EXTENDING THE EXPERIENCE: A Conversation about Cirque Merchandise (Parts 1 & 2)

Everybody has at least one. Something tangible that reminds them of the otherworldly experience of a Cirque du Soleil show. A magnet, a shirt, a program, a CD or DVD, a mug, a shot glass, something.

For many (including yours truly), the credit card doesn’t stop burning once the tickets are purchased. The selection of merchandise that has been available throughout the Cirque’s history seems endless. Like the shows themselves, many items that were once mainstays of the companies merchandise selection are long gone, and new items have taken their place.

For years, many fans only access to merchandise offerings could be found at Cirque’s E-boutique, a quiet section of the main CirqueduSoleil.com website. However, when it failed to reappear for some time after it was removed for “refurbishment” back in 2014, many began to worry they would have no access to the latest products unless they visited a show themselves. Not much of a problem if Cirque visited your city every couple of years or so, but for those dedicated fans with ready credit cards in distant places who needed their souvenir fix the length of time the site was offline was concerning.

And then, in late October 2015 – voilà! With a new look, new merchandise, and a new attitude the new E-boutique can now be found here: https://eboutique.cirquedusoleil.com/. Divided into sections covering Apparel, Accessories (bags and scarves), Media (CDs, DVDs and Books), Collectibles (“souvenir”-type items), Novelty (toys and masks), Arts (handmade masks), Show Items (sorted by show), and One Drop (charity) merchandise, there is sure to be something for everyone. The design is straightforward and the items are well presented. (Though the current offerings can’t be considered complete, and the shipping costs are a bit difficult to predict.) But it’s designed for shipping to the US, Canada, and Worldwide!

With the debut of the new E-boutique we thought it was time to have a talk with Cirque about merchandise. So we reached out to Ann Paladie, Las Vegas PR Director, who put us in touch with Audrey Tillman, Director of Merchandising and Operations, Resident Shows Division, (Las Vegas).

Ms. Tillman started by explaining the breakdown of responsibilities for merchandise. “In [CDS] Merchandising there are two divisions. I am responsible for Merchandising for the Resident Shows division (which includes Las Vegas and La Nouba in Orlando), our permanent boutique locations, and I have been in this position for five years. My counterpart, Marie-Josee Couture, is Director of Retail Sales and Operations for the Touring Shows division. She does the development for the big tops so she’s in charge of developing the assortment and the products that are featured in the big top and the arenas.”


Availability of merchandise to a wide extent is important to a creative company like Cirque, where its instantly-recognizable corporate name rests over all its sub-brands, its shows. When we talked in early December, the new web page had just been launched, as Ms. Tillman explained.

“The new E-boutique has just re-launched, it launched with the new Cirque du Soleil .com site. The old E-boutique was removed for renovation, and then there were changes in the division and a lot of changes in the merchandising department and its structure, so it was darker longer than we anticipated. But we knew that it was something that we all thought was important for the brand and for [our] retail in general. And so it was re-launched with its new look. We’ve been working on it for a year. It was down for a long time.

The new webpage benefits not only from a new look, but was completely re-thought behind-the-scenes as well. “The old E-boutique was run entirely in-house, so it was done in collaboration. At the time we had a corporate [marketing] division in Montréal and they did it in conjunction with our I.T. department, and I think our Marketing department had some input as well. So logistics, fulfillment, e-commerce and site management were all done in-house.”

“We discovered that there was really a lot to learn, especially about logistics and fulfillment. We were fulfilling and shipping all over the world. And granted we have a great logistics team as part of our structure at Cirque, and we move big tops and everything around the world. However in merchandising, our merchandise warehouse was through a third-party, it was not operated by us. So logistics were going through a third-party, and we learned a lot about costs and what we could do, what we could support. I think we needed to sharpen up a little bit and gain some efficiencies in pricing for shipping and customs around the world; just control some of those costs.”

The philosophy of “everything available, all the time” is one that permeates online retail. From Amazon’s “world’s largest selection” to the specific-category deep dive of specialty sellers, consumers have become accustomed to having access to everything, whether the retailer actually has the item physically in their warehouse or not. So when a company with a retail presence like Cirque brings its goods to the virtual world, the natural fan expectation might be to have all of its goods, from all of its shows, available for purchase. But when one of your goals is to promote what you consider the best of your brand, that might not be your first approach.

