A Tale of Two Fragrances, or Burberry’s Continued Asininity and Jo Malone’s Quiet Success

British brands Burberry and Jo Malone have each come out with a new fragrance campaign in the last week —Burberry’s for a new product, Mr. Burberry fragrance for men; and Jo Malone’s for a new concept: combining two existing scents into a personalized fragrance. Burberry should have aced the campaign, a short film directed by Academy Award winner and overall cool-coded Steve McQueen, but came up short; while Jo Malone, a label that rarely advertises, perfectly executed a simple visual campaign that capitalizes on the trend of personalization —ironically, a trend on which Burberry was on the forefront about two years ago, with their monogrammed ponchos and My Burberry fragrances.

 Mr. Burberry is Burberry’s first fragrance aimed exclusively at men — their other fragrances, like London, Brit, and The Beat all have a men’s and women’s component. This is a a smart move considering the growing interest and media coverage of men’s fashion, especially among younger audiences. It’s interesting when a brand choose a prefix as a fragrance name since it indicates that wearers of this fragrance, more than any of the other fragrances by the label, epitomizes the brand values. Remember the Sofia Coppola-directed videos for Miss Dior? Now those were the days.

This new video ad expands on the new, grittier direction Burberry is trying to take in order to woo the snapchatting, Silmane-devoted crowd. This marketing strategy is ludicrous, as I’ve explained in an earlier post, but Christopher Bailey is sticking to his guns. Steve McQueen directs the video, which is a brilliant choice, because he’s both an ultra-cool and critically acclaimed Londoner; someone like Tom Hooper would have been iffy. As a result, the video, which depicts a couple in a Piccadilly Square hotel room (quelle touristy!), looks like Shame without the pleasant physical appearance of Michael Fassbender — long shots that go on to the point of awkwardness, and a slightly unappealing, realistic portrayal of everyday events. It’s supposed to be glamorous, and some people will find it so — online publications have hailed it as “steamy” — but it’s not Burberry’s signature strain of sophisticated and subtle British glamour.

And then there’s the sex. Burberry has historically been superb at implying intimacy and  eroticism without actually portraying it — think of the smolderingly mysterious Hugh Dancy and Kate Moss ad for Burberry London, the 2005 Kate Moss ads with handsome strangers in the background, and the playful chemistry between Cara Delevigne and Eddie Redmayne in the 2012 campaign. The Mr. Burberry video situates sex front and center, and portrays it without a hint of mystery. It’s rendered awkward and unappealing because of McQueen’s directing style and the film’s overall gritty-lite aesthetic (NB: the male model has a chest tattoo and a pinky ring). It’s an off-brand misstep that unfortunately defines the video, and if Bailey’s not careful, will start to define the brand identity. Maybe they should change the name from Mr. Burberry to Mr. Grimy Quasi Burberry Offshoot Sister Line for Youths who Like Jayden Smith.

What Bailey should have done is take advantage of a great impending pop-cultural moment and on-brand stars and hired Kenneth Branagh to direct Richard Madden and Lily James in a short film for the fragrance. Freakishly attractive Madden and James will star together this summer in Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet in London. What could be more British, cool, and weighty-yet-accessible than this duo, Branagh, and Shakespeare?



Jo Malone, on the other hand, implements the classic tropes of the bad boy and the ménage-à-trois to explain their new fragrance personalization concept. Titled “Curious?,” the ads feature a perfectly polished Jo Malone girl flanked by her usual type, a handsome, tux-clad man on one side, and a shirtless, heavily-tattooed guy on the other. Cheeky, flirty, and visually engaging — I like that we don’t see the models’ eyes— the ad encourages customers to embrace both the classic and the edgy parts of their tastes to create a scent unique and meaningful to them. This ad is still on-brand for Jo Malone, but gives the label a younger feel, while still maintaining their sense of feminine, English reserve, Sex here is intimated, which actually gives the ad more narrative latitude — the viewer has to do the guesswork, which forces them to be more visually and intellectually engaged in the ad, especially compared to Mr. Burberry’s awkward voyeurism.

The lessons here? Sex sells, but it sells better when it isn’t completely laid out to the viewers; both Burberry and Jo Malone are trying to reach new audiences, but while Burberry is veering dangerously off-track with their new aesthetic implementations, Jo Malone is fleshing theirs out with bolder advertisements. A label must strike a happy medium between what its core identity and what will appeal to a targeted audience when trying something new —like Jo Malone does here —while guarding against pandering to that audience.

