- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Fans of TV’s “Desperate Housewives” might not have Gabriella’s marital troubles or her perfect figure, but they can find out where to buy her awesome Jimmy Choo sandals. Viewers of “Grey’s Anatomy” may not be doctors with steamy romantic lives, but with a few mouse clicks, they can learn how much Meredith’s sweat pants cost.

Web sites such as SeenON.com and StarStyle.com have brought Hollywood styling to the masses. Through partnerships with studios, networks and celebrity stylists, these sites publish comprehensive information about who was wearing what when. On some sites, one can order the goods right then and there. Others link visitors with stores that carry the items.

Often there are cost-conscious alternatives to what the stars are wearing. Can’t afford the $1,000 gown an “American Idol”singer wore onstage? StarStyle.com will tell where to get a knockoff for a few hundred dollars.

“People have been influenced by celebrities and fashion for a long time,” says Ashley Heather, chief executive officer of Entertainment Media Works, which operates StarStyle.com. “Now consumers are more tech-savvy. They are watching on DVR and skipping the commercials. It is not just about selling; it is about heightening exposure.”

So, in a sense, the shows are a chance to sell fashion quietly. The concept of product placement has been around forever; every time a movie shows a particular brand of bottled water or an Apple IBook, it is huge exposure that has a different kind of impact from a 30-second commercial.

However, fashion and household furnishings aren’t so obvious. A star’s well-cut jeans or the cute dishes on the table are not labeled like a can of Pepsi. That leaves viewers wanting more, says Mike Fitzsimmons, founder of Delivery Agent, the company that runs SeenON.com as well as retail sites for several networks.

“The average person watches about 1,000 hours of television a year,” Mr. Fitzsimmons says. “That is a lot of TV. We also consume a lot and see a lot of movies. And we know that people get their inspiration from buying from the stores themselves and from seeing what others are wearing.”

Add to the TV watching the people who regularly read gossip magazines and search for celebrity news online, and a whole lot of people are getting their fashion inspiration from Jessica Simpson rather than their office mate in the next cubicle.

“When you read [the magazine] US Weekly, for instance, you are reminded that the gulf between us and the stars is not that wide,” says Jake Halpern, author of the new book “Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction.” It has “a feature called Stars — They’re Just Like Us that allows readers to see the stars and the products they use and feel closer to them.

“The gap between us and them is narrowing,” he says. “We’re not such schlubby schleps when we go about our humdrum days. We can have a small piece of a star’s life.”

Several places will enable you to actually have a piece of a star’s life, not just be directed to the same store to buy the same jeans.

Clothes Off Our Back is a nonprofit organization that auctions celebrity items online. Currently up for grabs: the Tod’s clutch purse Jennifer Garner carried to the Golden Globes last month (minimum bid $550); Helen Mirren’s Golden Globes gown (custom size 6-8 and a minimum bid of $1,500); Kyra Sedgwick’s Screen Actors Guild Awards gown (minimum bid $1,000 — and it is a size 2). Clothes Off Our Back expects to add numerous Oscar items this week.

All of the proceeds from Clothes Off Our Back auctions go to charities such as Cure Autism Now, Save the Children and the Children’s Defense Fund, says Clothes Off Our Backs Executive Director Michel Schneider.

Clothes Off Our Back began five years ago when married TV stars Jane Kaczmarek, then star of “Malcolm in the Middle,” and Bradley Whitford of “The West Wing” wanted to see items they wore only once — to the Emmy Awards — go to good use.

Since then, the organization has raised more than $1 million, says Ms. Schneider. The item that brought in the most money — $50,000 — was a vintage Dior evening gown Jennifer Aniston wore to the Emmys the year she won for her role on “Friends.”

Other big sellers: Singer Clay Aiken’s suit, shoes and cuff links ($27,000); a phone Kiefer Sutherland used on “24” ($2,600); and actor Joaquin Phoenix’s tuxedo ($3,000).

Fans with more limited means still can have a piece of their favorite star. There are stars’ sunglasses, for instance, that can be had for about $150.

“I think in our culture everyone is obsessed with celebrities,” Ms. Schneider says. “We’re taking a positive spin on it.”

Tiara Nappi owns two It’s a Wrap stores in Los Angeles and Itsawraphollywood.com. She and her mother have been selling stars’ items for 25 years. They have an assortment of wardrobe items plus props, furniture from Hollywood sets and costumes. It’s a Wrap is a shopping stop for anyone from “Star Trek” fans, who can pick up William Shatner’s Captain Kirk uniform for $10,000, to “Charmed” watchers, who might want their own demonic boomerang for $150.

For shoppers looking for designer clothes worn in the here and now, bargains can be had, says Ms. Nappi, who has items from “As the World Turns,” “CSI: Miami” and “Alias,” among others.

“Our clothes run from 35 [percent] to 95 percent off retail,” she says. “People who come to us the first time are interested in shopping here because of TV and movies. The thing that keeps them coming back is that we are inexpensive.

“People feel a closer connection with stars,” Ms. Nappi says. “They feel like [the stars] are part of their life. We are always looking to idolize people, so we look to who is the most visible.”

For the average person who buys off the rack at the local department store, buying stars’ clothes offers a chance to see the difference quality tailoring and styling can make.

“On the set, you have costume designers who see cuts and styles that we as average people don’t see,” Ms. Nappi says. “A show can have three seamstresses and two assistants and about 15 people dressing that one show. You have custom-made items that are really cool. So you are getting something that had experts fitting it.”

Getting the star body to fit into the outfit? That is a whole other group of Web sites.

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