Keep cars fashionable

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The auto industry's infatuation with fashion has come and gone over the years, but lately carmakers have taken the high-fashion route. These days, when luxury marques like Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz launch a car, it's often in conjunction with a glamorous and glitzy fashion event.

Sponsorships of major fashion shows, such as Mercedes-Benz USA's title sponsorship of 7th on Sixth's Fashion Week in New York, lend a much-desired touch of style to automakers. Launched in 1993 to help U.S. fashion designers gain more of a global presence, the twice-annual Fashion Week has always received heavy monetary support from corporate car sponsors.

Appeal to women

"We believe there is a strong synergy between automotive and fashion," says Fern Mallis, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. "Women are a huge target audience for buying cars right now-the car companies recognize this and capitalize on it."

The initial relationship between General Motors Corp. and Fashion Week fostered other promotional events linking the auto giant and the fashion industry, most notably charity benefits such as "Fashion Targets Breast Cancer" and "Concept:Cure."

"Concept:Cure" was founded in 1996 as a partnership between GM and the fashion designers council. "With `Concept:Cure,' we asked GM, `Why not let our designers go at your cars?' Designers began to redesign the ins and outs of a single car model in Detroit," Ms. Mallis says.

Those who made pledges during the event entered a sweepstakes to win the special-edition cars. During its run, "Concept: Cure" raised more than $3.3 million. GM, however, has bailed out on the event.

The carmaker contended its exit was a marketing decision, but the departure followed a controversy involving Harris Marketing Group, which handled GM's involvement with "Concept:Cure," and former GM marketing executive Dean Rotondo (AA, Feb. 26).

The fashion world's current romance with DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes seems to be a rosy one. "This ... is a very timely opportunity for us as we ... appeal to a young, hip and more lifestyle-oriented buyer," says Ken Enders, VP-marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA.


Other top automakers have followed suit. BMW of North America started a partnership with designer Thomas Steinbruck earlier this year. The designer unveiled his fall collection in February at the automaker's flagship Manhattan showroom during Fashion Week.

Jaguar Cars North America is the first car marketer to sponsor "Tribute to Style," a fund-raiser begun in 1996 that benefits the Entertainment Industry Founda-tion's Arts & Education Fund.

Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota Motor Sales USA, started a co-branding deal in 1996 for its ES 300 sedan with Sara Lee Corp.'s Coach unit, which markets high-end leather goods.

Magazine publishers such as Hachette Filipacchi Magazines and Conde Nast Publications have fostered the cross-industry relationship. Hachette engineered the Fashion Week "Fashion in Focus Show," in which 10 designers dismantled a Ford Focus and "assembled a fashion show" with the parts.

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