CLOSE-UP: CLIENT OF THE WEEK - Fashion guru plays with dolls. Julia Bowe is counting on rag dolls to reboost Harvey Nichols. By Matthew Cowen

For a brand forever associated with the excesses of Absolutely Fabulous, the stars of Harvey Nichols’s new press and poster campaign may seem a little, well, down at heel.

For a brand forever associated with the excesses of Absolutely

Fabulous, the stars of Harvey Nichols’s new press and poster campaign

may seem a little, well, down at heel.



Called Harvey and Hibby, the two faceless rag dolls dressed to the nines

in Raf Simons, Helmut Lang and Junya Watanabe drift through their chic

existence turning their noses up at fat people and fighting over

designer handbags.



Obtuse? Certainly, but Harvey Nichols’s marketing director, Julia Bowe,

believes Harvey and Hibby’s inherent class will hit a chord with

customers of a similar stripe.



’It sounds elitist but I think the people that we most want to reach

will get it,’ she says. ’These ads are fun, tongue-in-cheek with a bit

of attitude. Plus, there are people who will realise that the brands

they are wearing are really cool.’



Harvey Nichols’s hipness is something Bowe has been staking her own

wardrobe’s credibility on since she joined the outfit from Liberty in

May 1998. ’When I was at Liberty, I wore these big, floaty Japanese

things that it used to sell. Now my look is sleek, elegant glamour.

Well, I try at least.’



For the 39-year-old Bowe, a personal fashion conversion is a crucial

first step in handling a brand like Harvey Nichols. ’The only way I can

do this job is if I live and breathe it,’ she says. ’I wear Harvey

Nichols’s clothes, I only ever shop here, I come in and eat here at

weekends quite a lot. I still go around saying I’ve got nothing to wear,

but then I am a woman.’



Bowe’s arrival at Harvey Nichols triggered an ad agency review that

ended with the incumbent, Travis Sully Harari, losing the account to

Mother in June 1999. She believes an image update was definitely needed.

’The brands that we were selling ourselves with were yesterday’s hot

products rather than today’s,’ she says. ’The other problem was that we

had five or six ads a year but no campaign. With Harvey and Hibby we

have a campaign again. Its got legs and we can vary it and build on

it.’



Bowe believes that building such a retail fashion campaign is among the

strongest challenges that an agency can face. ’Some of the best agencies

have produced horrific work in this area over the past few years,’ she

says. ’You need a steady nerve to be able to sell the sizzle and not

just the sausage. There is a lot of pressure to just focus on the

product but in reality it’s creating an emotional bond that brings

people to the brand.’



Mother’s latest creation has done that, Bowe says, at a cost lower than

that of Harvey Nichols’s rivals. ’Our marketing budget is our biggest

constraint but it’s also a good challenge,’ she says.



’We didn’t have the money for a campaign full of models and we didn’t

want one. We wanted to create a new language for fashion. Wit and humour

is vital to our brand because we sell a whole experience. Harvey Nichols

is about giving people confidence. It’s not just clothes, it’s a

lifestyle.’



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