“The online E-boutique has always been a reflection of the merchandise that we have out in the world, whether it be the big top, arena, or a resident show. We wanted to be very careful of that and make sure that we promoted the best of our best. We want it to highlight what is really special about us.”

“The philosophy of the launch of the new online E-boutique is really to highlight, just give a sprinkling of the offerings of all the merchandise. And to promote the Cirque brand, not [just] show-branded but Cirque-branded as a whole worldwide. When a big top or an arena show comes through a city or you’re not in Vegas or Orlando, to be able to give access to our fans around the world to our Cirque-branded merchandise. We also want to highlight shows and promote show merchandise not only in the online E-boutique but also to provide visibility for what’s offered exclusively in the big top or in the arena or in the resident show. The objective really is not to provide a whole offering at the online E-boutique, but to utilize it to highlight exclusives, new items and best sellers.”

“I think what we want to do is provide a sampling of a lot of different types of categories of merchandise, really highlight things that have an emotional response to something that you’ve seen on stage. This is what I would call Phase One of product introduction [onto the site]; and it will continue to evolve in the spring [of 2016], with the launch of the new Cirque collection, and as we introduce show items. We will also have licensed merchandise which I think will be quite interesting. And we will also continue to highlight key show merchandise, because we have had a lot of requests for show merchandise. So we’re learning how and what show merchandise to promote.”

“And I think the next thing you’ll probably see added is Avatar [Toruk] merchandise. As you see now there’s a bit of Kurios there, and we’ve kind of highlighted Kurios because that was our [most recent creation]. We also featured ornaments for the season from all of our shows for this fourth-quarter. So we’re using it as a tool to really show what we have to offer, but not to offer the entire catalog.”

With this new iteration of the E-boutique, Cirque has partnered with an E-commerce expert, The Araca Group (araca.com). Araca is a licensor and merchandiser for various theatrical and entertainment brands, including Broadway and touring shows (Wicked, Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys), music acts (Britney Spears, Linkin Park, One Republic), and other brands (Marvel, Star Wars, New York Rangers and Knicks, Playboy).

“Our objective with the new E-boutique was to capitalize on a partner that had expertise in E-commerce, and look for a partner that can provide us not only with E-commerce experience and site management, but also fulfillment. And Araca also brings to the table something that a lot of companies that we spoke to did not; they have in-house design and product development. So in that regard they print in-house, they have a full in-house design team, and they have a retail business so they understand the difference between the two. So they had a lot of things that were beneficial to our partnership and strengthened both of our positions.”

We just had to ask about specific types of items Cirque fans are known to focus on. Programs? “Programs we most certainly will begin to offer. This actually comes in conjunction with the takeover of operations of the residential show boutiques from MGM Resorts. It makes it easier for us to control inventory in order to be able to have it available for the online E-boutique.” What about DVDs and CDs? “We currently feature the majority of DVDs and CDs that are continuing. There are instances in which a CD or DVD is in some sort of development and is not featured but we will continue to build that catalog.” Including the Joyà and Toruk CD’s? “Eventually, yes. As soon as we have new music, such as Joyà, we will feature it as quickly as we can.”

They are also looking to include merchandise from partners who license Cirque imagery. “The licensees will be an element that will be added for sure. It’s in the next phase of the new E-boutique, so we will have those additions coming. We’ll probably feature some highlights from the Desigual (.com) collection. We also have a licensing agreement with GK Elite (.com) (their Cirque-inspired leotards can be seen here). At the E-boutique in Orlando we feature four of their leotards which are inspired by Cirque du Soleil. We also have another licensing agreement with Pierre Belvédère (.com), a stationary line (their Cirque-inspired products can be seen here). So we’ll probably have a sprinkling of their top sellers.”

Plans for the site are to add products frequently. “We [will] update continually. I’m actually just sending the new handbags that will go on the site probably in the next three weeks. It will be ever evolving. And it will operate just like one of my other boutiques that are brick-and-mortar. We will constantly review the assortment, constantly make changes, change what we’re featuring on the front page. Definitely on my radar are the programs. The complete catalog of CDs and DVDs is already in progress. So absolutely, it will continue to evolve and will always be featuring new things.”

