The Player: Fuhr to broaden 2(x)ist's appeal, without losing edge

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A lot of people mistake 2(x)ist for a purely gay brand, said Melody Fuhr, VP-creative director of the growing men's underwear/sportswear company. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, she said, it's a huge compliment because that demo tends to be hyper aware of style trends. But in her role as the keeper of the brand image-everything from product design to communications-"it's one of the myths we're trying to bust."

Ms. Fuhr, who came to the brand roughly a year-and-a-half ago from the product-development side at Banana Republic, has been hard at work broadening the company's image overall to appeal to the larger universe of fashion-forward body-conscious men (be they black, white, gay or straight) and even women, to whom the company plans to expand in the not-too-distant future.

Recent ads for its Square Cut Tank-an item that has been feted by rapper 50 Cent and Rod Stewart's style-hound daughter, Kimberly-feature the typical toned males with tight undergarments accentuating the protruding parts that have appeared in previous ads, but introduces a female into the mix. The girl is wearing unmodified 2(x)ist underwear in the ad, which plays off of Michelangelo's homage to creation and quips, "And then there was the Square Cut Tank."

The ad, which ran on phone kiosks in New York City as well as on a billboard in Times Square, has served as a blend, Ms. Fuhr said, of the company's more ethereal and forwardly erotic positioning with a more basic, mainstream and unisex product campaign.

"Our challenge in marketing is not to alienate our existing customer base as we grow and become appealing to a broader customer base," Ms. Fuhr said. The brand's sales, like that of its Square Cut Tank, have grown largely by word of mouth, and communications now have to walk that delicate balance between being "a Gap ad," she said, and too-artistic efforts that don't connect back to the brand itself.

combination

The bubbly Ms. Fuhr, 33, was brought in a year and a half ago, in fact, for just that ability to "combine creativity and passion with strong organizational and communication skills," said Mike Tawil, president of 2(x)ist.

Although her background is design and product development at larger corporate fashion retailers-four years with Banana Republic and one with The Limited-her position with a smaller private-sector designer offers "a true opportunity to express creativity and design from the clothes to the final image." Her next projects include launching a line of lycra and mesh underwear branded X Factor, as well as a new sportswear line that includes jeans. In fact, her background includes a lot of denim.

The new underwear (named, Ms. Fuhr said, for the confounding X in the company name) will be touted in an April ad effort that pays homage to the original ad campaign for the brand in 1998 featuring an aerial shot of five guys in their underwear with a woman. The new jeans line will be promoted using public relations, which is how 2(x)ist first marketed itself as a company.

Name: Melody Fuhr

Age: 33

Title: VP-creative director, 2 (x)ist

Challenge: Not to alienate existing customer base as the company broadens its appeal.

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