It was Regis Philbin who set one of the biggest fashion trends of the year–and then capitalized on it with an inevitable line of matching shirts and ties. But in the last 12 months actress Melanie Griffith, L.A. Laker Shaquille O'Neal and plus-size model Emme have also joined the ranks of celebrity merchandisers. The million-dollar question, of course, is how well do these stars know their audiences? To find out, we sent samples from 10 collections everyday people in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Nashville, Tenn.; Springfield, Mo.; Topeka, Kans.; and Youngstown, Ohio. And what did our models think? At best, they reacted like Springfield store clerk Randy Lourenco, who tried a pair of narrow poly-rayon pants by guitarist Carlos Santana and pronounced, "I feel like a celebrity!"
JANE BOOKE at www.MelanieGriffith.com
When Melanie Griffith married Antonio Banderas in 1996, her friend Jane Booke made the wedding gown. Now the actress has collaborated with Booke on a line of fantasy-inspired creations. "Jane's designs have the ability to bring out the goddess in me," says Griffith, 43, on her Web site, where the clothes are available. Booke describes the collection as "Camelot
meets Star Wars
–very romantic, very feminine and very strong."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: MELANIE GRIFFITH
These Springfield residents give thumbs up to Griffith's offerings:
1. SARAH PIONTEK, 21, COLLEGE SENIOR The $700 Jane Drawstring Dress (all gowns are named by the designer) "would be good for holiday parties," says Piontek. But none she's likely to attend. "Nobody really dresses like this in Springfield," she says.
2. MICHELLE PETERS, 16, HIGH SCHOOL SOPHOMORE "Excellent prom dress!" declares Peters, who had fun twirling in the taffeta-and-chiffon Courtesan Dress ($1,080). "It's a 10-plus
3. ANGIE CURRAN, 26, EVENTS COORDINATOR The Empire Camelot Dress ($270) "feels like a blanket," says Curran. "I want to curl up in it."
4. LAURA WILCOX, 20, COLLEGE JUNIOR The Shirred Princess Dress ($980) reminds Wilcox "of old movies. It's medieval-looking. I'd wear it to a costume party."
5. MARIE THOMAS, 50, NURSE'S ASSISTANT Thomas says the fleece Guenevere Ruffle Dress ($247) "makes me feel glamorous," like Melanie Griffith herself, whom Thomas says she met while caring for the father of the actress's then husband, Don Johnson. "I could definitely see Melanie in a dress like this."
6. HOLLY McWILLIAMS, 42, SPEECH AND THEATER TEACHER "Five
thousand dollars!" exclaims McWilliams, viewing the price tag of the hand-beaded lace Oscar Dress. She regains her composure wearing the gown: "It fits like a glove. I feel like a million bucks."
7. JULIE CARTER, 38, ASSISTANT JURY COMMISSIONER The fleece Camille Dress ($330) "is as comfy as my pj's," says Carter.
8. CHERYL HOLMES, 28, COMPUTER TECHNICIAN "It's a Me dress," says Holmes of the King Arthur Dress ($165) and matching coat ($375). "It's something I'd buy. I wouldn't stay home in it either."
9. BETSY WALTERS, 56, FIFTH-GRADE TEACHER "This," says Walters of the Working Girl Trench ($397), is "the perfect splurge."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: LISA "LEFT EYE" LOPES
KYLE YOUNG LEFT EYE
The "L" of the R&B trio TLC, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes is the muse for a collection of dresses, sweaters and jeans that sends mohair, denim and fleece in adventurous directions. The new line, which also includes some menswear, is designed by her uncle Kyle Young, who has created costumes for TLC, 'N Sync, Blaque and other bands. "Kyle loves to see women looking fresh," says Lopes, 29, "not in recycled fashions." But the singer's influence is clear as well. "I wear the clothes," she says. "I get the first samples of each piece." And, as Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May
, "if she doesn't like them, we don't make them." Available at specialty stores.
