I've always thought that ad agencies have an interesting relationship with fashion brands. Pure fashion advertising is very single-minded and focused (I might do a post on that separately some time), they tend to get on perfectly well without advertising agencies, thankyouverymuch.
I think where you get that crossover point between fashion products and more mass-market or retail, like Clarks, Gap, Diesel maybe, M&S and French Connection it's an interesting place. That where ad agencies get involved - and they sometimes have a tendency to treat these like any other product that they advertise. They're desperate to put an addy idea into them. I don't really like terms like addy, so let me try to explain what I mean. I think they try to put a layer of idea or execution over the top of the product, something that seems to try hard to be clever. Agencies try to do that too much anyway - often what they think is an advertising idea is just a layer of complication that gets in the way rather than helps.
But fashion is a different business again, and finding the balance between a strong, consistent mass-market idea but that feels like it's still in fashion is hard thing to do. What people want from fashion is a mix of things, but basically very simple and very human - ultimately they want to look good, in order to feel good, they want to feel like they're wearing stylish clothes that are right for them. They also want something to aspire to, it's a cliche, but they want to feel better about themselves through the clothes that they wear. Its the age old thing of wanting to be more like or be with the man or woman in the ad.
I think that the new French Connection campaign walks this difficult line outstandingly well. It portrays classic masculine and feminine characters in the way that fashion advertising often tries to do, but it instantly subverts them with a perfectly executed wry knowingness and just the right amount of self-mocking. It has humour and self-awareness that's missing from most fashion advertising. There is so much about it that's well done - a great tone of voice that you can read, as well as hear, lovely style and production values (and let's not underestimate the guts it would have taken someone somewhere to go completely with black & white). The pace of the film/TV/video stuff is lovely and relaxed.
I'm going to reserve my most embarrassingly fulsome praise for three things - the casting/characterization, the writing, and the embracing of the product. The casting of the man is outstanding, bold and excellent, he's the man that blokes want to be; strong, individual, confident, but he's not afraid to be silly - doesn't take himself seriously - and he's not too clean cut. The character of Woman is feminine, young, and is portrayed with that confidence slash innocence slash utter utter disdain that the strongest female movie characters have.
The writing has a strong tone-of-voice, I saw the print ads first and couldn't help but have in my mind the kind of voice that then turned out to be on the film stuff, credit to the typography and art direction for that, too. In the film-based stuff it walks a perfect line between celebrating and taking the piss out of these perfect masculine and feminine characters, it's a bit like classic fashion advertising on a weird mix of uppers and downers. And there are some well-observed little human truths in there. Occasionally it slips into the odd little 'allo 'allo moment, but quickly recovers.
And thankfully, the product is celebrated and integral to everything. Praise the lord.
It may get some criticism from your typical ad-crowd along the lines of 'where's the idea?' in that lame sort of way, or because it's not in-your-face. But fuck 'em I say. This is classic creativity. Doing its job very well, but not overdoing it. It's such a difficult thing to get right. It's probably the piece of Fallon UK work that I most envy. And a great piece of mass-fashion advertising.
Perfectly-styled hats-off to all involved.