Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 13 News List

He's hot. He can sing. But can he design?

Justin Timberlake wants to expand his claim on sexiness into the realm of fashion with a runway show he and collaborator Trace Ayala have named 'Street Sexy'

By Eric Wilson  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

What has been interesting about Timberlake's approach to fashion is that, unlike other celebrities turned designers like Sean Combs, Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, he had not heavily promoted his involvement until last week. Ayala, 25, who worked with Timberlake as a personal assistant and designed clothes for 'N Sync, persuaded the singer to start the collection a year ago, after being approached by Danny Guez, the owner of the Los Angeles denim company People's Liberation.

Timberlake's name was kept off the label to avoid the overt appearance of cashing in on his celebrity, but he approves all of the designs and comes up with some of them. William Rast, named after two of Timberlake's and Ayala's grandfathers, began selling US$180 boot-cut jeans at Bloomingdale's and a handful of other stores. The idea was that the partners would perfect their basic designs before making a more ambitious fashion statement.

Ever since Combs, building on a career as a rap impresario, introduced his Sean John collection in 1998, the fashion industry has been overrun by music celebrities. But so far the success of Combs — he was named men's wear designer of the year in 2004 by the Council of American Fashion Designers — has been more the exception than the rule. There have been reports of production problems for Lopez's line, exaggerated sales figures from Russell Simmons, and a lawsuit against Jessica Simpson, claiming she did little to promote her own line.

"We have departments for clothes, not celebrities," said Frank Doroff, a senior executive vice president at Bloomingdale's, paraphrasing the store's late, legendary fashion director, Kal Ruttenstein. "Quite a few of the lines we feel are not appropriate for Bloomingdale's, or that they really don't sell."

The rollout of William Rast has been limited. In early interviews, Guez gave sales projections of about US$15 million for the first year, but he declined last week to say whether his company, which went public in December, had met that target. Still, Doroff said it is one of the two celebrity lines carried by Bloomingdale's that have connected with shoppers, along with LAMB by Gwen Stefani.

Timberlake has been savvy about his image since beginning his solo career in 2002. He has successfully erased the taint of his adolescent romance with Britney Spears, and he transferred the stigma of an infamous wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl almost entirely onto his duet partner, Janet Jackson. He has worked with the stylist Joe Zee, the editor of Vitals magazine (now defunct), to change his own look from leather eight-ball jackets, gold chains and faded jeans to a more adult one of rakish fedoras, skinny monochromatic Dior suits and three-piece tweed suits from Yves Saint Laurent. "My style changes like the seasons," he said. "I've grown up in the business, and I've had the double-edged sword of having everyone see my odd years. You can document them on the red carpet, and they are absolutely hysterical. I look back at some of the things I wore when I was 17, and I wonder, what was I thinking? Obviously, I was 17." He is now 25.

Before the September release of FutureSex/LoveSounds, Zee said he flew to Los Angeles to present the singer with photo-collages to inspire his look for the album's marketing, showing him pictures of classic Hollywood rogues like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

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