OCT 3, 2003 FRI
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Ayumi spells big bucks

(Thanks to her merchandise empire)


IN Japan, A is not for apple, but Ayumi Hamasaki, the country's biggest trendsetting pop icon.

Going by a stylishly-designed letter A, this business-savvy singer has single-handedly spawned a whole empire of glitzy merchandise that is all the rage among legions of adoring fans.

She's like the J.Lo of Japan, but even more commercially successful.

Besides a popular clothing line, Ayumi also has, in her name, a restaurant, a magazine, a lip gloss and a mobile phone.

More recently, the 24-year-old glam queen even designed her own mascot, Ayupan, which has been made into a cartoon series!

Seems like she was not kidding when she told Time magazine in an interview: 'It is necessary that I am viewed as a product.

'I am a product.'

Of course, Ayumi is not the only Japanese star to cash in on her popularity.

Fresh-faced newbie Aya Ueto has also launched her own perfume pendant, spectacle frame and cafe, while sexy bombshell Norika Fujiwara once had an equally sexy Barbie-like doll modelled after her droolicious hour-glass figure.

But Ayumi is in a league of her own.

In the same way she rules the world of J-pop with her frequent CD releases and chameleon-like image changes - she's a fairy in her latest single, Forgiveness (above) - she reigns as queen of her own kingdom of trendy and kawaii (cute for Japanese) merchandise.

Her worshipping fans can hardly get enough.

For them, it's the more the merrier. Never mind the pricey tags.

Singaporean polytechnic student Zynthia Siew, for one, has splurged almost $500 on collecting Ayupan products - including eight fashionably-dressed figurines and dozens of stickers, badges, pencil cases, hats and towels.

The 18-year-old told The New Paper: 'We all love Ayupan because it's so cute.

'It's good that Ayumi keeps coming up with new products because we can collect them all. Buying CDs alone is boring.'

In fact, she said she is trying to save at least $6,000 of her monthly pocket money, 'so I can go to Japan and buy all the Ayu things I've wanted to buy, but which are not available here'.

Ayu Inc: What every die-hard fan would love to have

$Mascot: Ayupan (left)

Designed by the pop queen herself and named as such because Ayumi thinks she looks like a panda.

It is an animated version of Ayumi, with long hair and round eyes framed by curly lashes.

It only dons clothes that have been worn by the real McCoy and even has four dogs modelled after Ayumi's real life pets.

When the first Ayupan store opened in Shinjuku last November, over 300 fans queued outside to be the first to sweep the products off the shelves.

More recently, Ayupan has been made into a cartoon series shown on TV. She embarks on a string of adventures with her dogs, Maron, Crea, Purin and Vanilla.

Ayupan figurines and other products are available at The Heeren Shops, at Mise S*clusive , which specialises in J-pop idol products.

Its manager, who gave her name only as Eri, said that over 300 figurines have been sold since the shop opened last December.

$Fashion: Material Girl

Packed with loads of trendy clothing and accessories, the first Material Girl (MTRLG) boutique opened in Tokyo's Shibuya 109 departmental store in 2001.

It did so well - reportedly reaping in tens of thousands of dollars in its first month - that another outlet opened in Osaka last October.

Of course it helps that Ayumi keeps hawking her own label - donning her own T-shirts (right) at every opportunity.

A limited range of MTRLG clothing can be found at Mise S*clusive.

But be warned, it's expensive. A simple T-shirt costs over $100. Or log on to www.mtrlg.com and check out the latest fashion designs.

$Magazine: Ready Go! (right)

Launched in June, this monthly magazine, which complements her weekly talk show, ayu ready?, gives fans an insight into what makes Ayumi tick.

In the inaugural issue, she revealed that she can't swim, prefers basking in the sun over hiding under umbrellas, and that she doesn't wear makeup in private.

She also said she used to doubt 'true love' and 'forever', but now, 'I think it's possible'.

Last year, she also released a coffee-table book, Ayumi Republic, which saw her transforming into Jean d'Arc. It sold an impressive 500,000 copies.

Ready Go! is available at Kinokuniya bookstores and Mise S*clusive.

$Restaurant: Rainbow House

Opened at Shonan beach on Jul 1, Rainbow House is a summer restaurant that aims to promote Ayumi's talk show, ayu ready?, and her album, Rainbow.

The star herself picked the Bali-themed interior decorations and the exotic menu comprising Thai curry, Hawaiian oysters and fried chicken wings.

The restaurant reportedly attracts tonnes of fans, especially on days when the talk show is filmed there.

$Handphone: A model

Japanese handphone giant Tu-ka's A model, named after its spokesman Ayumi of course, is an ultimate groupie accessory.

Launched in 2001, this funky leopard-print phone has Ayumi's signature 'A' logo on its screen and phone strap.

It also comes with interchangeable images of the star, as well as ring tones featuring her latest hit songs.

$Cosmetics: Ayu gloss

As spokesman for Japanese cosmetics giant Kose's Visee range, Ayumi has both a lipstick and a lip gloss named after her.

When Ayu Gloss was first launched in 2000, a staggering 500,000 sticks were sold out within two days.

The lipstick that was launched a few months later broke this record. It brought in pre-orders of over 800,000 sticks.

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