Laird, a native Texan, ventured to New York with the desire to work in advertising, but he had no idea he would become a force in the fashion industry. He’s the creative mind behind countless advertising campaigns that have been part of America’s cultural fabric since the late Nineties. They include DKNY’s campaign featuring models standing on taxicabs, a slew of Gap ads featuring Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna, Tommy Hilfiger’s “Meet the Hilfigers” campaign and Lady Gaga’s video for Tom Ford’s spring 2016 collection.
But the glossy, expensive world of celebrities and fashion wasn’t something he set out for when he left for the Big Apple. Laird got his start at Arnell/Bickford Associates, where he was put on the Donna Karan account.
“I didn’t plan on working in fashion advertising,” he said in a slight Southern accent. “It put me on a path.”
After several years at Arnell, Laird was hired by Donna Karan International to be the company’s executive vice president and corporate director. He held that role from 1993 through 2002 and he helped establish an in-house creative agency to handle all marketing, advertising, media, packaging, store design, visual display and branding for Donna Karan and its worldwide licensees. During that time, he won numerous advertising and graphic design awards, including five Clio Image awards, a nomination for the VH1 Fashion Award for Best Advertising and three FiFi awards for best Fragrance Advertising.
“At one point, I decided I wanted to go to the next level, and I started my own agency in 2002,” he said, explaining that Karan was “supportive” and came on as a client. He signed Gap, which, at the time was led by chief executive officer Millard “Mickey” Drexler, whom Laird calls “a mentor.”
Laird launched Laird + Partners with just two clients — Gap and Donna Karan — but the founder, chief executive and chief creative officer made the most of his small roster.
During that time, Gap was a “force,” said Laird, who was responsible for the brand’s creative work. He recounted the Audrey Hepburn ads, which used vintage footage of the actress, as well as 2003 campaign featuring Madonna and Missy Elliot, and a year later, Sarah Jessica Parker.
But Laird’s “defining” work would come in 2010 in the form of a five-year campaign for Tommy Hilfiger. “We were brought on board to give Tommy’s marketing and messaging a fresh approach,” he said. “We had to think of concepts. There’s something about that idea of family because Tommy himself has quite an extended family.”
The quirky campaign introduced Hilfiger’s “family” and their various styles, which Laird said embodied the consumer’s desire for “consistency” in the fast-paced, and somewhat mercurial world of fashion.
“Tommy coined it ‘classics with a twist,'” Laird said of both the Hilfiger brand and his ad campaign. “Now we’re on to our own chapter with Gigi [Hadid] for the brand.”
In addition to Hilfiger, Laird is currently working on campaigns for American Eagle, Jimmy Choo and Tom Ford.
Recently, Laird made a big change at his firm, naming Patrick Yee, Refinery29’s executive vice president of marketing and strategy as ceo. Laird retained the title of chief creative officer and chairman.
Laird is hoping Yee’s digital experience will help drive the transformation of the agency, which now has a new set of challenges, namely to create content for clients across platforms and to provide them with a set of digital tools to allow them to innovate.
“The big change is the way people absorb stories, and the communications, marketing and brand imaging,” he explained, noting how fast campaigns are created. “It almost happens in real time.”
Laird pointed to new technology and platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, as the reason. Brands today require video and imagery for those platforms, keeping Laird and his team busy and on their toes.
“Some days it’s daunting but most days, it’s inspiring,” he said with a laugh.