Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween costumes fit Hollywood well

The holiday is becoming a bigger business, and revelers are looking to movies for ideas.
Childrens Frankenstein Monster Costume
By Abigail Goldman
Times Staff Writer

October 27, 2006

Years ago, when the president of Rubies Costume Co. journeyed to Hollywood seeking the rights to make costumes based on movie characters, studio executives mostly were puzzled.

"They looked upon you as if you were wasting their time," said Marc Beige, president of New York-based Rubies, one of the nation's largest costume designers, manufacturers and distributors. "They didn't understand why you'd want to license costumes. They were familiar with toys or T-shirts, but they didn't really know this industry existed."

Since then, however, Halloween has grown into a $5-billion industry and Hollywood is playing a starring role.

"It's an opportunity that the Hollywood studios would be foolish to turn their backs on," said Marty Brochstein, executive editor of the Licensing Letter, a trade publication based in New York. "And they're in a position to drive demand."

Consumers this year will spend an estimated $4.96 billion on Halloween treats, costumes, decorations and other merchandise, according to the National Retail Federation.

That's up 51% from last year, the group said, with the average consumer spending $59.06 on the holiday this year, up from $48.48 a year ago.

"It used to be that a little kid would use a costume for trick-or treating — one and done," federation spokesman Scott Krugman said. "Now, I think you're more likely to spend more on Halloween knowing that you're going to get more out of it. That goes for home decorating and for costumes."

What's driven the run on all things spooky, orange and black, as well as the entertainment industry's interest, is Halloween's increasing influence both on the fall season and on a wider group of people.

Over the last few years, retailers have stretched the Halloween selling season from a few weeks to more than two months.

Although the big day is Tuesday, themed displays appeared in stores as early as August. Bags of bite-size candy have been in grocery stores for at least a month. And decorative skeletons, spider webs and tombstones have dominated some frontyards for much of October.

What's more, the holiday has grown from being almost exclusively an evening for small children to a festive excuse for partying for preteens, adolescents and adults — starting the weekend before the actual event.

Adding to the longer season, particularly in Southern California, Day of the Dead celebrations in Latino communities have extended festivities into November.

The older folks, in turn, have been willing to plunk down for decorations and costumes that are more elaborate, detailed — and expensive — for themselves and for their kids. Even the household pet has gotten in on the costume craze.

Princess costumes are this year's top pick , according to the retail federation. That's a trend that helps Walt Disney Co.'s whole line of character dresses, including Little Mermaid and Cinderella.

Even better for Disney is the fact that pirate costumes have sailed to the No. 2 spot this year.

The resurrection of the classic buccaneer costume, according to the National Retail Federation, came directly from the success of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which has tallied more than $1 billion in worldwide box-office sales.

More trick-or-treaters will be wearing eye patches and bandannas than witches hats, Superman capes or monster makeup, the retail group forecasted. Although some undoubtedly will be the homemade variety, many others will be the Disney-branded costumes.

In all, consumers in 2005 spent $13 billion on licensed products based on entertainment characters, including movie and television figures, said Brochstein of the licensing newsletter.

Although that business profited some studios more than others, the entertainment industry overall reaped about $780 million from those sales, based on an average licensing fee of 12% of wholesale prices. That's just less than a tenth of the studios' total box-office haul last year of $8.84 billion.

"It's a significant revenue stream for the studios," Brochstein said. "Halloween is still a fraction of that, but it's a growing fraction."

At the Disney Store, which this year has costumes based on 30 of the studio's movies, a $40 pirate costume and a more elaborate $80 version have been selling well, said Enrique Atienza, the company's regional director for California.

The stores, which are owned by Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. and licensed by the studio, put out their costume displays in August and are likely to be sold out before Halloween, Atienza said.

Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., which owns the rights to Harry Potter, Superman, Batman and other costume favorites, said its business with Rubies Costume had grown 30% a year over the last several years.

"Halloween really helps extend the brand because it gives people the reason and the excuse and the opportunity to become our characters," said Brad Globe, president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products. "It's very much factored in to our marketing strategies and our product line strategy."

Rubies Costume's Beige, who also co-owns the company started by his parents more than 50 years ago, said the business had grown 300% over the last decade. Annual sales are around $100 million, he said.

The company's movie-related sales, Beige added, have doubled in the last five years.

Part of the growth in Rubies' entertainment-related business, Beige said, comes from the addition of costumes targeted at a new young adult audience, a costume category that didn't exist a few years ago. Costumes aimed at college-age revelers include outfits based on "The Matrix" and "Napoleon Dynamite."

At Aahs novelty store in West Hollywood, 21-year-old Tyler Muse and a group of his fraternity brothers perused a seasonal Halloween store, picking up a $40 Slim Jim snack costume and a $60 ensemble based on the movie "Nacho Libre."

"You have to have a costume that's going to make people laugh," Muse explained as he contemplated a $45 outfit to remake himself as the title character from the television show "Dog the Bounty Hunter."

Disney said its costume business also had doubled in the last five years, partly as a result of teens and adults getting in on the action. Costumes based on "The Incredibles" have been big sellers, the company said, as entire families have dressed as the family from the movie.

The retail trade group found in a survey that 85.3% of adults ages 18 to 24 plan to celebrate Halloween, up from 66.8% last year. That's in addition to 76.5% of adults ages 25 to 34 and 71.3% of adults from 35 to 44 years old.

All of which is good news for the studios, for which Halloween-themed merchandise used to be limited to animated fare and classic children's characters, such as Sleeping Beauty and Winnie the Pooh.

Disney and others say they also benefit from offering more products at Halloween time.

"It has definitely expanded," said Nancy Geller, who runs the costume business for Disney Consumer Products. "And with expansion comes more merchandising options."