ANNE TYMESON, 28, ATTORNEY, TOPEKA
"It feels like rose petals," says Tymeson of this mohair sweaterdress ($55), one of Lopes's personal favorites. "I have a pair of chunky-heeled brown suede boots I'm dying to wear with it."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: CARLOS SANTANA
CARLOS BY CARLOS SANTANA
In February, not long after his latest CD, Supernatural
, went multiplatinum, the 53-year-old guitar legend made a deal to transform his cool style into a clothing line (available at department stores later this fall) designed by Miami's Dino di Milano Corp. Blending influences from rock and his native Mexico, Santana's clothes, he asserts, send a message from the future. "One day," he says, "there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries, and the only passport will be the heart." Until then, a portion of the line's profits will benefit his Milagro Foundation children's charity.
JOE WALSH, 36, GLASS BLOWER, CEDAR RAPIDS
The onetime resident of hang-loose Hawaii wishes the sleeves of the cotton shirt ($42) were longer and the flares on the corduroy pants ($49.50) narrower. "They're a little flamboyant," says Walsh. "I wore bell-bottoms back in the 70s, but if I wore them now it would look like I had an identity problem."
RANDY LOURENCO, 21, STORE CLERK, SPRINGFIELD
While he found the Lycra shirt ($30) and cigarette pants ($55) more constricting than his usual oversize shorts and tees, "it's a comfortable tight," says Lourenco. "I think it's hot. It's a clubbing outfit. But since folks around here are pretty old-fashioned, they'd probably freak a little."
SHANE PITTMAN, 28, HAIRSTYLIST, NASHVILLE
Although Pittman describes his personal style in "two words: Banana Republic," he gives high marks to the pared-down cut of Santana's pin-striped zip-front shirt ($39.50) and polyester micro-fiber pants ($65). "The straight-leg pants fit really well," he says, surprised. "It's hard to find guys' pants that aren't tapered or boot-cut." He thinks he'd sport both at a nightclub, but not on the dance floor. The polyester material, he says, "is yucky. It doesn't breathe."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: NIKI TAYLOR
After four years modeling for Liz Claiborne, Niki Taylor, 25, is launching her own collection for that fashion powerhouse (available in Target stores next month). Her goal, says the divorced mother of 5-year-old twin boys, is to provide young working moms with "versatile clothing that can go from day to night." Translation: washable, low-maintenance synthetic-blend knits.
TERESA GLASSER, 34, HAIRSTYLIST, NASHVILLE
"I like the weight of the skirt [$21.99] and how it hangs. But the sleeveless sweater [$24.99] reminds me of maternity clothes–and I'm way past that," says the mother of four (who's also wearing a $17.99 long-sleeved T-shirt). "I don't see Niki Taylor wearing this either. She'd be body-conscious too."
JACKIE WATKINS, 37, HOMEMAKER, CEDAR RAPIDS
While Watkins doesn't like the way the knit pants ($21.99) flare below the knee, she is impressed that the "turtleneck [$24.99] fits close but not too tight" and that the acrylic-cotton fabric seems durable. "I stretched the sweater to put it on, and it stretched right back into shape!" she says.
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: CHRIS KIRKPATRICK
FUMAN SKEETO APPAREL
As a member of 'N Sync, Chris Kirkpatrick, 28, has a ready-made clientele for his company's teen wear–the screaming girls who make up the bulk of his group's audience. "We listen to our fans and what they like," says Kirkpatrick, who started his clothing label last fall. The line, designed under his supervision and sold via www.fumanskeeto.com, also includes a few items for guys–many worn onstage by 'N Sync.
SALLY MOSEN, 14, EIGHTH GRADER, NASHVILLE
"It's really comfortable and upbeat. I like it," says Mosen of the T-shirt ($22), tank dress ($44) and hooded jacket ($54) ensemble. And she adds that her praise isn't just because she's a "big fan" of Chris Kirkpatrick. She prefers bandmate Justin Timberlake
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: SHAQUILLE O'NEAL
L.A. Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal went into e-business in February with a line of athletic wear sold only on the Web (at www.dunk.net). Among the offerings are the same Chromz shoes O'Neal, 28, wears on the court. Off duty, he's one of his own best customers. "In fact," says Shaq over the phone, "right now I'm hanging out in our All Day Hoop Shorts and one of our sleeveless basketball T-shirts."
