Branding

Report Card: F/W ’17 Ad Campaigns

1201454.jpgRaf Simons’s first Calvin Klein ad is a perfect mission statement for a new era.

This season’s spate of advertisements is, largely, absolutely fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, I went back and forth about including an exclamation point in this paragraph, but decided not to deploy one for reasons of self respect. The quality label-ambassador pairings we see this season perhaps reflect a deep thoughtfulness about brand identity in a time of industry upheaval—communicating a brand’s meaning is more important than ever when designers are playing musical chairs and consumers are saturated with digital media. Here are some of the high achievers.

Jude Law for Prada

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I love this. I love this so much that I would wallpaper my apartment with it, regardless of my deeply held opinion that Jude Law is the platonic ideal of human beauty. This minimal shoot by Willy Vanderperre nails the essence of Prada: practical, intellectual, and offbeat. Law lounges contemplatively amongst sand dunes in an array of unfussy and tailored shirts, pants, and even sandals (my rule about men in sandals—that it should never, ever occur unless one is an Olympic swimmer or any other type of water sports professional— is null and void when it comes to Prada, they of ugly-chic splendor). Law, despite actually being the most handsome man in the world, is the perfect choice for Prada, as both actor and brand are at interesting stages of their lives.

Law, now in his mid-40s, is taking a variety of unusual and supporting roles, rather than the typical leading man parts, including in Anna Karenena, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Genius. At his Times Talk last June, he spoke to this shift as being both more natural than calculated and that collaborating with interesting directors is his main criterion when considering roles. So too, is Prada at a moment of transition. No longer the ‘it’ brand of the moment, Prada is reconnoitering the rapidly-evolving fashion landscape quietly, and perhaps in a reactionary way. Miuccia is carefully observing and pointedly not participating in the conversation around the turbulence of the designer revolving door, see-now-buy-now, and co-ed clothes, which, in a way, is reflective as the label’s status as a true luxury brand — not having to cater or pander to anyone or any trend in particular. She continues to produce quiet, sophisticated, and interesting clothing, almost as if to please herself. She will make large changes to brand strategy when she’s good and ready, but not before a great deal of consideration.

This collaboration is sublime; an alignment of artistic renaissances. and making old favorites current ones.

Grade: A

Charlotte Rampling for Loewe

This is a magnificent pairing — the most unusual and enigmatic actress of the twentieth century posing for Loewe, a recently-revived Spanish luxury label helmed by wunderkind Northern Irish Jonathan Anderson, known for his interesting silhouettes, proportion play, and gender-bending designs. Anderson is himself somewhat inscrutable, and his designs mercurial — some more intellectual, others more commercial — and entirely avoidant of the celebrity PR circuit — one rarely seen his clothes on a red carpet, and when one does, they’re on fellow sublime weirdo Tilda Swinton. Rampling, exceedingly private and dismissive of Hollywood, is the perfect face for the brand; a real meeting of the minds between designer and muse. I only wish this Jamie Hawkesworth-shot series was more visually engaging, and more suggestive of a narrative — a more fleshed-out setting would do the trick. The dark palette, too, makes it easy to visually skip over if one doesn’t have Rampling radar. Perfect casting, unremarkable execution.

Grade: B+

Art for Calvin Klein

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Raf Simons loves contemporary art. As demonstrated in the excellent yet ungrammatically titled documentary Dior and I, he frequently visits museums and galleries in search of inspiration, and has both collaborated with and referenced the artist Sterling Ruby while at Dior, and in his eponymous menswear line. I was curious to see what the first Calvin Klein ads would look like under Raf — he’s not one for cozying up to celebrities in his personal life or casting them in ads unless contractually obligated, yet Calvin Klein is, historically, a celebrity-driven brand, particularly in its advertising.

Instead of famous people, Simons cannily casts art by Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, and his bff Sterling Ruby in starring roles in the Willy Vandeperre-shot campaign, letting the paintings and their artists take center stage. Still, he plays with Calvin Klein tropes of denim, underwear, and young couples, giving them subtle, modern updates; the result is a little cleaner and a little more European. With the fun and accessible choices of art and the classic branding motifs, Raf acknowledges the label’s pop-cultural roots, but reframes them in a restrained way that is much more ‘him.’ This is a great first ad campaign under the new rule. I am so excited to see what’s to come, and how art will factor in in both the clothing and the advertising. Basically I hope this becomes an empire of Jil Sander.

Grade: A+

 

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State of the Art: Burberry’s Post-Brexit Guild-ed Age

burberry-fw16Is Burberry making a conservative political statement with its latest campaign?

