Fashion steps back toward reality

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From top designer firms to mass marketers, fashion advertisers are reassessing their campaigns and strategies, and in some cases, revising the look and feel of their print ads for next spring in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy.

Some strongly believe they are well positioned to weather the abrupt arrival of a new era of uncertainty. Almost all have done "marketing audits" of past efforts and of creative plans for spring 2002.

"Of course there will be change," asserts Fabien Baron, president of Baron & Baron, New York, which creates campaigns for Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Burberry, BCBG and Calvin Klein fragrances. "People are going to see very happy, positive, dynamic, lighter and brighter photos. There won't be such a reliance on hair, makeup, graphics and lighting to create a picture. Personal, intimate photos in more real-life settings will become important."

Mr. Baron predicts a return to photographer Bruce Weber's slice-of-life look, "because Bruce captures moments in American life."

"Fashion realism will be a major direction again," agrees David Lipman, chairman of Lipman, Richmond, Greene Advertising, New York, which oversees ads for Burberry, David Yurman, Furla and Paul & Shark. "Even before Sept. 11, I felt because of the economy that over-consumption was over and that campaigns had to be about showing people making a connection with other people.

"For example, photographs we did for David Yurman, in which we created a birthday party lunch showing models with grandparents [that was] shot as if the photographer was a fly on the wall, establish the right feeling."

Several fashion leaders emphasized the power of positive images. "Ads can't be so dour or aggressively sex-driven. People in the ads themselves can't look angry right now," says designer Tommy Hilfiger. "There's no reason for people to pretend to be angry. We should be grateful that we're alive."

Mr. Hilfiger plans a return to his company's signature ad roots-going back to photographs of groups having fun, "because the feelings of life and family are so important right now."

But despite reports to the contrary, humor and edginess will not disappear from the fashion world, says Jonathan Bond, co-chairman of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York. "Just because we're in a low-grade depression doesn't mean Americans don't want to laugh," he says. "Advertisers and marketers have to be careful of the mirror effect. It's a trap if you mirror back to the consumer how she or he is feeling. Ads and brands can be an oasis."


"Show me the goods" will be the appeal of fashion-forward consumers for spring, and advertisers will respond, many in the industry assert. "Fashion will be shot so you can really see the stuff. Mushy imagery will be out because the consumer can't buy art direction, they can only buy clothes. This will be the positive side of the post-catastrophe situation," insists Simon Doonan, creative director for Barneys New York. "You can already feel the B.S. falling away from fashion advertising. It will feel like a giant enema for the industry. It will go back to selling merchandise directly to the consumer, and is not so much going to be about the photographer's vision."

"Fashion advertising will be much more focused on the product and simplicity," agrees Donna Cristina, president and partner of Dente & Cristina, New York, which creates advertising for Maxmara. "There will still be a place for fantasy but fantasies will be more core-value driven. Photographs will portray family, home and friendship situations."

Shoots themselves will be simpler, she adds, with less travel to exotic locations-for psychological and financial reasons-and more studio shoots.

Location, of course, can still be the essence of an advertising campaign. Designer Donna Karan plans to "go back to her roots and stand for New York City, more than ever," explains Trey Laird, exec VP-corporate creative director for Donna Karan International. "We're shooting everything here in New York. And we're going to do it in a positive, happy way-not too attitude-y and not too fashion-y".

Ralph Lauren also plans to be consistent with a long-term message and image. "Ads, which are very aspirational but accessible so people can feel like they can step into these worlds, will continue to be the focus for the company," says Paddy Byng, senior VP-global marketing and advertising for Ralph Lauren. Mr. Lauren plans to stick with actress Penelope Cruz for his spring Collection campaign.

Mr. Lauren's is not the only fashion house that believes celebrities can still work for fashion brands. Liz Claiborne will continue to feature Rebecca Romjin-Stamos in its ads, says Al Shapiro, senior VP-corporate marketing. "Our general approach, which is to showcase product in real life situations that our consumer can relate to in her own life, will not change."

Gap also will stay to its course of using people "gifted with personal style," including celebrities, in upcoming campaigns. "The company carefully reviewed its advertising plans following the events of Sept. 11," says Peter Hempel, executive VP-global marketing. "We didn't feel that anything that had occurred had outdated our brand."

But companies will have to be careful with their choice of celebrity, warns Donna Karan's Mr. Laird. "If you take the approach, `Let's get X celebrity and let them endorse our product,' and if it's obvious that it's just a money deal, it will just wear thin now," he believes. "If you find someone who makes an emotional connection to your brand and can express it-like Madonna or Courtney Love did for Versace-that can still be right."

On the other hand, Mr. Lipman believes models may be better symbols than celebrities in the current environment. "There's something about the girl-next-door-but-vulnerable look that may have a major moment now. Sexiness meets vulnerability is very right now."

too sexy for this sale

As for sex itself, that sometimes controversial ingredient that has often been synonymous with fashion advertising, most marketers agree its role will continue, but in a somewhat diminished way. Ads for both Abercrombie & Fitch and Tse will become more sensual than sexual, says Sam Shahid, president and creative director of Shahid & Co., which oversees ads for those brands. "It's a very emotional time, it's not right to be so sexually aggressive." A&F canceled the fourth-quarter holiday edition of A&F Quarterly, its controversial-some say overly sexual-catalog.

Mr. Hilfiger agrees: "Over-sexiness shows lack of taste."

At the other end of the spectrum, how does a fashion company which has always focused on being socially-as opposed to sexually-conscious in its advertising respond to the new reality? Perhaps by facing it head-on.

"Messaging has always been an authentic part of our brand," says Lori Wagner, senior VP-marketing and advertising for Kenneth Cole. "We pride ourselves on trying to relate to what's relevant and then we relate it to our fashion. We're staying true to our course."

Ms. Fuller, the former editor of Glamour and Cosmopolitan, currently serves as a consultant to Meredith Corp.

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