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April 12, 2010
Is Fashion Advertising Always Vapid and Pretentious?

“Dahling, you just don’t get it.”

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, or 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 taglines. Or copy. That would be so uncool.

I’m not being condescending -- not completely -- when I say fashion campaigns are nothing short of pornography. 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. 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?

For every man’s magazine relying upon fashion advertisements, dozens of female-oriented publications are literally devoted to such window dressing. Can you say Vogue?

It's ironic then, of the hundred or so print campaigns I judged at the Magazine Publishers of America/ Kelly Awards, I’d guess less that 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 Old Navy's irreverent use of mannequins.)

Where was Gucci, Prada, and Ralph Lauren? 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. 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.



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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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