Is fashion advertising vapid and pretentious or do we not get it?
March 15, 2010
In honor of the recent passing of Fashion Week and, with it, designer Alexander McQueen, who recently committed suicide in his London flat, I thought a story about fashion advertising would be appropriate.
By definition fashion is advertising. But not the kind you and I specialize in. Uncut and undiluted by narratives, fashion advertising projects the creativity of the fashion designer or the “House” from which it originates: Gucci, Prada, Channel, Dior. For the most part these iconic brands eschew advertising campaigns in the ad agency sense of the word, preferring projection to conception. It is the line that matters and by that I don’t mean theme line. Fashion advertising seldom resorts to anything as parochial as tag lines. Or copy. That would be so uncool.
I’m not being condescending –not completely- when I say fashion campaigns are nothing short of pornography. And like good porn, it is usually quite frank. No need to fast forward through storylines to get to the good parts. The entertainment is the product, be it bags, glasses, or eveningwear. “Shut up and show us your… handbags!”
To be honest, this has always frustrated me. As a copywriter I loathed fashion’s indifference to my craft. Where was the story? What’s the big idea? I disdained these glossy ads for their obsession with obsession. At the same time, I envied their big budget bravado.
Still, it is not lost on me that fashion advertising is almost single-handedly keeping many of my favorite magazines afloat. Where would Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire be without all that lavish advertising? And for every man’s magazine relying upon fashion advertisements there are dozens of female-oriented publications that are literally devoted to such “window dressing.” Can you say Vogue?
Ironic then, of the hundred or so print campaigns I judged at the Magazine Publishers of America/ Kelly Awards I’d guess less than five belonged to fashion. The closest candidate was the joyous holiday work from the Gap. Yes, the Gap. It seems only mainstream “houses” attended the print mediums most prestigious festival. Here we also found the latest iconic red and white campaign from Target. (Not at the Kellys, other examples of mainstream brands playing in ad land’s sandbox: Dockers “Wear the Pants,” Levis “Go Forth,” and CP&B’s irreverent use of mannequins for Old Navy.)
But where was Gucci, Prada and Ralph Lauren? And what about that striking campaign from Louis Vuitton? Arguably more of a showcase for celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz, is it not still a commanding use of print? Of course it is. But in the fashion sense. And I’m afraid fashion sets its own criteria for what works and what doesn’t. Our notions of good print advertising falls into the latter category.