The next big set of changes, Phase Two, will occur in the spring. “Yes, I would say that we will make some significant changes. We may [do more sooner]. Toruk, the Avatar show, is under my counterpart in the Touring division, and she would be in charge of the development of that merchandise. When it’s formalized and she’s in a good place to provide me with all of her information and she’s ready to promote then I will feature that merchandise on the E-boutique. So you’ll probably see that sooner than spring. But as far as a lot of changes I would say spring of 2016.”

Items will also be retired out of the collection, too. “You also have to take demand into consideration. For example, we have offered the Alegría CD. The show closed, but we will continue to sell the CD until we see demand waiver; it had demand beyond the closing of the show. So we will continue to [stock] something if we see the demand is there. But if we see it waiver off it’s usually something we will remove.”


Another recent development on the Cirque merchandise front is that several of the show boutiques in the hotels of MGM Resorts (where most Las Vegas Cirque shows reside) are being taken over by Cirque du Soleil themselves. The impetus came from other Cirque resident show forays into retail. “In the past, and with the majority of older shows starting with Mystère, the structure of the business was that our partner operated the retail establishment. The exception would be Disney and La Nouba which has always been under Cirque’s in-house operation. But in Vegas the business structure was for the partner to operate the boutiques, retail, food and beverage. Cirque was an approver of design, so they had to submit to us for design and quality control that we would approve. And we would also wholesale our [merchandise] collection to our partners.”

“So that was the model of the past. Things really started to change with the opening of Iris, which we operated. Then Michael Jackson ONE went under a new business structure in which we operated the boutique and the employees were Cirque employees, and it was fully in-house. It was the first boutique Cirque operated in Vegas and it was very successful. This gave us the opportunity to have a discussion with the partners about reviewing the existing status quo and business structure, and gave us an opportunity to discuss changing it, and that is what came about. I think there are a lot of opportunities we can bring to the table if we take over the [retail] operation and bring it back in house. We now operate and fully product develop for LOVE, “O”, and KÀ, and the last one will be Zumanity.”

That accounts for five of the eight Las Vegas Cirque shows, what about the others? Treasure Island, which houses Mystère is no longer part of MGM Resorts, having been purchased by casino owner Phil Ruffin in 2009. “Mystère is a great boutique, and there will continue to be boutiques that will be operated by our partners, including BeLIEve and Zarkana; those will continue to be operated by MGM Resorts and supported by Cirque.

When the creation, manufacturing and sales process is brought under one roof there are fewer steps and approvals involved, the entire process is streamlined leading to greater efficiency. The takeover is designed to be a win-win for everybody, including the boutique employees, who are now Cirque employees instead of casino staff. “We think there are lots of opportunity and a lot of interesting and new changes that we can bring to the boutiques.”

And with that change comes – more change, in the selection of merchandise and the feel of the retail experience. “I think we’re looking at it with fresh eyes. Change is always good. We really want to bring what’s on the stage and the experience of our guests into the boutique in all ways, be that from a customer service perspective or the look and feel of the boutique as far as fixtures or carpeting. All that kind of stuff we’re reviewing. And also products; we think there’s opportunity to really invest in some things that are very show-driven. And we’re willing to take those risks on those inventories and minimums, because we really believe in it. So I think there will be a lot of changes in the coming years.”

The goal for Cirque is to extend the show experience onto the merchandise floor, and envelop the customer in a retail environment with a selection of goods that relates directly back to the experience in the theatre. “I actually want the whole boutique to have that effect. I want you to walk into the boutique and feel like you’re still inside the show, you still have that euphoria. You just saw the show, and when you look around everything looks unique and interesting and somehow relates back to the show.”

While the management of the boutiques may be changing, one thing that isn’t is something we wrote about back in September of 2012, issue #104, in an article entitled, “Exit Through The Gift Shop” (which can be found here). Though many items are planned to appear on the E-boutique, anything found in a hotel boutique can still be ordered directly from them. “Absolutely! We still do that, we do it on a regular basis. All of our boutiques do that, including La Nouba and Michael Jackson ONE and the new boutiques. We absolutely will accommodate, and particularly when we didn’t have an online boutique that was something we did on a very regular basis. We have fans that have seen the show a couple of years ago, and are looking for a new handbag and wonder what we have available. We would certainly share that over e-mail and make the sale by phone or via e-mail.”