The other lesson is to hire Kenneth Branagh for anything and everything, but you already knew that.

Starman, the Ad-man


Tommy Hilfiger, 2004

Fashion publications have made much of David Bowie’s contribution to fashion and his inimitable personal style in the days since his death, and rightly so. But I’d like to talk about his unique role in fashion advertising.

Throughout the course of his decades-long career, he appeared in a handful of ads for companies ranging from Pepsi to Louis Vuitton, unlike any of his iconic contemporaries in music, who never fronted major consumer campaigns (the one exception being Keith Richards’ 2008 Louis Vuitton campaign). Why was Bowie coveted for campaigns more than any of the other rock stars?

It’s because of the duality of what he codes for in the culture. He’s simultaneously perceived as a cool, weirdo genius, and then as a complete cypher, making it easy for advertising to project whatever they want onto him while benefiting from his cool cultural cache. Additionally he, more than any other rock stars or any other cultural icons, exudes an almost otherworldly self-possession and comfort in his own skin, which is what every consumer company is trying to sell. He’s so untouchable, so icy, so alien, so intellectually weighty, and, despite his rolodex of zany characters, he always plays himself in ads, which makes them some of the most effective campaigns I’ve ever seen. Exhibit A:

Louis Vuitton, “L’Invitation Au Voyage,” 2013

In this short film and corresponding print campaign, Arizona Muse arrives (via hot air balloon) to a mysterious Venetian masquerade party straight out of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Bowie plays “I’d Rather Be High” on the harpsichord as revelers revel and Muse orients herself among the partygoers, uncertainly at first, then, after sitting on the bench with Bowie, excitedly. She opens her eyes to realize it was a dream — but then finds a note on the harpsichord, apparently an invitation. The film ends with Muse sailing solo through a Venetian canal into the sunrise. The world the film creates is sumptuous without being decadent, and Bowie is mysterious, sophisticated, and intriguing: everything the brand hopes to convey.

The print ad could be a subdued moment from the film, where Bowie is no longer at the center of the action, but in a corner, facing three masked women, which we see in a mirror behind him in a Folies-Berger trick. Both parties seem to be attracted and repulsed by one another, creating an interesting tension with the dangerous but ultimately romantic and innocuous narrative presented in the film.

Bowie is perfect in these ads, and Louis Vuitton expertly plays on his coding duality, employing the rock star coding more heavily in the film, and the cypher coding more heavily in the print ad. In the film, he is extremely commanding as the center of the party and the apparent ringleader of partygoers, while being electrically compelling in his silent communication with Muse. The print ad is mysterious and muted, and conveys his alienation from us, and ours from him, which is echoed by the sharp key in which the music in the film is played. It’s an extremely intriguing set of media that play well off of each other in creating a narrative, and in smartly framing Bowie’s intensely attractive yet frightening physicality and mood.


Exhibit B: Tommy Hilfiger, 2004


In this black-and-white print campaign, Bowie and wife Iman are photographed glamorously doing everyday things, both at home and out and about. These are beautifully shot, but what’s striking is how much genuine fun they seem to be having — I don’t think I’ve seen such easy chemistry and palpable joy in any other photoshoot, advertising or editorial, ever. This campaign relies on pure rock-star coding, and includes shots with a guitar and a photo in the car that looks like a paparazzi snap, to great effect. It’s glamorous, sexy, fun, and kinetic, and impossible to take your eyes off of, and truly one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen. This was Hilfiger at his peak — in touch with what is classic and cool, and thoughtful about the kinds of images and aspirations to which his audience responds. He needs to get back to a Bowie-Iman level with his brand, and present content like this with real cultural icons, and stop trying to shill Gigi Hadid in a rastafarian colored woven bikini top.

Starman is the ultimate ad-man, since he stands for both an iconic rock & roll star and a complete chameleonic enigma. Louis Vuitton and Tommy Hilfiger were so smart to spot this and play up one or both of these qualities in their advertising. I wish we could have had one more — Thierry Mugler’s Alien would have been too easy, and a Jurgen Teller Céline ad would have been wonderful. I’m also glad that Bowie didn’t take himself too seriously to not want to appear in ads — that speaks volumes about his cool, down-to-earth nature, even if he did fall to earth from somewhere else.

Report Card: Holiday Ad Campaigns

Tis the season for holiday ad campaigns! Stars! Mistletoe! Enthusiasm! Here’s the how they stack up.


