Malibu Hires Licensing Firm to Move Beyond Chevy Malibus

Malibu Pier - H 2013

Malibu Pier - H 2013

The mayor of L.A.'s tony coastal enclave tells THR: "We thought it was time to use our fame for the advantage of our residents."

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."

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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."