MAPLEWOOD, Mo. — Summer Johnson's back-to-school wardrobe includes shiny wet-looking leggings, a tie-dye camisole and basic tees - all part of a new collection by Miley Cyrus and designer Max Azria at Wal-Mart.
Stores are hoping a touch of star quality will inspire back-to-school shoppers - and their parents - to look beyond basics and seek out clothing lines with ties to celebrity actors and singers, from clean-cut Disney shows to the racier "Gossip Girl."
Johnson, a 22-year-old college student from suburban St. Louis, was drawn to the Cyrus collection's rock-star edge and under-$20 prices, but the star power didn't hurt.
"Celebrities are great, but I go toward a celebrity line because they're reading up on fashion, teaming up with a good designer," she said. "They know a thing or two about fashion. They're our fashion template."
And the templates abound. A "Jonas" line, inspired by the television show featuring the Jonas Brothers, mixes prep school styles with a rocker twist. A second Disney line based on the show "Wizards of Waverly Place" is being billed as a "boho chic" collection including tunic-length tops with print scarves and miniskirts that draw inspiration from the show's Alex Russo character, who happens to be played by Selena Gomez, the newly named Teen Choice red-carpet fashion icon. They're selling at J.C. Penney, Kmart, Sears, Wal-Mart and Target.
Star power alone won't sustain a successful clothing line.
"I've seen the peaks and valleys of it," said Tina Knowles, the mother of singer and actress Beyonce. Tina Knowles serves as creative director for Dereon, a clothing line that draws from her famous daughter's style. "The celebrity being attached is a plus, but the clothes have to be good quality," she said.
Customers respond to Beyonce, but they come back when they like the fit, style and value, Knowles said.
This fall, the Dereon line includes a Sasha Fierce collection with some back-to-school looks inspired by Beyonce's tougher, alter-ego character.
Not all of it screams classroom, but pieces that would make a splash at school include skinny jeans, a houndstooth-print jacket and a lightweight leather jacket that Knowles calls one of her favourites. Sasha Fierce items sell for $25 to $125, and are currently available at some specialty retailers and about 100 Macy's Inc. stores.
Another line that's new for back-to-school is "Mad Style for True Jackson," designed by Jane Siskin, perhaps best known for her work on 7 for All Mankind's famously fitting jeans. The "Mad Style" clothes at Wal-Mart draw from Nickelodeon's popular tween show, "True Jackson, VP," which stars young actress Keke Palmer, whose character lands a dream job as a vice-president at a fashion company.
"The thing that excited me was to bring fashion to a tween customer in a collection and in a way that's already styled," Siskin said. A grey V-neck dress, for instance, includes a built-in plaid shirt underneath and a black-patent belt with silver charms hanging from it for $12.
Palmer, the tween star of True Jackson, says she's thrilled about the line. "Wow, words cannot express how exciting it is to know that little girls will be wearing clothes that originated from the show, amazing!" she said by email.
Celebrity clothing lines don't capture all shoppers' interest in the same way.
With clothes selling, in some cases, for just a few dollars, industry watchers say it's safe to say a lot of celebrity lines were manufactured to catch a right-now trend and not intended to last forever.
And if people don't like a star, they're probably not going to like the clothes.
An older back-to-school shopper like Johnson says she gets interested based on a designer's reputation - she knew of Azria, for instance, from his stylish BCBG clothes. She's not a huge Cyrus fan, but assumes she'll get trendy looks at good prices when a star works with a designer and a mass retailer.
A high schooler might follow a celebrity's look in magazines and on the Internet and then shop for a similar style. And young tweens respond to a show, its storyline and its fictional characters, not so much the real-life performers.
"As long as the shows are relevant, the products are relevant," said Disney Consumer Products' vice-president for global fashion and home, Pamela Lifford. She said Hannah Montana clothes, from the popular series starring Cyrus, continue to "go strong."
And back-to-school shoppers waiting for the next big thing need only wait, oh, a couple of weeks.
Target is unveiling a line by designer Anna Sui inspired by the "Gossip Girl" television show from Sept. 13-Oct. 17 in more than 600 stores. And in October, Nordstrom will offer "Twilight: New Moon"-inspired apparel.
Like anything that's tied to what's hot at the moment, it's hard to predict the staying power of clothing lines with celebrity ties. Earlier this year, Jennifer Lopez's contemporary "Sweetface" line went on hiatus, though there was talk of a later relaunch. A phone call to "Sweetface" was not returned.