"Why don't you do something on what's going on in my country?" she asked.
Mr. Toscani is no diplomat. He's the creative director at Benetton Group and a celebrity of sorts for his ads for the sportswear company.
Never one to overlook an opportunity, he enlisted the help of a Benetton representative in Trieste, Italy, which borders on the former Yugoslavia. The representative visited a morgue in the war-torn country and began contacting families of slain soldiers, seeking permission to photograph what possessions were left behind as a reminder of the war's horrors.
Mr. Toscani selected Marinko Gagro, whose father attached this note to the uniform: "I, Gojko Gagro, father of the deceased Marinko Gagro, born in 1963 at Blizanci in the province of Citluk, would like my son's name and all that remains of him be used in the name of peace and against war."
The result is a $15 million campaign, running in 25 countries, that shows a single, arresting image of a bloody, camouflage uniform. The text, in its author's native Serbo-Croatian, is Mr. Gagro's letter.
"The language in the ad belongs to a dictionary the Western world doesn't want to open," Mr. Toscani said in an interview last week. "... We decided to make a symbolic picture of the war."
Mr. Toscani said the image is designed to raise public awareness of social issues and position Benetton as a cutting edge, socially conscious marketer.
Given the reaction to other recent campaigns, including images of a dying AIDS patient, a Mafia hit, a boatload of refugees and a priest kissing a nun, the latest outcry is hardly surprising.
Media outlets, including several French newspapers and the Los Angeles Times, rejected the ad. (Strangely, the Times cited sensitivities of California's earthquake victims.)
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran an editorial denouncing the ad as "advertising terrorism."
But Mr. Toscani said Amnesty International applauded the ad's ability to draw attention to the war. And Saraje vo's daily newspaper, Oslobodjenie, asked Ben etton for posters to plas ter across the city. (Ben etton is sending 10,000 copies.)
The ad ran in The Washington Post Feb. 17 and was scheduled to run in this week's issues of The New Yorker and New Republic, as well as on outdoor boards.
The ad, photographed by Mr. Toscani, is being placed by J. Walter Thompson Co. overseas and Media Buying Services International, New York, in the U.S.
Mr. Toscani believes the Bosnian image is less "self-indulgent" than earlier efforts. "It doesn't try to reach the heart," he said, "but just to make people think."M
Contributing to this story: Michelle McCarter, Dagmar Mussey and Laurel Wentz.