Fall collections (spring collections? What are we calling them now? In any case: clothes shown in September) are always a bit more academic than their spring counterparts. Labels love to embrace the the back-to-school conceit: warm layers, crisp fall days of paging through course descriptions, and cozy autumn nights spent pouring over books in a university library in front of a roaring fire with the brilliant but troubled heir to England’s most storied dukedom.

Oh, just me?

Anyway, this year’s back-to-school fashion has pulled at interesting art-historical and art-philosophical threads, spawning interesting conversations about fashion as art, art in advertising, and artistic quotations — or appropriations — in apparel. This will be the first post in a three-part series unpacking these conversations, and what they mean for luxury strategy in a time of great industry upheaval. Take notes!

Burberry & The Makers

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No, not a tribute band to the criminally underrated Reverend and the Makers, but the overarching theme of Burberry’s Fall 2016 strategy.

Following the Romantic, ruff-tastic September runway show, the label put on a pop-up exhibition in London called Maker’s House, where visitors could explore activities corresponding to crafts involved in the process of creating a Burberry garment or accessory, such as embroidery, engraving, and metalworking; or chat with a Burberry archivist about the brand’s history of craftsmanship (archivists: CALL ME). Guests could also interact with other artistic activities either tangentially connected with or theoretically adjacent to fashion, including drama, bookbinding, portrait painting, screenprinting, and calligraphy. I separate the categories here, but they were all presented side-by-side in a holistic way, treating all of the arts categories as relevant to the fashion-making process, but with a heavy emphasis on “making,” particularly of a physical product with one’s hands.

The subsequent ad campaign, a huge step up from last season’s tween-ish, Snappchatty-misstep, similarly reflects the process of creating heritage fashion, featuring either a sketch of the accessory or outfit, or an image of a craftsman opposite the finished product.

Burberry’s Maker’s House, while feeling a little too earnest for my taste and too ready to deploy my least favorite word, artisan, is both a safe yet unadventurous strategy for a post-Brexit Burberry, and an interesting plot point on the fashion-as-art chart.

Maker’s House exhibition explicitly situates fashion, specifically its technical side, squarely within the fine arts spectrum, almost like a guild-ish, specialty trade very specific to Britain. This is a great way to sell products to a discerning audience that values craftsmanship, but of all the rich and romantic cultural and historical connotations of Britishness, craftsmanship is not an especially glamorous tack to take. In fact, it’s the kind of traditionalism embodied by the Leave vote.

Now, I wouldn’t be so indelicate as to implicate anyone in the fashion community as being anything but the most ardent Remainers, but strategically, Maker’s House, despite its celebrity visitors and fun PR opportunity, is a very conservative concept. With this exhibition, Burberry has aligned its luxury fashion production with humble tradesmen, celebrating tradition, individualism, and manus over machina as their definition of Britishness post-Brexit. I would have expected a more cosmopolitan response from Christopher Bailey, something like a YBA collaboration, a campaign starring Zadie Smith and Zayn instead of Edie Campbell, AGAIN, or a zeitgeist-y celebration of Cool Brittania, with the Moss, Gallagher, Beckham, and Law kids as a response to what Britishness means now, and not, as one reader has put it, a return to the Shire. I think Maker’s House should have been more of a celebration of fashion as a visual, experiential, and performative art, and slotted fashion alongside the more analogous (and glamorous) British traditions of music, painting, literature, and drama, rather than a manual craft. But then again, this might be a London or England-centric point of view. However, I think it’s essential for Burberry to keep its cool edge, and not fall into a Mulberry slump, or worse, become a leather-goods-only bore or a suburban joke. Coach, I’m looking at you. Don’t you. Even. Think. About. It.

The weak pound might actually give Burberry some room to play and embrace a more cosmopolitan narrative of Britishness in upcoming seasons. Although their shares are down and the luxury market is having a difficult year, Burberry has been doing relatively well in the home market, thanks to tourists flocking in to shop. Not well enough to counteract the overall luxury slump, since 85% of their sales are made outside of Britain, but much better than expected.

A double down on their uniquely British identity post-Brexit was exactly the right tactic for Burberry to take in this first season after the political shake-up, but they chose the wrong strand of British creative arts to celebrate and with which to associate the brand – the technical crafts rather than the visual arts. With all the romantic, rich cultural and historical cache from which to draw surrounding what it means to be British today, Burberry played it too safe in placing their craftsmanship heritage above a more interesting and consumer-friendly facets of the brand, like their long investigation of British rock & roll, celebrity ambassador opportunities, and, simply, really interesting, fashion-forward pieces that could make a killing if they hit Instagram Gucci-style.

I’m hoping Burberry changes direction for their always-great holiday campaign, where they can really have fun and hit heavy with star power. All I am saying is that it BETTER star Millie Bobby Brown, Tracy Emin, and Harry Styles or I’m going to have to up my dosage of antidepressants.

