LOS ANGELES — Move over Hollywood. Seventh Avenue is invading the Sunset Strip.

Those hulking billboards perched overlooking Sunset Boulevard — long the domain of the latest Hollywood blockbuster — are becoming a lot more fashionable these days. Squeezed in amidst the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones are names such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Guess.

It started about 18 months ago, when Guess launched its Drew Barrymore campaign and Donna Karan hit with DKNY. Since then, Marky Mark and Kate Moss have dropped their Calvins and Barneys New York has attacked with a series of five billboards in a row to announce its Beverly Hills debut. Even Giorgio Armani plans to enter the fray April 1 when his Emporio division launches its first Sunset Boulevard billboard in front of Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s celebrity-packed eaterie.

Hollywood still dominates the Strip — some stars even have their own billboards written into their contracts — but fashion has been making headway.

Fashion ranks right behind movies and is tied with books for billboard frequency, said Robbynn Lystrup, vice president and sales service manager for Gannett Outdoor, which has 20 billboards along the strip. “We call Sunset the prime time of outdoor,” Lystrup said. “You reach all the yuppies and influential people — all those people going to the restaurants and the trendy shops. And today, the billboards themselves have become a tourist thing. You go to see the Marlboro cowboy, if nothing else.”

Guess has maintained the highest profile on the strip, which covers Sunset Boulevard much of its way through West Hollywood between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. With three billboards — one each near Spago, Le Dome restaurant and the Beverly Hills border — sources said Guess spends $500,000 a year just on Sunset Strip billboards.”With this portion of Sunset Boulevard, all the clubs and restaurants and video stores are frequented by an especially young crowd,” said Paul Marciano, president and advertising director of Guess Inc. “That’s why you have fashion concentrated on the few blocks from Doheny to Le Dome.”

In addition to Sunset, Guess also has a billboard a few blocks away on trendy Melrose Avenue, which attracts an even younger crowd. Marciano, who will launch the first San Francisco Guess billboards in two months, said the Sunset billboards are effective and affordable when compared to magazine campaigns.

“It’s less expensive to do a billboard than to do even just half a page in a magazine,” Marciano said.

The costs for a billboard on Sunset ranges from $7,000 to $14,000 per month. At Gannett Outdoor, which is placing the Emporio Armani billboard, rates are $10,550 for one month to put completed art on a board or $12,750 for one month if Gannett paints the board.

Calvin Klein has leased a billboard at the beginning of the Strip near the Chateau Marmont and the Marlboro cowboy. Sources said the firm has paid more than $50,000 for the first year to feature all its products except the Calvin Klein Collection.

Neil Kraft, senior vice president and creative director, said he personally drove up and down Sunset Boulevard looking for the right spot.

“We think the most important street to be on in Los Angeles is Sunset Boulevard,” Kraft said. “We know that very important people in Los Angeles, and people in the movie industry, drive up and down Sunset Boulevard.”

Patti Cohen, vice president of public relations at The Donna Karan Co., said the designer opted for a permanent billboard on Sunset near San Vicente Boulevard soon after DKNY bowed.

“Collection was the woman in the limousine looking out,” she said. “DKNY was the other side out on the street, and this advertising is right out there.”

Price Devatzian, media director for Los Angeles-based No Comment advertising, has steered local clients such as Francine Browner and YES Clothing Co. to the Sunset Strip because of prestige and the ability to position smaller companies near Klein and Karan, which are known to have strong national campaigns.

“It is also perceived as the place where new campaigns are launched,” she said.

No one, however, has outdone Barneys New York, which spent more than $50,000 for five billboards this month alone to announce the opening of its Wilshire Boulevard store. The billboards feature illustrated vignettes with funny phrases and a Barneys New York tagline. Ronnie Cooke, creative director for Barneys, said the billboard campaign was a natural for a city built on car culture. “We personally got excited when we got to L.A. and looked at the force of the billboards,” Cooke said. “It was like looking up at dinosaurs in the sky. We thought five boards one after the other would really have the impact that we needed. You’d be driving along and would say, ‘What is this?”

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