You bought the T-shirt, now comes a whole outfit

Money/ entertainment sells; Casper's shape will be moulded into Heinz pasta, bubble bath, M&S cakes and ice-creams. The film's box office takings will be secondary.
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The Independent Online
IT USED to be just T-shirts. Now it is a whole wardrobe. Merchandising, exploiting the images of a popular record, band, book or film on throwaway clothing, is suddenly becoming mainstream fashion.

When Judge Dredd, the movie of the comic-strip futuristic lawman, reaches the cinemas this month, you may feel that the film itself is merely incidental: what will be seen on every street corner is the Judge Dredd Look.

Dredd fans may not be striding down the street in chrome boots and full superhero costume with armour (although Jean-Paul Gaultier has had a stab at translating comic-book heroes to high fashion this summer), but they will be wearing tiny T-shirts with "Law Breaker" and "Creep" logos printed in reflective ink, or short A-line dresses aimed at the young and streetwise.

Fiona Cartledge, who runs Sign of the Times, a mecca for clubwear buyers in London's Covent Garden, is excited at the idea of selling the right sort of film merchandise.

"Films are using exactly the themes - fantasy and sci-fi - that are running in fashion right now," she says. "The two worlds have collided."

Tank Girl has already shown the way forward. The comic-strip that became a movie has now become a British fashion label: MGM licensed the UK clothing range to Future Shooter, a small London-based company, last November, and the clothes went into the shops six months before the UK release of the film.

It is estimated that it will earn the company pounds 1m in sales this year, of which MGM will take 10 per cent.

Despite the film's poor takings at the box office, the range is selling fast. Tank Girl has become a brand name. She even has her own range of boots on sale at Shellys.

Of course, movie merchandising in the mid-Nineties means more than just clothing. For the UK launch of Judge Dredd, 27 companies have been licensed to produce anything from plastic kites and milk-chocolate sticks to pyjamas and acrylic tumblers. The barrage of Dredd paraphernalia will be sold everywhere, from local supermarkets to Marks & Spencer.

Tee White works as a freelance consultant for the Dredd range. She specialises in the new concept of making film licensing fashionable.

"It used to be so much easier when a film came out and a simple screenprinted T-shirt was sold to promote it,' she says. "The fashion area is new territory. A T-shirt is not enough for consumers any more."

Ms White is also working on another superhero movie, Batman Forever, due out on 14 July. The Warner Store in Regent Street is already crammed with bat ears, wings and cloaks, but a clothing range is still in the planning stages. Top Shop will be selling a range of fashion-credible Batman T-shirts to test the waters.

Batman Forever is expected to earn at least as much as the summer's other blockbuster, Pocahontas, which has made $400m so far.

It is estimated on Wall Street that Pocahontas will make $900m globally - and more than half of that amount will be from licensing deals.

But the film that promises to beat the $2.5bn made from merchandise by Jurassic Park is another Steven Spielberg extravaganza for all the family, this time about a friendly ghost, Casper.

It is not a film that will lend itself to clubwear, but the movie, starring the 14-year-old Christina Ricci, opens the same day as Judge Dredd and boasts the mother of all licensing deals with more than 50 products planned, right down to next year's Easter eggs.

Casper's shape will be moulded into Heinz pasta in tomato sauce, bubble bath, M&S cakes, and ice-creams. The film's box office takings ($71m in the first four weeks in the US) will become secondary. It seems that every child will own (or have eaten) a piece of Casper by the end of the year.

"The value of the business is frightening," says Francesca Ash, publisher of Licensing Today Worldwide. "Before the late Eighties, a film would come out and the T-shirts would be sold almost as an afterthought to make some extra revenue.''

Now, film budgets are so huge that merchandise, which can double the revenue of a film, is taken into account from the start.

The licensing industry worldwide is worth an estimated $111bn. The UK alone generates $5bn of that, 40 per cent of which is from the entertainment section.

But where does that leave the consumer? There are only so many characters, brand names and logos a person can take. In a month when cinema attendance figures are at their lowest for almost 10 years, movie-merchandise mania will hit fever pitch.

The under-25's clubwear market is a thriving one, and extra-small T-shirts will continue to sell as extra-large ones sold before them.

But if Judge Dredd, Batman Forever and Casper fail to attract the audiences they are hoping for, the merchandise machines could be left with a whole lot of unwanted junk on their hands: bat-shaped mugs, logo beach towels, and Casper ghost pens that glow in the dark.