 

 

The Dos and Don’ts of Branding with a Deceased Celebrity

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The recently-launched Natalie Wood fragrance

 

Celebrity fragrances are an incredibly weird concept in the first place. Of all the things for a famous person to sell to fans, why  a fragrance? Everyone can wear a t-shirt or use accessories like a phone case or a wristband, but scent preferences are extremely personal – not everyone is going to like the scent you’re shilling.

I suppose it’s a more upmarket, “sophisticated” product, and even intimate way for plebs, especially young ones, to connect to their favorite celebrity. I get it for pop stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Satan, and One Direction*, who have very specific personal brands and hoards of young followers who want a piece of their favorite singer (*might I request a 1D fragrance this upcoming holiday season?). But why do B-ish list actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Hallie Berry have fragrances? My research even confirms that Bruce Willis has a fragrance. These actors probably have a handful of super fans, but besides those weirdos, who buys these fragrances? It is so comically weird and superbly absurd it truly puts me at a loss for words.

So imagine my out of body disbelief when I discovered this week that Natalie Wood’s daughter is launching a fragrance inspired by the late actress.

Sure, I like Natalie Wood as a consumer of mid-century Hollywood glamour and as someone unhealthily interested in true crime. I don’t however, think of her as a beauty or cosmetics icon, but maybe could be persuaded to make that leap with a strategically-marketed product. But that’s not the case with her fragrance, and there’s a larger problem at hand: she’s, well, dead, and under suspicious circumstances. I don’t want something as intimate and personal as a perfume to be a blend of a watery grave with hints of Christopher Walken, and framed by some rich top notes of Du Maurier. And it’s not as if Wood lovingly created the fragrance herself whilst alive – it’s simply “inspired” by her favorite fragrance with her name and image licensed to it. It’s supposed to be glamorous and slightly maudlin and the next White Diamonds, but I just find it creepy and inauthentic. Let’s take it a step further: would you buy a Sharon Tate brand fragrance? I didn’t think so – the negative connotations are too strong.

Now, if Luca Dotti licensed his mother, Audrey Hepburn’s, image to a fragrance, it would be less odd because Hepburn was more of a mainstream celebrity upon whom so much aspirational projection is made, and whose death was only the most minor footnote to her legacy. It would still seem a little garish and profit-driven, but not cloaked in the macabre. Dotti, smartly, has released a cookbook of Hepburn’s favorite recipes and a photography book of rare photos of his mother during the years she lived in Rome, both of which, incidentally, are on my Amazon wish list. This is the way to honor a deceased celebrity parent – it is tasteful, personal, and restrained. Wagner girls, take note.

But there are other ways to successfully market a deceased celebrity – even one who met an untimely end – without any elements of eeriness.

MAC is launching a highly-anticipated limited edition Selena Quintanilla cosmetics line in October 2016, in collaboration with the late singer’s sister. Superstar Texan-born singer Quintanilla, as you will know, was murdered in 1995, but remains one of the foremost Latin music and beauty icons. People are going berserk over this cosmetics line and desperately trying to preorder any pieces they can, presaging what is sure to be a sell-out debut.

The Selena range, which is tightly comprised of three lipsticks, a handful of eye shadows, a liner, a mascara, and a blush-bronzer duo, isn’t weird at all. It’s an exciting, well-deserved mainstream celebration of her legacy. This is because of the authoritative partnership with MAC and the exclusive feel of the limited-edition run. Having an established beauty brand back a celebrity product gives the entire venture a feeling of expertise and legitimacy – it’s not just a famous name flapping in the breeze by itself. The presentation of the products also helps banish any feeling of creepiness. No soft-edged black and white photos here – the range is photographed and packaged in glorious technicolor with a slick logo and bright purple casings. It’s fun, youthful, and celebratory in a way that only makes a consumer think of the singer’s life and art, and not her tragic demise.

If the Natalie Wood perfume had been presented as a special collaboration with a cosmetics brand like Estée Lauder, it would loose all connotations of creepiness, and instead take on a must-have, glamorous quality (and likely be resold for three digit figures on Ebay.) The importance of a legitimating partnership with a global beauty brand is absolutely paramount to the success of such a product, and scarcity the best way to create a fan frenzy. Perhaps the Misses Aniston and Berry should note this in the event they try to launch follow-up fragrances. Mr. Willis, however, might want to just cease and desist.

Now that we know the rules, here are a few dream collaborations:
— Nars x Marlene Dietrich
— Nars x David Bowie
— Nars x Hitchcock Heroines
— Anistasia x Vivien Liegh
— Estée Lauder x Princess Diana
— Estée Lauder x Grace Kelly