When director Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla biopic hit the big screen in the US this month, it wasn’t the film that caught the fashion community's attention. It was a 14-karat gold heart-shaped locket, inspired by Priscilla Presley’s own necklace, recreated by Los Angeles-based jeweler J.Hannah.
On sale for 1,280 via J.Hannah’s website (or 400 for the silver version), the locket is the brand’s first collaborative project alongside arthouse entertainment company A24. It also marks A24’s fine jewelry debut.
“This is our first time collaborating with a production company this way,” Jess Hannah Révész, founder of J.Hannah, tells Jing Daily. “I had been chatting about the upcoming movie with my studio manager days before I received a DM from A24’s creative director, so the timing of it all felt very serendipitous.”
This is no small trend. Last year, Business Research Insights reported that the global movie merchandise market reached 29 billion, and it is projected to touch 128 billion by 2030.
Révész’s brand is the latest to join the film merch machine. For fashion, movie merchandise is big business, with brands like Loewe, Hamp;M, and Net-A-Porter contributing to its growth.
“It’s a ticket to the center of pop culture,” Annie Corser, senior trends editor of pop culture and media at Stylus, tells Jing Daily. “People are very keen to indicate that they appreciate the right things, the big cultural moments.”
But with fast-fashion titans saturating the landscape, competition for IP intensifying, and sustainability concerns growing, consumer fatigue is setting in. Can brands win back cinephiles?
Disruptors like A24 think so.
The indie film aficionado enlists buzzy fashion labels like J.Hannah to create its in-house merchandise. It’s a move that has put the agency firmly on the streetwear map. While movie-connected commodities can veer towards kitsch, A24 courts fashion-savvy film lovers through partnerships with independent creatives to convert merch into highly covetable collectibles.
One collaborator is lo-fi label Online Ceramics. Founded by LA-based duo Elijah Funk and Alix Ross, the brand rose to fame in 2016 with its trippy T-shirts plastered in post-irony, screen-printed motifs.
Having worked with A24 in 2018 to create its ‘Hereditary’ inspired collection, to sell-out success, Online Ceramics went on to design pieces for A24 classics including Midsommar, Pearl and, most recently, Australian horror hit Talk To Me.
But where merch really thrives is with mainstream megahits. The mass commercialization of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, for instance, is an emblem of the formidable influence of IPs.
In July, from fashion to food, the world turned pink alongside the film’s release. Flash Coffee Hong Kong released pink-washed coffee cups, fans slumbered in Barbie’s Dreamhouse via Airbnb, and skate label Impala sold exact replicas of the toy’s pink-and-yellow rollerblades for 200.
“Barbie, essentially one long, expensive, clever advert, made film merchandise more relevant than it’s been in years. Buying Barbie merchandise became basically the same as seeing the movie. It made you part of the phenomenon,” Corser says.
Iconic IPs like Barbie are cash crops for brands. But the overuse of an IP runs the risk of dilution. “Over exposure can definitely dilute a brand’s consumer appeal,” Steven Ekstract, Managing Director at Global Licensing Advisors, tells Jing Daily.
“Take for example Hello Kitty, another brand similar to Barbie with global appeal. It goes through waves where it will be in fashion, then over exposed with too many products, then it cools down and comes back into style again.”
A24’s move into fashion is widely recognized as a tour de force, bucking a new merch trend that’s gaining sartorial clout beyond the big screen. The indie spearheader is cultivating a following of tapped-in film arbiters who aren't just buying the merch for the aesthetic – to them, it’s a status signal. Online Ceramics x A24’s pieces, for instance, are an online sensation. On streetwear platform Grailed, the collab’s caps and T-shirts are generating three times their original prices.
“Film merchandise can grant admittance to a fandom quickly and visibly – you can instantly signal that you appreciate something, that you’re discerning enough to have secured a permanent artifact from the movie,” Corser says. “It’s a material signifier of our taste and a proclamation of what we think matters.”
Roaming the streets of New York and beyond, communities of culturally astute hypebeasts are driving up demand for if-you-know-you-know (IYKYK) film merch that exemplifies the zeitgeist.
Fast-fashion’s grip on film merchandise is omnipresent. From Primark’s tie-up with the Marvel franchise to Coach’s collaboration with Disney, high-street movie-inspired collections convert fans into consumers.
Corser argues that these easily accessible collections allow consumers to feel a part of a film and its audience. “It’s a very quick route into fandoms, which are the communities an increasing number of us have now come to define ourselves by,” she says.
J.Hannah’s heart locket, for example, went viral for its coquette-core aesthetic, but sparked a backlash due to its “inaccessible” pricing. High street brands have since rolled out their own takes. Urban Outfitters is selling an affordable version for 17, while Shein’s iteration can be bought for 1.69.
Inevitably, all hype cools. The height of Barbiecore saw fast fashion labels, including Zara, Crocs, and Boohoo, jump on the buzz with their own IP-inspired ephemera. But almost six months on from the film’s release, spotting Barbie merch in the wild is as rare as copping one of Online Ceramics’ sold-out Pearl tees.
Mounting environmental fears and conscious consumption is putting pressure on the film merch industry to offer sustainable alternatives. Paradoxically, Ekstract contends that lending out an IP to mass markets is what keeps an IP alive.
“Extensions into new products and experiences are critical to the lifeblood of a brand [IP]. In the case of a toy company like Mattel or Hasbro, being able to extend their toy brand into film for adults enables Barbie to reach a wider audience,” Ekstract says.
Corser likens the film merch trend cycle to that of fashion. “There’s a waxing and waning to film merchandises’ relevance. It has its initial moment in the spotlight, then fades in relevance, but then becomes a relic,” she says.
With nostalgia on the rise among consumers, vintage film merch is thriving.
“The desirability of vintage film merch often relates to its nostalgic value, unique designs, and scarcity. People are attracted by the opportunity to own a piece of history, or a limited-edition item from a beloved film era,” Samata Pattinson, CEO and founder of cultural sustainability organization Black Pearl says.
The agency advises companies within the entertainment industry on sustainable practices for the development of film merch. “While sustainability might play a role in its appeal, the main draw lies in the emotional connection and exclusivity of these vintage pieces,” she adds.
Y2K revivals and the 1990s trend comeback have spurred an uptick in searches for second-hand promotional pieces. Curators like Brooklyn-based Fantasy Explosion and New York boutique Intramural Shop are benefitting.
Both stores source one-of-a-kind film relics that were once lost to time, but are regaining relevance as consumers search for more off-grid pieces to assert their cultural cache. Totems for sale include Silence of the Lambs themed pins, Scarface tees, and jackets embroidered with the logo from The Mummy.
Marc Jacobs’ punkish Gen-Z favorite, Heaven, is also trying to replicate that sentiment. The American juggernaut’s subsidiary label satiates cravings for nostalgia by releasing lines based on cult classics. Past drops have been inspired by ET, The Virgin Suicides, and Donnie Darko, all of which have been sell-out hits among today’s fashion-driven, archive-obsessed youth.