Patrick Demarchelier

Eating My Hat: DressBarn’s Chic Rebranding


Prior the last two months or so, I would have probably gambled my life on DressBarn remaining the most tragic mall staple of all time, incapable of pulling itself out of the mire of frump or breaking the curse of a name that connotes manure and/or unbecoming girth.

But I would have perished, because it has done both, and spectacularly well, in what may be the best executed re-brand in recent memory.

The new strategy was two pronged: to present the brand as real “fashion,” and to acknowledge, with humor, its less-than-chic name and frame it as an asset, not a liability. In their fall ad campaign shot by Patrick Demarchelier (!), Hilary Rhoda wears cocktail dresses designed by the likes of Carmen Marc Valvo and interacts with different farm animals. The accompanying slogans are cheeky acknowledgements that the name is atrocious, like “Don’t Let the Name Fool You” and “Still Hung Up on the Name?,” with some refreshing self-awareness.

The ads are visually arresting, especially the shot in which Rhoda gracefully cozies up to an enormous bull. And the clothes aren’t bad either – her dresses look chic, flattering, and wearable. Rhoda was the perfect model to front this campaign. She’s young and stylish, but has an air of maturity that‘s more in line with the target consumer, and perhaps more importantly, isn’t overexposed (looking at you, Estée Lauder and Topshop). Asking Carmen Marc Valvo to design a capsule collection was another smart move. The target demographic will recognize the name and read it as a stylish but not intimidating choice. Someone like Christian Siriano would be a good choice for next season.

The stroke of rebranding genius is due to a change in marketing management helmed by Lori Wagner, who has previously worked for J. Crew, Nike, Talbots, and more. Apparently, she and her team had considered changing the company’s name, but I think their decision to keep and re-situate it in the minds of consumers was the better choice. People love a heritage story, especially coupled with an underdog element. Other mall staples should take note, especially the floundering Gap, and the identity-less New York & Co. and The Limited.

Will cutting-edge fashion lovers start shopping at DressBarn? No. But a lot of women will. And the ad got me, formerly a vociferous detractor, to visit the company website, which is a big step in itself. I look forward to seeing what Wagner does next, even if I won’t be among the consumers.