TIM CARTER, 38, AGRICULTURAL EXECUTIVE, SPRINGFIELD
To sports fan Carter, the polyester shirt ($35) and pants ($60) "are just basic workout clothes," he says. "Nice, comfortable, Saturday and Sunday lying-around-the-house clothes. I don't think anybody would be too amazed to see me wearing something like this."
BILL BARNETT (left), 20, and JEFF ROLFE, 19, COLLEGE STUDENTS, YOUNGSTOWN
Both the cotton tank ($18) and polyester-spandex pants ($62) are comfortable, says Barnett, and the pockets are so big, "my dog [shih tzu Smokey] could live in there." Rolfe likes the color and comfort of his polyester shorts ($30) and jacket ($65), but to avoid the dreaded "outfit" effect, "I wouldn't wear the jacket to play in."
LEE WAGES, 51, UTILITY CONTROLLER, TOPEKA
The avid cyclist praises the "silky feel" of the stretch nylon-spandex shirt ($54) and shorts ($48), but, he says, "the thing I like most is the subtly stylish lack of logos and emblems and things on the front. It's very clean." And the shoes ($89), he says, have "good arch support and a nice liner."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: KATHY IRELAND
KATHY IRELAND FOR KMART
The cover model for three SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issues started her clothing line in 1995 with a collection of socks. Swimwear, she told CNBC in June, would have been "too obvious." Today Ireland's collection for Kmart includes everything from bikinis to maternity dresses. A mother of two, Ireland, 37, who is married to emergency-room physician Greg Olsen, helps design her company's clothes–and she really wears them. "I don't believe in simply placing my name on products," she says.
KIMBERLY PEEBLES, 22, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, NASHVILLE
"It's cute," says Peebles, who can see herself wearing the tank top ($12.99) to a dance club or even to the office. ("We're business casual," she points out.) "It feels really good. It's soft. I can move pretty freely in it." The handkerchief skirt ($19.99) is trendy, she says, but would be hipper without the elastic waist. Declares Peebles: "I'd put in a zipper with a button."
DENNESE BURKLEY, 34, OFFICE MANAGER, NASHVILLE
"Black is my favorite color by far," says Burkley, "and the material seems durable." But overall the jacket ($22.99), tank top ($12.99) and knit pants ($19.99) rubbed her the wrong way. The outfit "feels a little scratchy and too clingy," she says.
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: REGIS PHILBIN
REGIS BY THE VAN HEUSEN COMPANY
Who wants to dress like Regis Philbin? Lots of guys. Besieged by manufacturers hoping to cash in on the popularity of the monochromatic shirts and ties he wears as host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
, Philbin licensed his name to venerable Van Heusen. The collection, launched in June and carried in department stores, has been a hot seller. That doesn't surprise Philbin, 69, who now wears his own products on the show. "I think it's a terrific look for a man," he says. "If you can't be a millionaire, you can at least feel like one."
TONY LEWIS, 30, POWER PLANT TECHNICIAN, CEDAR RAPIDS
Not only do the basil-colored shirt ($39.50) and tie ($38) constitute "a real power outfit," says Lewis, it saves energy. "I have a problem matching my shirt and tie, and this look is a no-brainer," he says, adding, "I think this is great–and that's my final answer."
DAVID KUNZE, 51, BANK PRESIDENT, SPRINGFIELD
A four-month veteran of the monochromatic look (thanks to his wife, Kathy), Kunze describes the quality of his cotton shirt ($39.50) and silk tie ($38) as "outstanding." One suggestion: "I like button-down collars, but Regis doesn't have any of those."
