Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Case for the Model

Yep, that's the new ad campaign for the D&G Perfume Anthology, and the short version is running on Philippine television. Using "Freedom '90" as a soundtrack only makes this ad sweeter.


I'm not gonna lie to you: I've been following the brewing crapstorm at Chuvaness over the use of foreign celebrities and models by the Filipino clothing brand Kamiseta. On the one hand, I get why a lot of folks are confused about a Filipino brand spending scads of money on New York shoots with top global celebrities, including current Kamiseta endorser Natalia Vodianova; it brings up all the unspoken anger about race and colonial mentality. Yes, it would be nice to have a Filipino brand using Filipino models as part of a global push. Yes, it would be nice to use Filipino talent behind the camera. Yes, it would be nice if the clothes themselves were, well, nicer.

But you know what? It is a global market - and whether you like it or not, "nice" doesn't cut it in a global market that demands more from every brand, even the established ones. We can argue till the cows come home about what Kamiseta could've done differently, but it's still not going to change the fact - as Cecile put it quite succinctly - that the final decision comes from the brand itself.

I'll also be blunt here: If the ad agency for Kamiseta only wanted a foreign face for their clothes, it would've been so, so easy to pluck out an expat kid or two out of nowhere, hook 'em up with a stylist, and let things go from there. As a former international-school kid, I've seen how these things work... not first hand, mind you, but I've lived in the Philippines long enough during the '80s and '90s to see how a well-orchestrated ad campaign can turn, say, that baggy-pantsed jock in your Algebra class into an Armani-clad "businessman" toting the benefits of coffee creamer, or a gawky 8th grader into a super-cool skater boy promoting boxed juice to Filipino kids. Nowadays, the Philippines is a different market for foreign models, and the influx of (affordable) new talent from South America and Eastern Europe has made Caucasian-featured models more easily available to local advertising agencies.

So what does a Filipino brand have to do to stand out in a global market like the one we have now? Easy: Skip the regular models and go for the big guns. San Miguel Beer has already blazed trails in the last three years by pairing Manny Pacquiao with Erik Morales and Jet Li (and note to San Mig: I can has Ricky Hatton commercial plz?), and Bench has started making inroads into the greater Asian market with ad campaigns featuring Jerry Yan of F4.

Kamiseta isn't even the first Filipino fashion retailer to use a non-Asian (read: white) global celebrity, either; for that, you need to go way back to Mandy Moore's earlier ad campaigns for Penshoppe.

(Screencap taken from MandyMoore.org)

Compare Mandy's ads for Penshoppe to the Kamiseta campaigns with the likes of Petra Nemcova, Alicia Silverstone, and Kate Hudson. Notice the quality of the photography, the poses, the whole feel... then tell me if all the money Kamiseta poured into getting all those big-ticket models and stylists have not paid off handsomely.

Personally, I think that Kamiseta's taking a big risk by following the Mango playbook of featuring models outside of their nationality (see also: MNG's campaigns with Karolina Kurkova and Milla Jovovich); it's a way of establishing brand-name association, in terms of both product quality and mystique. I wouldn't be surprised if this risk pays off so well that Kamiseta ends up breaking into the major fashion markets in Japan, Europe, or even the USA... but until then, all this debate has done is make Kamiseta even more buzz-worthy, and might even make the bottom line more profitable for the company.


And while we're on the subject of putting the Philippines squarely on the fashion map, I have a bold proposition to make here.

You know how Target gets people like Devi Kroell and Alexander McQueen to design stuff for their stores? Or how Payless usually gets a line from, say, Abaete or Lela Rose?

...Okay, so we already got a Pinoy designer into Target already, and that would be our boy Rafe Totengco. (Side note: Those bags that Rah-FAY just did for Tar-JAY? Lurve.) But stick with me here: What about a global designer collaborating with a Filipino retail brand?

You say it's been done before? Sure - Lesley Mobo (a UK-based Pinoy, as a matter of fact) just did a very cute lingerie (and, um, boxer/brief) line for Bench, which I adore. And the Mobo for Bench line, come to think of it, is the best example of what I have in mind for a major collaboration anyway: not too high-falutin' that it's out of reach, but not too far down the bracket that the quality might come into question.

Try to picture this: Monique Lhuillier designing limited-edition capsule lines for Rustan's, featuring resort-inspired clothes and/or linens that capture the old-meets-new vibe of her native Cebu. Or Rafe Totengco going back to his old retail roots by designing an affordable (leather!) line of shoes and bags for SM. And, since we've already made such a big deal about Steve Aoki helping to establish a hipster boutique in Manila, let's start bringing in more boldface names in here too... Gwen Stefani working with Cinderella, perhaps? Or a cross-collab between Tracy Feith and Kamiseta? Or Mossimo serving as a creative consultant for Bench?

Wild, I know. But if I can only dream, why not go all-out and start dreaming big, right? The only thing more scandalous than all of this is not pushing the envelope far enough.

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