Katy Perry for H&M
Oh. well. Okay.
I cannot fathom with any part of my intellectual consciousness why H&M chose Katy Perry to front this campaign. She irrelevant at the moment, without any new material, and has basically been off the media grid for months. Adele would have been a smarter choice, and would have caused an absolute sensation if she have appeared in the ads in spite of her media-shyness. Sadly, we are instead saddled with Perry posing with candy, yet again. I like the bold black, red, and white color scheme, but that’s the only thing this series has going for it.
Grade: D
Leandra Medine for Fossil
This is a brilliant choice by Fossil. By choosing someone famous for being in fashion to front the campaign, Fossil is sending a signal that they know what’s relevant in fashion culture, which will cause fashion-forward people to look twice at what they thought was a nonbrand found only in outlet malls. Leandra is someone known for her personal style, which associates individuality and personalization with Fossil, and not just tragic leather goods and watches.She’s shrewd, sardonic,and authentic, and you can guarantee she wouldn’t do this campaign if she didn’t believe in it, adding another layer of credibility. Wear fossil, become a chic, witty, fashion businesswoman? I’ll take it.
Grade: A
Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein for Old Navy
Old Navy, in a move of unutterable genius, tapped Portlandia duo Fred Armison and Carrie Brownstein for a holiday short videos. I thought Old Navy was ready to be stuck with a fork when its CEO left to helm Ralph Lauren, but they have, with this casting choice, reinvigorated their relevancy with awareness of the cool, informed, media culture and a sense of humor. Will this help Old Navy compete with fast fashion? Well there’s the problem — Old Navy’s content isn’t good or fashionable enough to really do damage to fast-fashion chains, who clearly don’t rely on advertising to sell their clothes  (see evidence above). It will, however, get Old Navy back in consumers’ consciousness. What they really need is a cult item that will get people back in stores, like their early 2000s flag tees or mid 2000s madras craze, and then integrate cool capsule collections and a fast fashion business model, at least in part, to keep them there. But at the moment, this is a great step in the right direction.
Grade: A+

Label Consolidation and British Stars on Trampolines: This Week In Burberry News

Last week, Burberry announced their decision to roll up all of their lines – Brit, London, and Prorsum – into one label. Henceforth, everything will be known as simply “Burberry.”

This decision follows similar moves other luxury labels have recently made to get rid of their “junior” lines: D&G and Marc by Marc Jacobs have both became defunct in the last year. Burberry’s consolidation is much more akin to Victoria Beckham’s swallowing up the lower-priced Victoria, Victoria Beckham (although London couldn’t exactly be seen as a junior line, pricewise).

Does this make sense from a business perspective? I suppose. To the untrained shopper, the different labels might be confusing. But I think Christopher Bailey ought to have cut out London, and kept Brit and Prorsum as bookending collections – but perhaps this is my own sentimentality talking.

When I was first discovering fashion, Burberry was the brand I deeply identified with, soul-loved. I obsessed over it; the black and white ads covered my walls (and still do in my childhood bedroom); I finally felt like a world understood me and my interests and tastes and aesthetics. I would look at the Brit line on and think that one day I might be able to afford a piece. I contented myself with the fragrances (this was a pre-Burberry Cosmetics era – imagine!) and then one day, at sixteen, I garnered the nerve to go into a Burberry store with my mother. There was a black eyelet cotton Brit dress on sale. We bought it. It was an important psychological shift for me – I finally owned a piece of the world I wanted to live in. I was me. And I would go on to make wonderful memories whist wearing that dress, and it’s something I will keep forever. Brit’s differentiation from the other Burberry price points made that possible.

Besides my maudlin affection for the Brit line, Bailey should keep it because it’s so distinctive from the runway collections. Brit is made up of classic pieces, like sweaters and polos, starting at about $300, and usually incorporate the house’s logoistic check pattern. It’s a starter line that’s clearly identifiable as Burberry for those who don’t have the budget to afford the higher-priced London line, or a penchant for a pastel trench coat from the Prorsum collection. Without the identifying nomenclature, I feel like Burberry’s enormous inventory will be difficult to navigate, and perhaps turn away new-to-fashion buyers, who only see thousand-pound dresses and leave, unaware that they can afford something less pricey.