TOM MARSHALL, 28, FLOOR LAYER, TOPEKA
With no hesitation, Marshall praises both the cut ("It fits my broad shoulders, and that's hard to find") and eggplant color ("It looks good with my complexion") of the Reege shirt ($39.50) and tie ($38). "It wouldn't stand out too much," he says. "But I think people would think, 'There's a nicely dressed man.'"
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: EMME
THE EMME COLLECTION
"It started with 'I've got to find a great pair of pants,'" says model Emme, 37. Frustrated by her fruitless search–and determined to help others in her predicament–she set out to create a line of contemporary clothes for larger women. The result arrives in department stores and on the Web (www.emmestyle.com) this month. "This line is made with kindness and consideration for the woman who happens to be size 14 and above," says Emme. "It's about making women who have curves look sexy and modern and sleek."
MONICA JACKSON, 40, ROMANCE NOVELIST, TOPEKA
For the author of Midnight Blue
and The Look of Love
, the "classic and sexy" pairing of a rayon-blend portrait-necked top ($89) with a scalloped polysuede cloth skirt ($119) is "surprisingly wearable. It would work for a date or to a cocktail party. People would think I look hot." As with most women, "black is one of my staples," Jackson explains. "But this blue looks good on me too."
SUSAN REBHAN (left), 53, COSMETOLOGIST, and ALICIA MYLOTT, 47, PAYROLL CLERK, YOUNGSTOWN
With or without the suede-like polyester skirt ($129), Rebhan calls the matching jacket ($219) "a good basic. I could wear it forever and mix it with black." Emme's cotton-blend wrap blouse ($99) and embroidered wool-blend pants ($129) "make me look sexy, like va-va-voom!" enthuses Mylott, but "it's also something I could wear to work and not look like a rumpled mess."
SLOAN SHORE, 36, TALENT MANAGER, NASHVILLE
"Normally there is a problem with plus sizes because the style isn't there, but this has style," says Shore of the lace-knit wool-blend duster ($129) over a rayon-blend camisole ($49) and skirt ($89). "It's kind of sexy but not in an overt way. It makes your silhouette look long and lean, and even though it's straight, it gives you a bit of a waistline."
CELEBRITY DESIGNER: SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS
It's been quite a year for rookie clothier Sean "Puffy" Combs, 29, and not only because of his well-publicized pairing with Jennifer Lopez
or his arrest on weapons charges. The rapper-producer's hip-hop-flavored menswear brand, which is available at department stores, had sales of $32 million. He was also nominated for the prestigious Perry Ellis Award for menswear. Says Combs: "I wanted to create a line that represented urban culture while meshing with other cultures."
JOEL LOZANO, 32, STEAK HOUSE MANAGER, CEDAR RAPIDS
"At first I thought, 'These feel kind of stiff,'" says Lozano of the heavy-duty denim vest ($88) and pants with padded knees ($68). "But they feel durable, like they'd be good in the snow. Once you broke them in they'd be perfect." With the proper shoe, that is. "The pants are kind of bell-bottomed, so you need to wear big boots with a heel," the 6'1" Lozano warns. "I tried them on with loafers and I looked like Gumby."
GEORGE ROSS, 46, POLICE OFFICER, YOUNGSTOWN
Although the cashmere turtleneck ($70) and wool pants ($195) are comfy–"no itchy, no scratchy," says Ross–they're also "a bit much" for this "little bit conservative, less outlandish" father of three. "This look takes me back to the 70s. If it's coming back, I don't want to be the first one to bring it back."
ERIC JOHNSTON, 36, ARTIST, NASHVILLE
"I was surprised," Johnston admits. The three-quarter-length cashmere jacket ($850) and matching pants ($220) "might even be something I'd wear to an art opening." (The shirt, tie and hat aren't Combs's.) Beneath the "comfortable but upscale" coat, the pants "fit great," Johnston reports. "Generally, it's my feeling that people should stick with what they do. You don't want Ralph Lauren producing rap records. But this line is cool, and this outfit is really cool. This Puffy stuff looks good."