In 1993, Hugo Boss appointed Bartle Bogle Hegarty as its worldwide
ad agency. The move caused something of a stir in high fashion circles,
where agencies are as rare as a size 14 model, and threw the spotlight
on to a usually obscure sector of the ad industry.
As far as the average punter was concerned, BBH did a good job. Its ’men
at work’ strategy was spearheaded by a beautifully shot commercial
showing an immaculately dressed football manager being hugged by his
muddy goalie just as the world’s press took his picture.
Yet despite the quality of the work, BBH and Boss parted company after
just 18 months, much to the disappointment of BBH’s then board account
director on the business, Mike Willis. ’ We expected the commercial to
have a major run and it didn’t. We had strong views on the brand and so
did the creative people inside the company. In the end, they decided
they wanted to do it all themselves,’ he says.
A cautionary tale, perhaps, but the story of BBH and Boss should
surprise no-one. When it comes to a meeting of fashion and advertising -
two great creative industries - sparks fly.
Brands from Gucci and Jean Paul Gaultier to Armani and Versace prefer to
produce work on their own, sometimes through in-house agencies such as
Calvin Klein’s 35- strong CRK, or, more frequently, through less formal
departments. Whatever the arrangement, the team behind the work always
comprises the company’s head designer, a top photographer and an art
And it’s a tight little world. The top 10 per cent of photographers (the
likes of Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Peter Lindbergh,
Mario Testino and Herb Ritts) take 90 per cent of the shots. Stylists
and art directors are just as sought after, if less well known. Fabien
Baron, president of Baron and Baron Advertising, is the consulting
creative director for Calvin Klein and has designed ad campaigns for
Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani and Prada. A&R Media is run by Raoul Martinez,
who has worked with Meisel on Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein ads,
and his partner, Alex Gonzales, whose work includes campaigns for
Cerruti. There are even specialist production companies, such as
Lighthouse Productions, based in New York and Paris.
For the most part, the fact that this tiny principality of advertising’s
kingdom has decided to go it alone has bothered no-one. Fashion work is
seen as largely formulaic, based on endless model shots and logos, and
is, therefore, hardly the stuff of flagship accounts. Budgets in the
sector are low, with AC Nielsen MEAL figures for 1996 revealing Gucci to
be the highest spender in the UK on pounds 1.28 million, and five of the
top ten forking out less than pounds 500,000 each.
Media is limited to glossy monthlies with TV opportunities almost
non-existent, reflecting the small target market. Add to this the
stories of agency and fashion creative egos clashing and it is easy to
see why fashion remains isolated.
Yet there is a great deal more to fashion advertising than first meets
the eye. The creatives behind the genre are the world’s best, producing
work that adheres to a broader aesthetic than simply advertising. For
consumers who want reassurance that their purchase is special, such rare
images undoubtedly affirm their choices. Learning to decode the ads
brings its own rewards.
Understanding the genre’s subtleties is also something agencies will be
forced to do increasingly as changes in the fashion market open new
business opportunities for them. The growth of ’mass’ designer labels
has meant a spurt of marketing rethinks by clients, with Diesel
currently reviewing its pounds 22 million global account, and Guess?
promising a more ’structured’ approach to advertising. These names may
top-end couturiers, but they occupy an in-between position, spanning
mass communication and exclusivity. Any agency targeting such accounts
needs to understand high fashion as well as fmcg.
Several factors dictate the singular nature of fashion advertising
Creative control is certainly one, with many companies believing they
understand their product better than an outside supplier ever could.
Robert Triefus, the senior vice-president of worldwide communications
for Calvin Klein, says of the company’s in-house arrangements: ’For a
global brand, it is very important to have a consistent image and we
think we are in the best position to do that.’
Patrick Deedes, executive producer at Lighthouse, adds: ’Fashion is
fashion is fashion and these companies know who they’re appealing to.
They don’t need all the baggage that an agency brings with it to service
other clients’ media buying, conceptual and strategic needs.’
The heavy structure of conventional ad suppliers explains the reluctance
of fashion houses to use them. Although top photographers can charge
dollars 30,000 a day, cutting out agencies and their unnecessary
services saves money overall. One estimate puts the cost savings to be
made by ’going direct’ on production at 40-50 per cent of the total
Nor can the bureaucracy of many agencies and production houses
accommodate the fact that fashion companies often finish collections to
wafer-thin deadlines, slotting in advertising at short notice. Deedes
observes: ’Ordinary production houses are too heavy and slow, they’re
too caught up in the politics of how many hours the grip will work.’
But logistics are only half the story. The single biggest divide between
agencies and fashion houses is the way each sees the role of advertising
and the criteria used by each to judge effectiveness. Boss and BBH
parted company despite work that seemed extremely strong to non-fashion
The same can be said of Donna Karan and the New York agency, the Arnell
Group. Despite several excellent campaigns - including the ’in women we
trust’ print strategy featuring a model running for president during the
1992 US presidential election - Donna Karan took its advertising
in-house a year later.