And as for Prorsum – Latin for ‘forward’ – that designated the high-fashion runway collections, well that’s a shame to lose. It’s a word that evokes the Burberry knight, and Burberry’s unique ability to move forward stylistically while still remaining a heritage brand. Not to mention its erudition factor – it also brings to mind a romantic vision of Oxford and Cambridge. Something like this, which, coincidentally, is the aforementioned wall décor:


I’m sure Bailey has good reason for the roll up – I trust him and his vision for the brand, even though I wish he wouldn’t make this particular move. So who’s next to streamline their label? Kors won’t – yet. There’s too much of a price gap between Michael, Michael Kors and the Michael Kors Collection, and besides, he should want to keep the two separate to placate both the label-toting suburbanites loonies with brand ownership, and the starlets he dresses on the red carpet with a non-embarrassing connotation. Armani won’t yet either. There will always be a Eurotrash market for Armani Exchange on one hand, and a market for sophisticated actors to wear his suits on the red carpet on the other. How are these label stratifications even part of the same brand? They are so antithetical – not at all like Burberry’s or even Marc Jacobs’ lower-priced lines, which simply reflect(ed) the larger brand at a lower price point. I suppose a powerful name can code for a lot of different things to different audiences – but I’m not sure that’s a compliment to Mr. Kors or Mr. Armani.

Burberry also debuted its holiday video advert last week. No luxury label does holiday marketing quite like Burberry, and the label delivered once again, with a star-studded tribute to Billy Elliot, with appearances by Romeo Beckham, Elton John, Julie Walters, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, George Ezra, Naomi Campbell, Michelle Dockery, and James Cordon, just to name a few. That’s what’s so special about Burberry – all of these faces perfectly fit the label. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, black or white, 13 (Beckham) or 68 (Sir Elton), Burberry is for everyone. They consistently strike a unique pitch of inclusiveness, while still maintaining luxury, aspirational status. Perhaps that’s the heritage factor, but I’d chalk it up to a special British alchemy.

Ford on Film: The Real Meaning of the Tom Ford S/S ’16 Video


Allow me to begin by by saying just how deeply I love Tom Ford. I often dream about him. I would take a bullet for him. I am frequently washed over with a nausea-like feeling of deep jealousy of Richard Buckley.

Which is why gives me great displeasure to say that I did not remotely like or understand why Mr. Ford decided to show his Spring/Summer 2016 Womenswear collection in a three-minute video format.

In the Nick Knight-directed video, models disco down a runway and are cheered on by other dancing models in the frow, as it were. Quick cuts and high-energy movement give it a music video feel. Lady Gaga shows up and the dancing continues. I walked away feeling dizzy, wondering what exactly I had just watched – it certainly did not have the usual sexy, mysterious, over-the-top Tom Ford Feel.

Videos are nothing new for fashion shows. Most designers livestream their runway shows, allowing people around the world to watch in real time. This is a fantastic and democratizing tool for fans, bloggers, and buyers, who can experience the show firsthand, and not rely solely on still photos or critics’ commentary. However, the short video format Mr. Ford implemented for S/S ’16 simply is not an effective media for viewing a fashion show. The focus is entirely on mood which, granted, is important, but the viewer walks away with no recollection of what the clothes looked like – a factor that will certainly prove problematic when it comes down to pre-ordering and retail. And then, there’s the missed opportunity. Mr. Ford is one of the great showmen of our time. He is the king of spectacle, masterful at setting a scene and manipulating an audience (see: deep carpet of rose petals falling from the ceiling at F/W 2015), and deeply obsessive about his work. Why would he pass up this opportunity to display his showmanship, and instead send out something that felt last-minute?

The choice to make a video likely mirrors where Mr. Ford is creatively. He is about to start filming his second film, Nocturnal Animals, and is likely deeply ensconced in the medium of film. The video is more likely in reaction to the film project—perhaps he simply didn’t have the time to produce a sumptuous live show because of his other creative endeavors.

Then there is the alarming issue of Lady Gaga’s presence. Why she was cast as the face of this video initially seems unfathomable, as she has been musically and culturally irrelevant for some time now, and doesn’t espouse the Fordian ideals in the way that, say, Carine Roitfeld and Rihanna do. If Mr. Ford was looking for a new face for the S/S Campaign, he should have gone with Lucky Blue Smith, who also makes a cameo in the film. Having a male model front the womenswear campaign would have been edgy and in line with the current androgynous movement, and Lucky Blue has that special charismatic Ford Factor that Gaga lacks. However, as Lucky Blue is relatively unknown outside the fashion world, and the collection is already forgettable because of its format, it makes sense that the label would go with a universally known celebrity to front the campaign. Choosing Gaga was more of a necessary strategic, and not an artistic, decision due to the video format.