And here are the boutique hours and phone numbers, should you be interested in making that phone order!

Mystère @ Treasure Island
Noon to Midnight (till 6pm on show dark days Thu and Fri)

“O” @ Bellagio
10am to 11:30pm (till 6pm on show dark days Mon & Tue)

Zumanity @ New York New York
5:30pm to 11:30pm (closed on show dark days Wed & Thu)

KÀ @ MGM Grand
10am to 11:30pm (closed on show dark days Thu & Fri)

The Beatles LOVE @ The Mirage
10am to 11:30pm (till 6pm on show dark days Tue & Wed)

5pm to Midnight (closed on show dark days Mon & Tue)

Zarkana @ Aria
10am to Midnight (till 6pm on show dark days Sun & Mon)

Michael Jackson ONE @ Mandalay Bay
10am to 11:30pm (till 6pm on show dark days Wed & Thu)


The Merchandising department purview also extends to show programs, which will go through an evolution as new editions are created. “We took over the responsibility of the programs about two years ago. My philosophy on the resident side is to provide more of a book than a program. So soon you’ll see the new La Nouba program on the boutique, and it will have a lot more content as opposed to just graphical content. There will be a lot of new content about the show, about the characters, and we think this will bring added value to our guests. We did that with the new Kurios program.”

The first iteration of the Kurios program was mocked up to representthe Scientist’s Journal, where smaller booklets were enclosed inside a larger “journal.” That version has been replaced with an oversized, heavier hardcover program with much more behind-the-scenes information on the creation of the show and the characters that inhabit it. A new development for the programs this is welcome, since much of the detailed “backstage” and “conceptual” show information is now harder to find or missing from the Cirque website. “It’s something that we hear from our customers, that they want to understand what’s behind the scenes. They want to know what went into that costume. We have our costume book from our 25th anniversary (Cirque du Soleil: 25 Years of Costumes, 2009, Cirque du Soleil 978-2980349348), and we have the new backstage book that came out (Backstage Cirque du Soleil, photography by Veronique Vial, 2014, Assouline 978-1614282976). We really wanted to provide that insider information. I think people have a hunger for that and I think the program is a great vehicle.”


The considered thought process taken to programs is also applied to merchandise in general. “We really want all of our merchandise to reflect what is being done on stage and the show experience that you have in our theaters, in our big tops, or at our arena shows. I think the objective is to have the product reflect that.”

“So we’re constantly looking for opportunities and things that really register. My philosophy is that the key is to have very unique items that you wouldn’t find in other places, and that register with our guests emotionally or go directly back to how they felt about the show. So it’s not a T-shirt to just be a T-shirt, the T-shirt reminds you of the experience. So I think the objective is to have different items that really reflect who Cirque is and what’s on stage.”

With many fans being somewhat larger than the average svelte performer, we suggested that something fans might want on the website (and for Cirque apparel in general) could be summed up in three letters: X – X – L. “We want to offer something for everyone, and our apparel sizes range from x-small to 2X in all of my resident boutiques.We have the luxury in a resident show to have more floor space for a lot of different style offerings. We want to ensure that there is something for everyone.”

So, clothing for larger sizes – check. What about clothing for colder climates, sweatshirts perhaps? “We feature jackets, hoodies and fleece pieces in our resident show boutiques, because we have guests from around the world and guests are often cold from the air conditioning in the Vegas hotels. It’s an important part of making sure that you have an offering for everyone. Because not everyone’s from Las Vegas, they go home to Michigan, they go home to Scotland, and a sweatshirt is what they need when they get home.”

It would be a herculean task to catalog all of the amazing merchandise that has been branded with Cirque content over the years. Something that Ms. Tillman has taken time to research. “I have been here five years and I have definitely done research back into the past of Cirque, and looked at its origination and some of the items that haven’t been here for a little while, that I would like to inject and bring back in a new way.”


With such a wide variety of merchandise covering so many shows, categorizing the merchandise is a must. In rough order of popularity, Cirque breaks their merchandise down into the following categories:

* Apparel, clothing

“Apparel is very strong across-the-board including show merchandise as well as Cirque-branded. Apparel is our top-selling category.”

* Accessories – handbags, wallets, messenger bags, jewelry.

