‘Barbenheimer’ Missed One Fashion Retail Opportunity — in Theaters

Visiting the movie theater this weekend was a cultural moment the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years — and for two films that weren’t action or superhero franchises.

At The Grove in L.A., and by all accounts all across the country, movie fans came dressed as Barbies and Kens. One woman had the black-and-white stripe Barbie origin outfit down to the heels, and added a Dior bag, natch. Another guy cribbed from the film trailer and sported Ken’s macho black-and-white Western look with fringe shirt. They took turns posing in the life-size, Instagram-ready toy boxes for photos and selfies. It was adorable.

Another young couple came in 1940s-inspired suits and fedoras, paying homage to Universal Pictures’ much darker tale, “Oppenheimer.” Another fan went full “Barbenheimer” in a pink suit and fedora, and another repped the meme in a T-shirt parodying the “Wish You Were Here” Pink Floyd album cover featuring a pink-clad Barbie shaking hands with an on-fire Robert Oppenheimer. Wow.

In the theater, there were laughs, tears and cheers — and, at least in Cleveland, I’m told, gasps when Margot Robbie opened her “Barbie” closet to reveal a collection of Chanel. It was the ultimate real world-meets-fantasy-world tie-up for the Chanel luxury brand ambassador.

In the midst of a near total Hollywood shutdown, the films — which together grossed $235 million this weekend — represented the best of movie magic. Their success proved two can be better than one, and competition can actually help when it comes to an opening weekend. The outcome also owed a lot to those social media memes, which can be potent marketing tools (so much so, one almost wondered if the studios came up with “Barbenheimer” themselves).

The blockbuster weekend also suggested that moviegoers are happy to pry themselves from their couches, and forgo streaming at home or on their phones to go to the theater — if it’s an experience.

At least at my AMC theater in Los Angeles, however, it could have been more of one, certainly where retail was concerned.

The pump was certainly primed.

“Barbie,” Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s thought-provoking film around the problematic but lovable toy, has what must be a record number of fashionable brand collaborations and licensing deals, including Aldo shoes in classic Barbie packaging, Ruggable rugs in Barbie pink, a Homesick candle in a “Dreamhouse” scent, a Pinkberry Barbie dragonfruit flavor, Forever 21, Nyx beauty and OPI collections, an Xbox console, Impala skates, Funboy pool floats, and more, more, more.

The shame is that none of it was available when consumers want it most — when they are at the theater under the halo effect of the film. Not even a Barbie T-shirt or “I Am Kenough” hoodie were on offer.

There were loads of on-screen brand placements that could have been leveraged, too — the aforementioned Chanel, Chevy Blazer EV, Birkenstock — twice — and those Impala skates, among them.

At the least, Mattel or Warner Bros. could have displayed some of the merch at theaters with QR codes to link and buy.

Universal could have gotten in on in-theater retail action with “Oppenheimer,” too. Not necessarily something as crude as the nail polish shade Florence Pugh was wearing as the ravishing Communist Jean Tatlock in the film (though I was curious), but maybe the book “American Prometheus,” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin that was the source material — I would have picked up a copy of that in the lobby on my way out.

Instead, consumers had to go to individual retailers for the goods.

Even so, “Barbie” may end up being a lift to all retail, even brands without official deals. Everyone is marketing Barbiecore, or simply the color pink (including Birkenstock on its website). On Monday, Fresha, a marketplace and booking software for the beauty and wellness industry, reported that services tied to the Barbie universe, such as pink and platinum blonde hair color, have recorded an 83 percent increase year-over-year in bookings.

But what about meeting consumers where they are?

Of course, Hollywood studios have dabbled in retail themselves over the years.

Warner Bros. had a 10-year run, with 130 Warner Bros. Studio Stores at the height, many of them in malls with movie theaters.

In 1995, Warner Bros. launched its first venture with a fashion designer, Todd Oldham, hiring him to design a collection of clothing and accessories for “Batman Forever,” directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. Dresses, vests, hats, belts and hosiery incorporating the film’s themes were priced from $20 to $250.

All of the stores, including one on Fifth Avenue, were shuttered in 2001 by then-parent company AOL Time Warner.

Now, Warner Bros. partners with other retailers, most recently with Saks Fifth Avenue to bring its 100th anniversary branded merchandise to stores and store windows.

But wouldn’t it be more effective to bring the “100 Years of Warner Bros.” collection to movie theaters themselves, and perhaps exclusively to movie theaters, creating a retail experience precisely where the studio is also trying to sell tickets?

Disney opened its first retail in the Glendale Galleria in 1987, and once operated 741 stores worldwide, but now only has 64, according to Forbes. Instead, Disney has opened shop-in-shops at more than 200 Target stores.

But now that entertainment and fashion are moving ever closer together, with celebrity designers leading luxury brands, maisons like Saint Laurent launching their own film production wings, and Kering rumored to be buying talent agency CAA, it would seem like a perfect time to think about bringing retail to the concession stand. Bring on the movie merch.

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