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Fashion’s Creative Directors Direct from Home

By Joshua Williams

Dec 4, 2020


When the Covid-19 pandemic hit this spring, many fashion companies had to put their advertising campaigns on hold. It was no longer possible to gather creative teams—directors, photographers, models and crew--together in person, in studio or on site. And so, companies had to get creative quickly.

Would you rather listen to this story? You can hear the full podcast with Laura Lanteri here.

Some brands chose to send new styles from their collection to models and influencers, asking them to be creative and to use what they had at their disposal, hoping for the best. For many brands, this was the first time they had ceded creative control to the model or influencer.

In the end, some of these campaigns, although home-spun, went viral and were very successful. Others didn’t quite hit the mark. Which begs the question, have brands hit on an all-together new marketing strategy? And is this model worth including in future marketing strategies?

Laura Lanteri, creative director and consultant at LLNYC Worldwide, a Global Advertising and Marketing firm based in New York City, says no. She believes this strategy is short-lived and only produces results in terms of metrics, data and social media engagement. She asserts, “In my opinion, a campaign is really successful when it becomes part of the day-to-day conversation, when it becomes part of our cultural landscape. Influencer marketing doesn’t have the power to do that. It all depends on what we decide to focus on: cultural relevance or Instagram likes.”

And yet, with the growth of social media such as Instagram, and the ability and access for just about anyone to create content, a real shift in consumer demand has occurred over the past decade. A shift that places more value on realistic imagery and narrative as opposed to perfection, or at least the illusion of perfection, that the fashion industry has peddled over the past century. It’s an illusion that is very one-sided, stresses Laura. “Fashion has been, for decades now, the gatekeeper and promoter of heavily biased narratives centered around a Euro-centric, white-centric standard of beauty that was never achievable. It was built and designed to be unachievable. That was not perfection, it was racism and discrimination. People are getting tired of being talked down, being critiqued into submission. When they look at fashion, I think they want to see themselves, in a real way. And we are a long way from that.”

The need to balance reality and perfection in a pluralistic society creates a real tension then for brands that want to retain as much control over their positive image as possible, but also want to connect authentically and engage in two-way conversations with their customers. There are certainly examples of brands at both extremes, from Chanel’s unwillingness to even allow customers to use their name on social media, to Marc Jacobs and Burberry who solicit and distribute user-generated content. So,how will fashion brands approach this new strategy, especially when they work so hard to control the brand narrative, and ensure their brand DNA is not denigrated? Laura suggests the question is reframed. “I think customers will ask: What does Chanel have to add to my life now? Why am I investing in this company? What are they doing for me and do they align with my values?”

Laura recalls the famous Meryl Streep monologue about “cerulean blue” in The Devil Wears Prada that describes how fashion insiders dictate fashion trends for the masses. “I love that scene so much, because it encapsulates everything that needs to change in luxury today. The time to talk down to our audience is up. I think it’s time to listen."

In an era driven primarily by cold data, the focus on listening is key for today’s creative director. And it’s then their role to edit and curate that message in a way that makes sense for their brand. “I think creativity and true originality in thinking will be more important than ever. I think it will be crucial to go back to creative roles that are not purely driven by sales forecasts and profit margins, even that is really hard to imagine. The role of the creative director will entail decolonizing the fashion narrative as much as creating a new language.”

She recommends that creative directors look inward, much more than they have in the past, and ask these important questions: “How can we make people feel good about themselves? How can we lift people up? And can we make everybody feel seen and heard?”

And she realizes this will be a difficult and ongoing process--rethinking the foundation of fashion advertising and marketing. “I think we have very interesting times ahead!”