WHY FASHION SHUNS ADLAND - High fashion has traditionally been isolated in the ad world with couture houses choosing to produce their own advertising without agency help. Why do sparks fly when these two creative industries try to work together?

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.

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

not be

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

two clash.

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’,’

Maguire says.

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

extremely frustrating.’

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.

Hugo Boss

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

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

fashion advertising.

Calvin Klein

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


Donna Karan

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,

Miuccia Prada.


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.