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Last month's Sportswear International had an unusual ad for, of all things, an ad agency. A shop by the name of Big Island ran an all-type full-page rant that began with a litany of fashion-ad sins, including: "Emaciated models. Pretty boys in disarray. Scenes of urban decay and degradation. Pierced eyebrows. Simulated rape. Bald women." The copy went on to ask, "What's missing here? Could it be, perhaps, an idea? We know this is fashion advertising and all. But that doesn't mean you have to check your brain cells at the door."

Interesting, particularly in light of the fact that Big Island pointed out that it had ads elsewhere in the issue, for a company called Zap Funwear. The Zap ads, of course, committed none of the aforementioned sins; they had no models at all, not even clothes. Just fabric. Headlines on fabric. The headlines themselves were somewhat on the utilitarian side: "Shirt circa 2001. Price circa 1972," for example. (The new second round of the campaign, three of which are seen here, are sharper.) But they sure did bust through the tiny-busted clutter of all those pierced and hairless models.

It turns out that the Zap campaign has landed Big Island, a six-month-old New York shop opened by three ad vets with no prior fashion experience, the Sportswear International campaign itself. "The fashion trade business has really heated up," says co-creative director Dakota Sullivan, "with the emergence of consumer books like Source, Vibe, Detour and Details, which are taking business away from the trades. Sportswear International needs to reposition itself."

The Big Island principals have repositioned themselves nicely in a short time, it seems; agency president Marty Marion, 44, who has been head of new business at DMB&B/Medicus (a pharmaceuticals specialist) and The Martin Agency, took a single account with him when he left D'Arcy, Oncology Online (an Internet medical information service), and, in addition to Zap, the client list has since grown to include Reuters, the Herpes Advice Center of New York, spanking new Sexual Health magazine (first issue due in January), the EMX card (emergency medical history providers) and the antinuclear group No Escape.

Why the name Big Island? "Well, it was originally a personal thing for Marty," says Sullivan. "He has a Hawaii fetish. The place is littered with stuffed sharks and palm trees. But Big Island also means this island, Manhattan, so it's appropriate and we kept it." Sullivan, 34, is a former senior copywriter at FCB

on the AT&T business. Co-CD Rob Cramer, 43, had been freelancing since his days as an associate creative director at Levine Huntley back in the Subaru era. Cramer, in fact, had once tried to open a little shop with his former Levine writing partner, but it never got past the project stage.

Not a problem at Big Island, which already has a tidy package of print to show for itself, often with an aggressive bent that speaks far more to New York than Hawaii, sometimes spiced with a dollop of morbidity befitting the harrowing expertise of its clients. For instance, a No Escape ad, part of a campaign to close the Indian Point power plant, reads, "Chernobyl's neighbors could tell us a lot about nuclear energy. (If they weren't covered in dirt.)" An ad for Oncology Online pictures a nasty photo of something that might've attacked Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage, labeled "Breast cancer: 35,000 new cells per hour." Headline: "Find the information you need at a comparable rate."

The all-headline Herpes Advice Center ads have a lighter touch: "Our director has personally handled 10,000 cases of genital herpes. (You can still shake his hand when you come in.)" Yeah, but don't kiss him.

Then there's a real in-your-face transit poster for the EMX card: "Don't go through your windshield without it." It was meant for a billboard by the Queens Midtown Tunnel, but the client decided at the last minute not to do billboards. Even the Big Islanders have their doubts about this ad. "That's the controversial one around here," says Cramer. "We're divided about the taste level."

They're not divided about the upbeat possibilities for '97, which may even offer some spot cable for Sportswear International. A consumer campaign for Zap is also in the offing, most likely limited to print and possibly departing from the current headline/fabric style. "For the moment, at least, we're locked into no-model fashion ads," says Sullivan. "We wanted to zig while everybody else zags. We're also dealing with a very small budget. The most important thing we want to get across is the Zap point of view. They're textile innovators; the difference is in the fabrics they use. It's about having fun, being irreverent."

Are the Islanders looking for any other fun accounts? "We're open to anyone who wants to do smart work, as long as it's a product we can feel good about," says Cramer. Their backgrounds cover big-budget businesses like banks, cars and telecommunications, "but we'd also like to do stuff that we've never worked on before," he adds. "This fashion thing is a perfect example."

As their Sportswear International ad points out, the Zap Funwear guys are "not the only ones who believe an ad for a pair of jeans should be every bit as intelligent as the person buying them."

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