Design houses use celebrity models to woo female customers

It must be all those boxing classes. Suddenly, everyone in fashion is throwing punches. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are squaring off in court over the similarities between their perfume bottles, but entertainment fans may want to monitor the hissing contest between archrival design houses Anne Klein and Emanuel. This fall, both companies are using celebs you wouldn’t normally associate with fashion ads—like Emmy winner Gillian Anderson and action star Michelle Yeoh—to woo female customers to their mid-priced clothing lines. Below, the tale of this star-studded measuring tape.


THE CAMPAIGN Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Klein’s fall-fashion ads include not only Yeoh but also the original Lilith, Bebe Neuwirth, singer Reba McEntire, WNBA athlete Lisa Leslie, Elektra record exec Sylvia Rhone, and 25 other celebrated sisters.

THE MESSAGE Get real. Unlike half-starved supermodels, these female professionals were chosen for their accomplishments, not necessarily their looks, and shot in no-nonsense poses. “The actresses,” explains Laura Wenke, senior vice president of marketing and communications, “are as much working women as those of us who go to the office every day.”

BOTTOM LINE The company, which survived and even thrived after the death of Klein in 1974, fell on hard times after designers like Richard Tyler were hired and fired and sales fell. But Women’s Wear Daily‘s Patrick McCarthy thinks Klein’s back: “The company is rejuvenating its image. [These ads] tell the fashion world they are a serious contender again.”

HOLLYWOOD’S VERDICT “I always pictured it as a woman-going- to-the-office look,” says Yeoh. “But I found the clothes worked for me, too.” Adds Madeline director Daisy von Scherler Mayer: “When I was there it seemed silly. I was primping with [ex-governor] Ann Richards. But the ad is powerful.”


THE CAMPAIGN On the heels of glossy ads featuring Ashley Judd, Kyra Sedgwick, Heather Graham, and Julianna Margulies, here comes a new one with Anderson that gives the sometimes icy-looking X-Files actress a refreshing warmth and vulnerability.

THE MESSAGE Get real, yes—but not too real. Again, this campaign has no models, opting instead for actresses like the down-to-earth Margulies who project accessibility. But once Emanuel casts ’em, it doesn’t hold back on making the actresses look AGAP (as gorgeous as possible). “People want real,” says senior VP Pat Beh Werblin. “But they still want a bit of fantasy, too.”

BOTTOM LINE Emanuel zoomed from just $18 million in sales in its first year, 1991, to $160 million last year, thanks in part to the support of disaffected Anne Klein customers. But after years of double-digit growth, its sales have recently slowed. In late 1996, its super-savvy top design team, Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco, defected to…Anne Klein.

HOLLYWOOD’S VERDICT The white suit sported by Margulies in her spring ads was a home run: It lured Los Angeles socialite Lilly Tartikoff away from the high-end designer section of her local department store. “Tartikoff loved that suit,” says Werblin. “She said, ‘I’ve never shopped on that floor before.'”