By  on June 10, 1994

MILAN -- Gianni Cigna, Laura Biagiotti's husband and chairman of their fashion company, Laura Biagiotti Export, is fuming. The reason for his rage is an article published by Advertising Age International last month that criticizes Biagiotti's TV spot promoting its men's fragrance, Roma Uomo, for being dangerously laden with fascist imagery.

"We are filing suit to ask for damages," said Cigna, noting that the fallout from the article, which was picked up by several Italian newspapers and a national TV station, is having a negative impact on Biagiotti's image.

"It is unthinkable that a designer such as Laura Biagiotti, who is among the top 10 designers in Italy, who has never had a formal political affiliation, would create a fascist message," Cigna said. He added that the article, written by columnist Bob Garfield, is even more disturbing coming at a time when Italy's swing to the right -- with the election of a coalition that includes members of the neo-fascist MSI party led by TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi -- has created a furor in Europe and the U.S.

The spot, which was produced by The Chelsea Partnership in London through the Grey advertising group (Grey has the Proctor & Gamble account, and Proctor & Gamble distributes the Biagiotti fragrances), features a young man dressed in a white shirt, driving a Spider convertible around the streets of Rome toward the Coliseum. A crowd of spectators chants "Roma! Roma!" A beautiful woman emerges from between the columns of the Coliseum as the crowd keeps chanting. Suddenly she is enveloped in a billowing white sheet. The young man grabs a hatchet and starts slashing at the sheet until he finally frees the woman as the voiceover comes on: "The eternal power of man. Laura Biagiotti Roma eau de toilette for men."

In the article, entitled "Arriverderci, Roma ad: Beware fascist overtones," Garfield suggests that the chanting crowd could be shouting "Il Duce," instead of "Roma! Roma!"

"Call me oversensitive, but when I see a stadium full of Italians extending their arms in a ritual salute...I think fascist rally. I think brown shirts and black hearts," Garfield wrote."That's ridiculous," shot back Cigna. "Is that what he's going to see next Saturday at Giants Stadium when there will be thousands of Italians cheering for the Italy-Ireland game? This guy is crazy."

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