Nov 8, 2008

Lifestyle - Shopping Oprah: Winfrey's wares now online


(CHICAGO) Short of a coveted ticket for a taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," an easier way to surround yourself with the presence of the queen of talk is to go to her official store across from Harpo studios in what was once a Chicago warehouse district.

With its dim lighting, hardwood floors and urban-loft feel, The Oprah Store is a hybrid souvenir shop and trendy boutique. It's been open since January — almost a year — and has hosted an average 250 post-Oprah show shoppers and curious Winfrey fans a day.

Now Harpo is taking that demand and putting it online, launching Friday. It's an expansion of a small shopping Web site that carried keychains and T-shirts. The new online store will sell 800-plus items, about 90 percent of what's available at the Chicago shop.

Fans say going to the Chicago store is one way they can feel closer to someone they admire.

Catherine Hinkle, 52, a pharmacist from Overland Park, Kan., recently spent more than $200 after a taping.

"I don't mind spending money here," Hinkle said, lifting her two large lime green shopping bags with "The Oprah Store" written on the side. "I feel like I'm supporting who she is."

At the 5,500-square-foot brick-and-mortar boutique, fans can buy "O" apparel, umbrellas, coffee mugs, baby bibs and pet collars. Tote bags and note cards are printed with Winfrey quotes like "Live your own dreams." Non-branded clothing such as cashmere sweaters and lounge outfits project a certain calm.

Store manager Darcy Rogers said everything was selected with Winfrey's style and taste in mind.

Customers are "really specific," Rogers said. "They want something with Oprah's signature or just the O."

It is rare for a talk show host like Winfrey to have an official store.

Not even Regis Philbin, whose television tenure has lasted decades, can pull it off, said Wendy Liebmann, the CEO of WSL Strategic Retail based in New York.

"She's the annointer of all things," Liebmann said. "She, more than anyone else in pop culture, has been able to leverage her celebrity in a way that people consider fairly reasonable...That gives her the authority to reach out across all these categories," Liebmann said.

One of the only other comparable examples of a celebrity having an official store is Celine Dion, who had a boutique at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during her five-year run there.

At Winfrey's store, the real draw for some die-hard Winfrey fans is "Oprah's Closet," a dark wooden armoire filled with clothes and shoes that Winfrey herself once wore or kept in her own closet. Proceeds from that section go to Winfrey's Angel Network, which contributes to a number of projects.

"Can you imagine wearing that dress and telling people where it's from?" Hinkle, looking at tiered, buttercream evening gown, size 16, for $500.

But with those items being sold at prices ranging from $80 to $500, many fans are more likely to stick to keychains or the workout wear, available in a wide range of sizes.

"Her stuff was very normal," said Lori Nimmo, 43, of Highland, Mich., who tapes Winfrey's shows all week and watches them on Saturday morning. "Stuff that we would wear. That's what makes her accessible."

Associated Press Writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this story.

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