This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Malibu is hoping to cash in on its glamorous reputation with a new branding scheme -- but it doesn't want to look cheap. The tony city has hired top licensing firm Excel to pursue exclusively high-end lifestyle apparel, accessories and beauty opportunities involving its municipal seal.
"This isn't going to be a Walmart special," says Excel vp licensing Rob Stone. "We're looking at interesting co-branding, something you'd see at a Fred Segal or a Barneys, a Free People type of look. We're also talking to a fragrance house about a beachy collection -- aloes and that whole world."
Unlike Excel's other marquee municipal clients -- New York City, Vail and Beverly Hills -- Malibu isn't interested in bolstering tourism through branding. The enclave of 13,000 full-time residents already claims 6 million annual visitors. Rather, the city, known for its mansions and Hollywood stars, is attempting to exert more control over an image usurped by middle-class sedans (the Chevy Malibu) and bottom-shelf liquor (Malibu Rum).
"A lot of people have taken advantage of the name and exploited it -- and we haven't," Mayor Lou La Monte tells THR. "We thought it was time to use our fame for the advantage of our residents." The city doesn't own a copyright or trademark on its name, so Excel's pitch to partners is for merchandise to be sold with certificates stating that a portion of the cost -- the city's profit -- will go toward supporting local causes, from fighting beach erosion to improving coastal water quality. "There's a legitimacy factor," says Stone.
According to Excel, Malibu already has received interest from a retailer in Germany and a manufacturer in China. Still, it remains to be seen whether the luxury crowd Stone is seeking will be as excited to sport a city seal as the keychain demo. "It does seem to be a little far-fetched," says James Gregory, CEO of consulting firm CoreBrand, of the luxury-only gambit. Adds Katie Baron, retail editor at trend-research firm Stylus, "I'm not convinced it's a significant enough business opportunity for the kinds of high-end brands Excel is chasing."