Although Ford’s video format was well received by the media, it is doubtful that it will become a trend in fashion shows. The short film makes the pieces forgettable, lacks a sense of drama and narrative, and distorts brand identity. The best place for videos in fashion are for marketing purposes—setting a scene, depicting a short narrative, and ultimately reinforcing the brand’s meaning. Prada does an especially good job with this, and Dior is beginning to break into the medium as well (Miss Dior and Dior Addict fragrances have been making fantastic videos for the last five years or so). Burberry smartly has an “Acoustic” music video channel, featuring independent British acts performing exclusive sets for the brand, which reinforces the cool, youthful, Britishness that Burberry promotes. Even Ford has used this format to promote his cosmetics, both for the Lips & Boys collection and the men’s skincare line, to great effect — which is why his fashion show video was such a disappointment.

What Ford’s video really makes me wonder is if he’s getting ready to leave fashion again. I’m still suffering from abandonment issues from when he took a break to make A Single Man in the late aughts. I’m afraid he’s going to go out one Sunday morning to buy a wide-lapel jacket and never come back. Ford’s true skills lie in creating a world, a brand, and his obsessive attention to detail and instincts in setting a mood serve him well here whether he is making a collection or a film. I think it’s fantastic that he’s pushing himself creatively to explore new media and put his extraordinary eye to good use, but I’m not ready to see him go from the fashion world. I’m afraid this S/S ’16 womenswear video is indicative of Ford hedging his bets, deciding between continuing as a designer, or pursuing filmmaking or other artistic endeavors, perhaps even full-time.

Gloria Steinem as Kate Spade’s Ms. Adventure: Misstep, or One Giant Leap?

I was dismayed and puzzled when I caught wind of Gloria Steinem’s cameo in Kate Spade’s latest “Miss Adventure” promotional video. These three-minute videos follow ditsy and fast-talking Anna Kendrick as “Miss Adventure,” Kate Spade’s high-maintenance and unapologetically silly poster girl who engages in cute moments of situational comedy. The video in question featuring Ms. Steinem, the third in the series, shows Kendrick attempting to entertain herself at the Russian Tea Room after she is jilted by her date. She engages in hijinks with her small dog and talks to her purse with a quiet desperation until Ms. Steinem joins her at the table, where they share dessert and the minifilm ends on a giggly and conspiratorial note.

This video is perfectly on-brand for Kate Spade: pop, silly, and cute, yet self-aware. These videos are part of their stellar marketing revamp of the past few years, and snagging Steinem was a great coup, adding a sliver of understated intellectual cool to their young and girly brand identity. Additionally, by choosing an iconic women with her own personal brand for their campaign, they reach an older audience, and benefit from the now tried-and-true model of using older and established women as symbols of aspiration in their marketing campaigns, like Catherine Denuve for Louis Vuitton, Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs cosmetics, Charlotte Rampling for Nars, and the Joan Didion for Céline ad that caused (restrained) shockwaves through the fashion and pop culture communities.

But this label-pairing doesn’t immediately make strategic sense for Steinem: Gloria Steinem fits Kate Spade’s brand, but Kate Spade does not fit Gloria Steinem’s brand. The Ms. Magazine founder would not carry a clutch emblazoned with “Eat Cake For Breakfast,” nor would she wear a thick-striped A-line skirt and a statement necklace, Blair Waldorf headband optional. She would have been a much better fit at the more grown-up J.Crew, or join ranks with Lauren Hutton at The Row. So why, of all the brands who would be panting to have her helm their campaigns, did she choose to endorse Kate Spade, the almost-but-not-quite-witty, easily excitable younger sister of Tory Burch?

Probably not for money, and the argument for feminism is tenuous. Ms. Steinem explains in an interview with Kate Spade that one of the messages of the video is that it’s okay for women to dine alone (but then again, the characters don’t actually end up doing this.)

But perhaps there’s another feminist subtext at work here. Maybe Ms. Steinem’s endorsement of Kate Spade is a message to those of us (the author included) who look down their Karen Walker sunglasses-shod noses at brands like Kate Spade and the women who wear them as not being valid in the fashion world. With this video, Steinem makes the case that dress – and brand – is a feminist issue, and women have the right to wear whatever they choose – black and white being no better or morally upright than pink and green. Will it get Céline devotees to start wearing Kate Spade? No. But it will make them aware of their perhaps-unfounded brand prejudices as well as the feminist politics entwined in the fashion industry. It will, however, spur those who already enthusiastically wear Kate Spade to start reading Steinem, a win-win for both parties.

So let her eat cake (alone) for breakfast. Kate Spade’s Miss Adventure has a right to be taken seriously by fashion community.