“For our Cirque-branded non-show merchandise, I would say our accessories are really, really popular. Over the years Cirque has developed quite a great quirky style in our accessories that people really gravitate to, or really remind them of the Cirque brand. So our accessories are always [amongst] our top sellers of our non-show branded merchandise.”

* Programs and Media (CDs, DVDs and books)

“Programs area very strong category, it’s always one of our top sellers, whether a resident show or arena or big top. CDs and DVDs as well, although we are seeing diminishing returns, particularly in the category of CDs.”

* Home and Gift – which includes mugs and things like that as well as some of what you would consider souvenir items.

* Artisan and Handmade – small quantity hand-made items, such as masks.

“The masks are a very successful category for us; it’s always been a strong category. People associate the masks with Cirque’s exquisite costumes and design. The masks are handmade by artisans around the world and are really unique, beautiful, handmade items that represent the shows.”

* Toys and Games – gotta have something for the kids!


Selling a product, processing an order, packaging it, shipping it – that’s the practical side of merchandise. But what about the creative side? Product just doesn’t pop into existence; it has to be created first. How does Cirque go about bringing a new product into the world?

“CDs and DVDs are done through our production side. On the Resident division side we develop all categories of goods. We work with the artists, and we have the Artisan collection and the Handmade collection (handmade by an artist or artisan such as the masks). We develop the apparel, we develop the souvenirs. We work with companies to do the juggling toys, the kid’s items.”

“Basically we work with the show. First we see the show, talk with people about the show, gather information. We talk to Marketing about their campaign, what their promotion is, and the big visuals that they’re looking to drive forward in the market. And then we put together a style guide. We have a style guide for every one of our shows that features acts in the show, close-ups of the costumes, close-ups of different faces and makeup, also all the big acts. We also include all the marketing information, the logo, the trademarking, and all of that. And we take the style guide and work with our supplier partnerships in the design and development of the goods.”

“In most cases and in the Cirque collection we are designing from scratch. We’re cutting and sewing most of the garments and creating garments exclusively for the line. So it’s a combination of two things; what’s the right body style or the right item, whether that be a keychain or handbag? And what do we want to have? This is where we make sure we have something for everyone so we’re not too heavy in one category or too light in another category. We run down the categories and create an assortment plan, then we go out to our suppliers and begin the development.”

“We find our greatest inspiration on the stages of our shows and the incredible creativity, talent, and artistry within. We do everything else from creating the style guide to creating the assortment plan**. And we go out to the market on a regular basis; we see what’s out on the market, what’s being sold. We competitively shop other entertainment brands to see what’s happening in our industry. We watch runway shows in Europe and elsewhere, to look at style and color trends.”

“All of that we do in-house. So we create the style guide, and we [decide] what we want to have in our market. And then we try and find the right partners to do that with. So if we decide that we really need to develop a jewelry collection, we decide whether we want to create a collection that’s commercial that we develop and produce, or do we want it to be an artisan item and find the right artist to create a handmade collection for us with the perspective that we’re looking for. So it’s really collaborative, we drive what we’re looking for and then we look for the right person to help us create it.”

Once the right company or artist has been found, the design process begins. “Typically we choose a supplier for an item. We go through the style guide and say, in “O” there is the Comet and that’s what we’re focusing on, what we want to feature. Here are all the pictures of the Comet; this is what we’d like to see on this item, can you please provide the CAD drawings? And then they submit versions of those CAD drawings to us and we change them or revise them as needed. And we proceed to [produce a] sample once we are comfortable with [the design].”

The initial-idea to actual-product time can be lengthy, but not always. “It’s a varying amount of time based on where you develop. If you develop overseas, or you have items that are built from scratch, sometimes that timeline can be up to six months. Typically I work six to nine months in advance, so the spring collection that will land in March was created [the prior] October. We started looking at other shows in the market and competitive trends between June and September. In September and October we start to align them with the suppliers and partners or artists that we are looking for. In October and November we need to quickly finalize for spring because of Chinese New Year and other considerations.”

“However I will say this; there are times whenwe can produce something very quickly, like in two weeks. This is a great thing about taking over the boutiques; we can react quickly to opportunities. There are some items that are [produced domestically] that you can turn around quickly. Say there’s a sponsored event for marketing, something we can quickly capitalize on. I’ll do what I can to have something that’s exactly for that event or client, if it’s long enough for us to be able to produce merchandise.”

