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On Film & Fashion: The Perils of Cashing In ...

Sep 29 2010

Betty Draper:Bed


"Dolls, product endorsements, clothing lines ... How did we get to this???"


Last week at a red-carpet event in Manhattan, actor Chris Noth (aka "Mr. Big" from the Sex and the City franchise) went on a bit of a rant about the reasons why the SATC 2 movie bombed at the box office last summer. In his words:

"It’s over. The franchise is dead. The press killed it. Your magazine fucking killed it. New York Magazine. It's like all the critics got together and said, 'This franchise must die.' Because they all had the exact same review. It’s like they didn’t see the movie.

Actually, were Chris Noth honest with himself (and with us), he would acknowledge what is painfully obvious to everyone else. What killed the SATC 2 movie and forever sullied the memory of the critically acclaimed HBO television series, was the ridiculous amount of product placement and merchandising surrounding the movie. Perhaps the movie-going public would have minded the never-ending parade of designer bags/clothes/shoes/watches/cars/etc. less had more care been taken to develop the plot lines and dialogue. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

The rampant commercialization began in the first SATC movie. So thin was the plot, so insipid was the dialogue that I recall sitting through that movie and feeling like I was watching one very long luxury brand infomercial masquerading as a movie. This penchant for stuffing every second of the film with every designer brand known to man reportedly continued unabated in SATC 2 only with an even weaker plot and more insipid dialogue. I use the term "reportedly" because I couldn't bring myself to see it. I didn't make that decision based on a critic's review. I made it because I was so thoroughly disappointed with SATC 1 that I wasn't about to pay for the privilege of being disappointed again. Maybe the movie bombed because like me, former fans of the television series simply had had enough of paying for the privilege of being marketed to by the once-beloved characters so they, like me, stayed home.

I wouldn't really care about the demise of the SATC franchise all that much were it not for the fact that something very similar is happening to another critically acclaimed television series: Mad Men. While product placement in this context is a trickier affair because the series is a meticulously-researched period drama, the show's producer Matthew Weiner has displayed a keen interest in cashing in on the series' success. At last count, there was the limited edition Mad Men dolls, a Banana Republic line of office basics for men and women inspired (and modelled) by Mad Men's lead characters and most recently, the series' lead costume designer Janie Bryant launched a capsule collection of vintage-inspired women's apparel and accessories on QVC. So far, none of the products do justice to the overall aesthetic of the period let alone to the series' gravitas. In plain English, these merchandising deals are cheapening the series.

Given his enthusiasm for co-branding, how long before the clever Mr. Weiner finds a way to work product placements directly into his critically-acclaimed television series? Can a limited-edition, vintage-inspired designer handbag line paraded around from scene to scene by the female leads ("The Joan", "The Betty", "The Peggy") or a re-edition of a vintage designer watch prominently dispayed on Don's wrist as he knocks back "Old Fashions" be far behind? Before he goes down that road though, Mr. Weiner might want to have a heart-to-heart with Michael-Patrick King. I understand he's got plenty of time on his hands these days now that his penchant for cashing in has killed his franchise.

Sincerely,

The Luxe Chronicles

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Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment Hokey.

You might be interested to know that since publishing this post, a new collection of Mad Men nail varnish and a collection of vintage-inspired Mad Men underwear have been announced by the series' costume designer Janie Bryant. And it's only season 4 ...

Helene

Hmm I'm in agreement about the road that SATC went down, even before the movies to be honest - the plot lines/dialogues and over the top stylings in the final couple of series meant it was already on the wane for me. That second movie sealed the deal.

However I might have to disagree with the Mad Men analysis; granted I wasn't aware of the additional licensing and dolls etc associated with the show, but of what I've seen so far (up to middle of series 4, so good!) this hasn't diluted the quality any further. And even if there were various spin offs from the show eg a line of handbags inspired by those characters you mentioned, as long as they're not IN the actual show does it matter?

We've seen the catwalk taking inspiration from the programme already - for example the Prada and LV winter shows earlier this year - so I'm not surprised the programme makers want to cash in on its rise - others certainly are. So long as Don doesn't do a Carrie and become really annoying and whiny! Love your blog by the way, always insightful and interesting...

I see, your suggestion will be noted! I also have a good friend who has been touting about Mad Men since the first season. I should probably catch up.

Hi Dahlia:

I agree with your point about the over-styling but I don't think it is necessarily Pat Field's doing alone. I suspect part of it may in fact be attributable to the sheer volume of the product placement deals in place and the particular terms of each individual product placement deal (how many seconds the product will be featured, in what scene it will appear and under what angle, whether it will be referred to by name in the dialogue, etc.).

As for Mad Men, it is without doubt one of the best dramas currently on television. The writing, the acting, the set & costume design are positively mesmerizing. I highly recommend you take a look for yourself but start with Season 1 so that you can understand all the subtle references and plot lines (all the characters have very complicated histories with one another and there are always multiple story lines that intersect with one another). I think precisely because it is such a gem, I would truly hate to see Matthew Weiner's merchandising impulses dilute the series.

As always, thanks for your comments. They always add a layer or prespective to my posts. I love that!

Helene

Pat Field's styling has also changed over the years since the end of the SATC TV series. When I heard about her again, she was styling for the now defunct show, Cashmere Mafia, and to be honest, she just really went overboard with the styling for that show. Who walks a dog in a fitted blazer blue fur-trimmed hoodie in the middle of Central Park? With leather gloves no less. It was just too styled. SATC was reverred for its fashion because it wasn't brash or trying to hard. But Pat Field really went down the deep end with the SATC movie. I couldn't bear watching the blinging of each designer brand, it was nauseating, not to mention the predictable plot.

I too didn't watch the second movie, seeing the four gals in the trailers had me cringing. No thanks.

I have yet to see Mad Men, but I hear about it so much, I don't feel like seeing it now. Should I even bother?

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Welcome to The Luxe Chronicles.

The Luxe Chronicles is a collection of interviews, profiles and musings on various aspects of the luxury industry and occasionally, a rant on our celebrity obsessed culture and the dumbing down of our collective sense of style and esthetic.

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