Designed for the famous

For many a fashionista, logo love
equates to “Gotta have it.” For whatever reason, sporting the initials or a
signature on a pair of sunglasses, a handbag or a shirt feels good. But does
that translate to furnishings for the home?

Designer bed sheets have been
selling for decades, and those who like the sensibility that Calvin Klein or
Donna Karan bring, buy the name, whether it’s for zen simplicity,
embellishments or 600 thread count. But how about sofas or chairs? How special
is it to take out a fly with a purple mesh swatter fashioned by prolific French
product designer Philippe Starck? Does your entertainment cabinet need a shout
out? Does anybody actually boast, “This table is part of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’
collection?”

Attaching a personality to a
furniture collection brings it to life, according to Caroline Hipple, a
founding partner of HB2, an Atlanta-based management consulting firm primarily
for home furnishings. “Furniture is inanimate,” says Hipple. “A person adds a
real connection.”

“The easiest way to understand how
furnishings can be used is inspiration through celebrity brand,” says Jackie
Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing for the American
Home Furnishings Alliance in High Point, N.C. “There are vehicles to tap all
levels, not just hoity-toity brands, although sophisticated consumers may not
be wowed by something they consider banal.”

The economy has perhaps diminished
purchasing power, as well as affected what people are buying. That said, there
still has been a slight bump up in brand loyalty. In a recent survey of
affluence and wealth by America 2010, a collaboration between American Express
Publishing and the Harrison Group, there was an increase of 6 percent in the
number of consumers who said, “I have a few brands that I like,” and a 7
percent increase in the number who said, “The brands I wear say a lot about
me.”

What’s in a name? Depends on who it
is. Even celebrities are not immune from the desire to own something attached
to another person’s name. It was widely reported, for example, that singer
Mariah Carey coveted an ornate red velvet and gold-trimmed living room set
originally purchased by Michael Jackson for $215,000.

This past year, some new players in
the home arena include Esquire Home, a collaboration with the Hong Kong-based
Halo Group to extend the magazine’s philosophy of “man at his best” and former
Access Hollywood TV host Nancy O’Dell (high-end outdoor furniture). Food
Network celeb chef Paula Deen now markets mattresses, along with furniture and
rugs. Actress Jane Seymour tallied two more furniture affiliations, including a
partnership with Michael Amini at AICO.

Seymour is especially hands-on. An
accomplished artist, jewellery designer and author of “Making Yourself at Home”
(DK Publishing, $40), there’s some crossover in her work. For example, a chair
back for her outdoor furniture collection for Acacia Home and Garden has an
open heart motif like that of a jewellery collection she designed for Kay. And
her watercolours translate beautifully to embroidered or hand-painted pillows.

But for some celebrity tie-ins, it
is widely known in the industry that it’s a simple matter of marrying name with
product, never mind that not a stitch of actual designing is involved.

What ultimately works is design
that resonates.

“First (the furniture) has to be
beautiful and functional,” says Hipple. “The lines, colour, style, materials
have to be right. Then the patina of a name helps. It’s a shortcut to the
visual image.”

That image may tap into a sense of
casual comfort, style, trustworthiness. And, of course, quality.

Domestic diva Martha Stewart knows
about all good things related to home, and her eponymous brand has consistently
delivered with style and quality. At the upper middle end, there are furniture
collections with Bernhardt. At Macy’s, Martha’s cookware and gadgets are fun
and colourful (turquoise biscuit cutters!), and white porcelain cake stands are
as pristine and elegant as the vintage whiteware she owns. Her newest venture
with The Home Depot, which launches in September, adds special-order cabinetry,
hardware and Corian countertops in handsome designs for the kitchen, bath and
laundry room.

There is, say some experts, a kind
of pack mentality. Tim Luke, president of TreasureQuest Appraisal Group Inc. in
Hobe Sound, Fla., says, “Marketing mavens … have realized that people are
sheep and love to be ‘herded’ into buying things by celebrity shepherds.” As
the former director of the collectibles department at Christie’s auction house,
Luke’s specialities include pop culture and Hollywood entertainment
memorabilia.

Buying celebrity furnishings, says
Gary Kaskowitz, associate professor of management at Moravian College in Pennsylvania,
allows people “to fulfil a psychological void.” Treating the furniture as a
prop in personal stories makes some people feel better about their lives, says
Kaskowitz.

Even if a name may not strike a
chord, the concept may. Take, for example, the recent introduction of Nancy
O’Dell’s Red Carpet line of outdoor furniture that debuted in Las Vegas.

“A-list furniture, so to speak,”
says O’Dell. “Curvy, leggy, cutting-edge, classic my line incorporates all of
these beautiful shapes and traits.”

This kind of ad copy is something
for retailers to parrot.

“It really comes down to stores
having very little to talk about,” says financial analyst Jerry Epperson of
Mann, Armistead and Epperson Ltd. in Richmond, Va. “They can say something is
made of oak or pine and from North Carolina, then what?” Licensed collections
suggest to retailers how to set everything up, more in room settings or
vignettes, thus making it easier to sell, he says.

It’s not easy to sell furniture,
especially in this economy, so a bit of a gimmick or romance is welcome. And if
there’s a good hook attached to someone who makes personal appearances all the
better. Buy a bit of Donald Trump say, an executive desk from Lexington Home
modelled after one of his own  and
perhaps the magic money dust will rub off. Furnishings from the Biltmore House
or Leeds Castle, pieces that evoke the landscape of Tuscany, will spirit you
there.

Although a name can add a certain
cache, that doesn’t mean it will sell. There have been epic duds. A
lower-middle price bedroom line with an Elvis theme failed. A fabric line
featuring Norman Rockwell art wasn’t embraced with the warm fuzziness delivered
by his illustrations.

Just how far the name game can go
in home furnishings can’t always be predicted. Imagine vampire-themed furniture
designed around the “Twilight” phenomena. Really?

One retailer in Cypress, Texas,
already sunk its teeth into a silly hypothetical tie-in for your Dracula den,
with wood and metal bar stools.

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