Buying a piece of celebrity

As Sarah Jessica Parker starts her own clothing line, some wonder how many more entrepreneurial actresses the fashion industry can survive.

sarah fash 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
sarah fash 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
Can sensibly priced clothing from a down-to-earth actress stand out in an increasingly crowded market for celebrity-branded fashion? Sarah Jessica Parker's bubbly personality was evident as she strode through the Manhattan Mall's Steve & Barry's store last month at the launch of her clothing line, Bitten, greeting shoppers with a cheerful, "Hi guys!" With Bitten, Parker joins Madonna, Kate Moss, Jennifer Lopez, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and other stars who are seeking success with celebrity clothing collections. "They haven't saturated the market yet but we're getting kind of close," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm. "Celebrity branding makes it easy for a company to a sell a brand because it becomes a talking point." So far the lines have done well, but since most are in their first season, there isn't much to compare them with, Cohen said. Parker and Steve & Barry's - best known for its inexpensive college apparel and $14.98 Starbury One sneaker - are hoping the Bitten line stands out because of its cheap prices. While other celebrity lines sell items for up to $100 or more, nothing in Bitten's 500-piece collection, Steve & Barry's first for women, is over $19.98, and sizes range from 2 to 20. That mass accessibility is what attracted Parker to the project. "I really loved the idea of making fashion accessible to every woman in this country despite her economic standing, despite her size, her shape and her ethnic background," the 42-year-old actress said. "The idea of the democratization of fashion was extremely appealing to me." At the launch in New York, Parker wore a Bitten outfit - the name comes from being "bitten" by the theater bug - that showed its emphasis on basics: a striped tank, a willow-colored cardigan and gray straight-leg pants. Wendy Liebmann, president of marketing consulting company WSL Strategic Retail in New York, said Parker, best known for playing the adorably neurotic Carrie Bradshaw on HBO's Sex and the City, is a smart choice to front the line because consumers relate to her. "Whether she's wearing an Oscar de la Renta ball gown in a fragrance ad or whether she's wearing something inexpensive for Bitten, she's able to play both sides," Liebmann said. Parker worked with two Steve & Barry's designers to develop the line, which includes suit separates, shirts, dresses, lingerie, denim, T-shirts, nightgowns, cashmere sweaters, swimwear and other items. Steve & Barry's held down costs by using virtually no advertising, manufacturing its own clothes and selling in large volume, said Howard Schacter, the retailer's chief partnership officer. Steve & Barry's is based in Port Washington, N.Y., and operates 200 stores in 33 states. Shoppers who showed up at the launch snapped up jeans, shoes and accessories. "I love Sarah Jessica Parker, and the fact that everything is under $20 is amazing," said Peyton Capps, 18, who flew from Tallahassee, Fla., with her mother for the launch. "It's New York after all, she is a style icon here," said Andrea Morgan, 29, from Manhattan. "Steve & Barry's isn't exactly the kind of place I'd come to. She definitely made me come here." (AP)