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(June 21, 2001) ROME -- Controversial Italian fashion designer Benetton says it will jointly develop a social awareness campaign with the U.N., starting in late summer or early fall.

A company spokesman confirmed that the project is in the works, but details so far are sketchy. Still, the public service-related initiative could be significant: Once it starts it could signal a shift in focus for the designer, which is best known for its bright colors and controversy-stirring ad campaigns.

A spokesman for the U.N. in Rome said she was unaware of the pending campaign.

Since Benetton's headline-grabbing "death row" ad campaign sparked a series of lawsuits in the U.S. last year, the company has apparently shied away from the bold publicity efforts that characterized it in the past.

Earlier this month, the company officially apologized to those offended by the campaign, and it agreed to donate $50,000 to the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund and immediately stop using four Missouri inmates that had been part of the "death row" ads in ongoing publicity efforts.

Benetton, one of the best-known brand names in Italy, has been undergoing several key changes. A year ago, Creative Director Olivero Toscani stepped down after 18 years with the company. And in May, Chief Executive Carlo Gilardi resigned after six years at the company's helm. -- Eric J. Lyman

Copyright June 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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