What both those agencies had in common is that each produced advertising
with a decidedly mainstream feel for its clients, complete with a ’big
idea’. The fact that fashion companies seem uncomfortable with this more
cerebral approach to advertising says a lot about how the visions of the
Fashion houses are more interested in the subtleties of a season’s look
than an advertising concept. Nick Cross, a former BBH planner and now
Selfridges’ marketing director, explains: ’Agencies don’t think in terms
of a look, they think in terms of ideas and that doesn’t go down well
with fashion houses.’
Tim Maguire, a freelance TV producer for Wieden and Kennedy and Faulds
Advertising, who recently worked on a Prada shoot, agrees: ’You can
divide ads into those that appeal to the emotions and those that appeal
to the intellect. Fashion ads appeal to the emotions.’
Both Cross and Maguire believe the creative palette used by fashion
people is very different to that employed by admen. ’What you might call
an ’idea’ in advertising, fashion people would call a colour scheme. You
only have to listen to an art director, stylist or photographer to know
that they talk in terms such as ’mood’, ’romance’ and ’mystery’,’
Cross adds that this esoteric code alienates agencies from potential
clients: ’There are two totally different creative environments with two
different philosophies. An ad that might be unbearably subtle to an
agency might be just right for a fashion house.
The pattern, colours, fabrics, accessories and look of a model are all
decoded so finely by experts that it’s out of this world. And because
agencies are not so immersed in the world of fashion, they find it all
Frustrating or not, the current proliferation of fashion accounts means,
perhaps, that it’s up to agencies to meet potential clients half
Couture may never sit entirely comfortably with agencies, but the fit
could be better than it is.
The duo behind one of the quintessential fashion looks is a brother and
sister team - the company’s creative director, Giorgio Armani, oversees
all ads alongside the art director, Rosanna Armani. However, much recent
work has also had distinctive input from the art director, Fabien Baron,
the president of New York’s Baron and Baron Advertising, and the top
fashion photographer, Peter Lindbergh.
One of the more innovative fashion advertisers under its creative
director, Werner Baldessarini. In the 80s, the company became famous for
its macho print work, shot by Richard Avedon who still shoots Boss
campaigns. The company had a brief flirtation with Bartle Bogle Hegarty
in 1993-94, producing the well-regarded international ’men at work’
cinema ad. It now works with Baron and Baron Advertising.
Proving something of an anomaly, the classic French design house is one
of the few to have worked regularly with an ad agency. Publicis in Paris
has created the global look for Hermes for more than 11 years, working
with the photographer, Daniel Aron, and the art directors, Francoise
Aron and Pacha Bensimon.
Ralph Lauren is one of those rare fashion brands whose advertising has
caused ripples in the wider world. Under the company’s eponymous
creative director, the flamboyant photographer, Bruce Weber, the company
almost single-handedly defined ’lifestyle’ advertising in the 80s with
its images of stylish professionals relaxing in sumptuous surroundings
in locations such as Cape Cod. Weber still shoots for the brand.
Gucci’s work in recent years has been shot by a tight triumvirate of
friends, with the art director, Doug Lloyd, and the photographer, Mario
Testino, working under Gucci’s creative director, Tom Ford. The team are
credited with introducing a sexy but clean and modern look into 90s
Perhaps the most marketing-focused of all the houses, Calvin Klein’s
advertising and media buying is generated through its in-house agency,
CRK, under the creative director, Ronnie Cooke-Newhouse. She works with
Klein himself to produce work that was first defined in the early 90s by
Madonna’s favourite photographer, Steven Meisel. Fabien Baron of Baron
and Baron Advertising has been the consulting creative director since
Another family affair, the advertising is overseen by the chief
designer, Gianni Versace, and his sister, Donatella, who designs the
Versus collection. Much of the company’s work has been shot by Richard
Avedon, responsible for a current ad starring Jon Bon Jovi. Mario
Testino shot a memorable ad featuring Madonna playing chess with a
Before they parted company in 1993, Donna Karan worked closely on her
ads with Peter Arnell, the chairman and chief executive of the New York
specialist fashion agency, the Arnell Group. Arnell photographed many
campaigns himself and helped create 1992’s ’in women we trust’ press
work and the famous DKNY logo featuring the Manhattan skyline. Herb
Ritts and Peter Lindbergh have also shot Karan ads.
With last season’s print campaign named as one of the world’s top three
by W magazine, Prada has a reputation for lavish, cinematographic print
ads. Created by the English team of the photographer, Glen Luchford, and
the art director, David James, the work is shot largely on location,
with images sent by ISDN for instant approval to the creative director,
All Chanel’s advertising is art directed and photographed by its
creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, who does the same for his own
independent couture label. UK media buying and adaptations are by the
Media Centre and DMB&B.
Jean Paul Gaultier
The colourful French designer has developed a distinctive, pop-art style
using both photography he has taken himself and images from his best
friend, the photographer, Jean Baptiste Mondino.