By  on June 20, 2007

With print ads featuring a diverse array of couples and children photographed by Oliviero Toscani, Italian fashion brand Rare Clothing took one of eight Images in Advertising awards at the third annual event staged by Commercial Closet, a gay marketing advocacy group.

Two Rare Clothing ads appearing in international gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender print media — "Couples With Children" and "Two Men and a Baby Carriage" — were noteworthy for their inclusiveness and their overt suggestion of the subjects' sexual orientation, an unusual pose for a fashion brand to strike, said Michael Wilke, executive director at Commercial Closet.

"Rare stands out because it is not ambiguous," Wilke said. "Fashion does prefer the ambiguous over the overt."

Indeed, most of the sector's ads nominated for outstanding mainstream print (Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Marc Jacobs) and outstanding lesbian portrait (BCBG, Dolce & Gabbana, D&G, Gucci), portrayed images in which the characters' orientation was less apparent. Fashion ads pointing more strongly to a gay male or lesbian orientation were Marc Jacobs' "Bear," which shows two men embracing on a bear rug in the woods, and Dolce & Gabbana's campaign featuring women together in provocative poses in haystacks.

The five fashion companies in the running were one more than the four entered for each of the first two years of the Images in Advertising honors from the nonprofit group, which seeks to educate and influence businesses to include and understand GLBT references in ads.

The most notable advertising intended for GLBT consumers in the past year has focused on a sense of inclusiveness, rather than on being surprising or entertaining, Wilke said. A case in point is Rare's "Couples With Children" ad, which shows gay and heterosexual couples kissing in the presence of two children. The effect, in Wilke's view, is to show "equality" and "the integration of kids into gay and lesbian society."

"A real intention to start paying more attention to a women's audience" was noted by Bob Witeck, a Commercial Closet board member and chief executive officer of Witeck-Combs, a gay marketing specialist. "Women's images were included in two of the eight categories," he added, referring to ads such as those for Rare Clothing and Dolce & Gabbana.At the same time, Wilke said, "we've reached a saturation point [in demand] for a gay twist for a character or TV show — the novelty has worn off — and advertising is catching up. Consistently, advertising lags entertainment in images." The "2006 Gay Press Report," published this month by Rivendell Media and Prime Access, found 48.6 percent of the 30,654 ads that ran in 213 non-sexually explicit gay print media featured gay-specific content in their art or messages, down from 50.3 percent in 2005.

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