adults,” is now under new ownership. Virgin Fest founder and CEO Jason Felts (pictured above with Virgin founder Richard Branson) has fully acquired all of the festival brand assets through an affiliate of Virgin Fest, the music [...]

  • Live Nation Chief Michael Rapino Talks

    Live Nation-Ticketmaster Chief Michael Rapino Talks Dept. of Justice Inquiries

    Back in August, Senators Richard Blumenthal of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota made the most recent of several requests for an Department of Justice antitrust investigation into competition in the ticketing industry, and it soon became clear that the target of the probe was Live Nation and its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, which [...]

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

  • 2020 TV Season Preview

    How 2020's Fall TV Season Is Already Shaping Up

    Aiming to stand out in a crowded field, broadcasters this season have leaned on the stability of their schedules and the return of established hits. But for many of the same reasons, they’ve also begun to seed the ground for next year’s crop of shows, considering that top performers like “How to Get Away With [...]

  • Taylor Swift Talks Scott Borchetta’s ‘Sneaky’

    Taylor Swift Talks Scott Borchetta's 'Betrayal,' 'Sneaky' Deal With Scooter Braun

    While Taylor Swift’s sprawling Rolling Stone cover interview is largely about her music and herself, there’s also plenty about the personal and business dramas of the last three years. And not surprisingly, Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta — who this summer inked a reported $300 million deal for the Big Machine Records catalog and with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content