** What is an “assortment plan?” We looked to www.answers.com for a good definition. It’s a process that, “breaks (merchandise) into components (product attributes, price, styles, colors and Stock Keeping Units) that enable the planner to address customer preference and need. … The properly assorted presentation ensures enough selection without overstocking and strikes the right balance between breadth (e.g. number of styles) and depth (quantity of each style).”


Each piece of product is, naturally, imbued with Cirque imagery (and sometimes music). Images and characters we instantly recognize. But there’s also an almost undefinable quirky quality. How do they find that right balance of imagery with design to come up with product that bears the distinctive mark and look of Cirque du Soleil?

“We try very hard to make a product Cirque-ey. From my perspective the brand is a premium brand that needs to be very unique. Everything that we do on stage is unique, and I think the merchandise needs to reflect that. Whether it be a surprise print in the pocket, whether it be a quirky asymmetrical seam or collar you’ve never seen before. I think uniqueness and a kind of quirkiness are key elements to making it Cirque-ey.We have certain patterns of shirts that are very, I would say, artisan-like, asymmetrical, the cuffs are very different, you don’t see them in the market, they are very unique to Cirque.”

“The other thing is to make sure that it’s injected with the essence of the show. The customer can look at it and feel the direct line back to their experience.And I think from a color palette perspective they really need to reflect the individual show. If you go to KÀ, its reds and darker and almost has a little bit of an Asian feel to it. And if you go to “O” it’s very blue and kind of royal. The connection always needs to be back to the show.”

A company with 30-plus years of history has lots of information on what kinds of merchandise will sell to their audience and what won’t. What kind of items might they not consider? “I think there is less of what we would not want to expand into and more of what is missing. We recently introduced plush at La Nouba which is a new category.Maybe a plush isn’t unique [on its own] but an actual [Cirque] character coming to life in [a plush] item [is unique]. Online you can see the glass ornament of the Green Bird from La Nouba. [And now] there’s also a plush that looks like it.And the (brown glass-blown delicate) character-shaped ornaments are an extension that’s happened in recent years. And these items are very character driven.”

Pricing is another important consideration. You could have the coolest, most unique item in the universe, but it it’s priced too high few will be interested. As Cirque considers itself an upscale brand with a unique design aesthetic, their apparel is priced more in line with designer clothes. But there are other factors at play, as well. “Price is determined by what we believe the item is valued, and costs associated with developing it. It’s a combination of a bunch of different things. In the assortment we create we have a target retail price. We are looking at our competition,and the different markets we operate in.There are a lot of different factors.”


Being based in Seattle, it’s always a treat when Yours Truly finds a Pacific Northwest connection in the rarified air of Cirque du Soleil. In Ms. Tillman we found one! After we off-handedly mentioned we were based in Seattle, she exclaimed, “I’m from Seattle! I’m a U.W.(University of Washington) grad. I’m spending Christmas in Seattle; it’s my favorite city in the world!I grew up there; I went to Auburn High School. I was born in Guam, then came to Seattle [where I grew up].My family lived there for a long time, my brother and his wife and kids are still there. I lived in San Francisco for five years and then came to Vegas.”

“And I definitely miss Seattle every day. The trees, the rain, the water. It’s a magnificent city, and the people there are really just down-to-earth kind of people. And every summer in Vegas I think I should move to Seattle. (Laughs)”

As the new E-boutique spreads its wings, we at Fascination! will try to keep an eye on it and alert our readers (and their credit cards) to new additions to the site. And with Ms. Tillman’s encouragement, we might make a suggestion or two. “That would be fantastic. I am always open to suggestions if you’re hearing what people are asking for and we’re not featuring it, I am always open to that.”

My sincere thanks go to:

Audrey Tillman, Director of Merchandising and Operations, Resident Shows Division, (Las Vegas)
Ann Paladie, Director of Public Relations, Resident Shows Division, (Las Vegas)
Marie-Josee Couture, Director of Retail Sales and Operations, Touring Shows Division, (Montréal)
Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager(Montréal) (good luck in your new endeavor!)
And my patient wife LouAnna (Seattle), who puts up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.