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Hilary's Birthday Treat: Turning 18, Duff Plans On a Lifestyle Empire

As an 18th birthday present to herself, Hilary Duff is forming a lifestyle brand and will market apparel, fragrance and accessories.

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LOS ANGELES — Hilary Duff celebrated her 18th birthday in style Wednesday by becoming the chief executive officer of her own fashion and lifestyle company.

Duff, a singer and actress who rose to fame in the title role of television's "Lizzie McGuire," said the company will encompass clothing, accessories, health and beauty products and furniture and home decor. She will compete in the tween and fragrance categories against 19-year-old moguls Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Duff said she also will take on the title of chief designer for her existing tween label, Stuff by Hilary Duff, as well as a new eponymous clothing line that will span the juniors and contemporary markets and sell in better department stores such as Macy's and Dillard's.

Duff thinks she can succeed partly because she has received so many inquiries from girls who want to know where she bought her clothes. The teen line will reflect the styles that she would wear.

While she hasn't figured out key pieces yet, Duff said she wants to offer "a great jean ... I want girls in middle America and everywhere to find really good clothes."

She already has signed a fragrance deal with Elizabeth Arden, making her the latest in a string of high-profilers — including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kimora Lee Simmons and Paris Hilton — looking to cash in on the beauty business.

The first piece of the Duff beauty oeuvre, a fragrance, is scheduled for a fall 2006 launch in prestige beauty doors in the U.S. The line will then be rolled out globally.

"We had our first creative meeting today," Duff said, adding that she's fond of fragrances such as Opium, Marc Jacobs Blush, Burberry Brit, Stella McCartney, Narciso Rodriguez and Child. "I wear different fragrances at different times of the day. In fact, when we met, I said, ‘I only get to do one first?' I have so many ideas, but I know what I like and what I don't."

Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, industry sources have speculated that such agreements often include an up-front payout of $1 million to $2 million, and 1 to 3 percent of fragrance sales after the scent is on the counter.
The apparel for the junior label is to bow in fall 2007, but Duff vowed to expand her tween label for next year's back-to-school season, hiring Kids Headquarters to manufacture sportswear, sleepwear and swimwear in the U.S.

IMG, the Cleveland, Ohio-based sports and modeling agency, will negotiate and coordinate Duff's licensing deals for everything from shoes to pajamas. By 2008, she intends to be marketing her tween and teen labels in 20 countries, from Australia to Japan to the U.S. to Germany.

"I, really at the end of the day, get to decide what goes on and what doesn't," Duff said, declining to reveal financial terms of her deals.

The new venture raises the stakes for celebrities trying to build individual fashion labels. While many have dabbled with staging fashion shows and marketing cosmetics and fragrances, few have succeeded in building a lifestyle empire.

Perhaps the most seasoned of the multitasking celebrities are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the twins who share ownership and are co-presidents of an entertainment and lifestyle empire that by some estimates generated $1 billion in retail sales last year. The Olsens started Dualstar Entertainment Group to produce videos and other products supporting their brand in 1993, and bowed a tween line of clothing, mary-kateandashley, at Wal-Mart eight years later.

To guide her, Duff has teamed with Robert Thorne, the former lawyer and manager of the Olsens and, until January, ceo of their company. Thorne now manages Duff's brands, including her two labels and their fashion and lifestyle products worldwide.

"I want to eclipse what we did with Mary-Kate and Ashley," he said.

Though Duff didn't immediately decide on a name for her new company, the venture adds to her earlier branding initiatives. Mattel and Candie's (now known as Iconix) already tapped her to sell products ranging from the Barbie doll clothing line to sneakers. Townley also created a fragrance for her with the name of Stuff by Hilary Duff. In 2003, Duff rolled out a limited offering of hair accessories, jewelry and apparel in the U.S. and also in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Duff's endorsement deal with Candie's new apparel line, which is sold exclusively at Kohl's, will end in spring 2006, before the b-t-s 2006 expansion of her tween label.
Neal Seideman, senior vice president of IMG licensing in Cleveland, said the Olsens serve as the benchmark against which to measure the success of a fashion and lifestyle company.

"She is a more authentic musician and a more authentic actress," Seideman said, comparing Duff with the Olsens. "At IMG, we see Hilary as someone who will be around and excelling in her career for decades."

Duff is targeting the junior category with Thorne's help. After leaving Dualstar in January, Thorne relaunched Robert Thorne Co. a month later in Beverly Hills to handle brand management services for celebrities and media properties.

"We are direct competitors now," Thorne said of the Olsens.

By focusing on the teen girls' market, Duff hopes to woo a fickle but lucrative demographic that has eluded even the Olsens, who had a short-lived junior line in 2003 under the mary-kateandashley brand at Wal-Mart. If Duff establishes a foothold, then she could have an advantage over Thorne's former charges, who are considering reentering the teen apparel business with a new label.

Duff first burst into the spotlight in 2001 as the bubbly Lizzie McGuire, whose junior high adventures about accidentally spreading rumors in online chats and other social mishaps appeared on the Disney channel. She has released an album each year since 2003, generating total sales of more than 5.9 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Thousands of teenagers bop at her command at sold-out concerts.

Duff climbed to top billing in movies such as "The Perfect Man" and "A Cinderella Story," and graced the cover of Seventeen's August 2004 issue, which prevailed as the teen magazine's newsstand bestseller of the year.

After snaring the 72nd spot last year in Forbes' "The Celebrity 100," based on her earnings and buzz, she garnered mentions as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People" and one of Teen People's "Hottest Stars Under 25."

Duff has managed to limit her presence in the tabloids primarily to pictures of her walking her Chihuahua and shopping with her boyfriend, Joel Madden, who leads the teen-friendly punk band Good Charlotte.

Thorne, who began working with Duff in April, said, "She works and she's out there and she has the right values. It was the perfect opportunity. And I approached her."
To be sure, it is uncertain whether Duff's company will succeed.

Duff conceded that she hired designers because she doesn't have time to sketch and is ignorant of how the designing process works. She said she looked forward to sitting with the designers and sharing her thoughts on colors and fits.

As for the growing crowd of celebrity designers, Duff's attitude is: the more, the merrier. "We all have our own styles going on and different age range and price range," she said. "I think it's cool that people expand into singing, acting, clothes. It's fun. It gets more and more creative."

Considering the recent lackluster sales in the music and movie industries, an increasing number of celebrities might be seeking refuge in the fashion business. In Duff's case, her eponymous sophomore album sold less than half of the 3.8 million units of her debut collection, Metamorphosis.

Nevertheless, it takes more than star power to make it in fashion.

"They all think their star quality is enough to design clothes," said Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson, the Los Angeles boutique that attracts famous shoppers and stocks celebrity lines by Gwen Stefani and Nicky Hilton. Ross said, "I think a few can be multifaceted but not all can."

Answering the criticism that some celebrities don't wear clothes from their own collections, Duff said she will wear her clothes. "Obviously, the younger line I can't fit into," she said, giggling. "There is no point to putting out a fashion line and not wearing it."

Much is riding on Duff's shoulders. "She's a franchise," said IMG's Seideman.

Thorne said Kids Headquarters in New York will take over manufacturing for the U.S. market in 2006 from Toronto's NTD. He said discussion is under way with NTD and other vendors to determine who will handle production for the Canadian market next year.