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Talk about reinvention.
The advertising guru known for creative branding solutions for such companies as Donna Karan, DKNY, Emanuel Emanuel Ungaro, Concord Watches, Samsung and Con Edison, has turned his focus on rebranding himself.
This story first appeared in the July 23, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Peter Arnell, chairman and chief creative officer of Arnell, has written a self-help book called “Shift” (Broadway Books, 2010), which details how he shed 256 pounds by eating only oranges, fruits, vegetables and grilled fish. By applying some of the business strategies and tactics he used on his numerous clients, he created what he likes to call the “new and improved version of Peter Arnell.”
With a penchant for living life to the extreme, Arnell has transformed his life by drastically changing his eating habits. He admits he had no surgery and credits a lot to oranges, which kept him on track. In the book, he writes, “I’m constantly peeling oranges. But truth be told, the oranges peeled me as well. That’s what they’ve done for a long time. They peeled away layers within me. They convinced me that I could change. That I didn’t have to remain the way I was — a 400-plus-pound man in what should have been a 150-pound body.”
Arnell writes that he used to be physically imposing — “That’s a diplomatic way to say I was obese” — and that obesity is what people noticed first when they met him. “I’ve always loved food. I used to devour good food the way I devour life, savoring every new sensation (or new thought) that comes to me over the course of the day. I still do that in my life, but not with food anymore.”
Arnell’s branding advice, and thought processes behind many of his innovative ad campaigns, are woven throughout the 200-page book. “Branding is about simplicity and scale. Most people don’t relate to small; they relate to big. So as a marketer, it pays to think really big and to move fast. You have to approach marketing like Formula 1 racing; respond quickly, think ahead, and know where you are going,” he writes. The newly nimble Arnell sat down with WWD at Sant Ambroeus last week over grilled vegetables, and discussed the book, his most memorable campaigns and his new outlook on life.
WWD: Why did you decide to write the book?
Peter Arnell: People were hocking me. They said, “You’ve got to tell the world about the weight loss.” I’m down to 143 pounds. It [the weight loss] took 30 months, and it’s been six years and I’ve never gone back. Unfortunately, people engage with their eyes. They don’t engage with their minds. People don’t get to know who you are. I had spent my whole life with people saying to themselves, “How can such a smart guy allow himself to be so heavy and unhealthy?”
WWD: How has your new trim physique affected the way you work?
P.A.: The offices do reflect the structured quality. I was always neat and orderly. The office is as fit as I am. There’s a lot of process and regiment.
WWD: How did your family adjust to your weight loss?
P.A.: There’s a big pressure off the family when the pressure of Pop having a stroke is out of the picture. But the places you go with them and the time you spend with them is always surrounded by food. “Let’s call in Chinese food,” or “Dad’s home for dinner.” None of these work in the same way. You have to adjust. I think I had an influence on them. Fish gets exchanged for meat, and water for soda pop.
WWD: Do you cheat once in a while?
P.A.: A lot of people say, “You’re crazy, you’re so thin.” I never cheat. I’m on the diet all the time.
WWD: Do you exercise?
P.A.: I run every morning outside for one hour.
WWD: What do you eat for breakfast?
P.A.: I’ll have 1 1/2 ounces of All-Bran, six slices of banana and 1 1/2 ounces of soy milk. I snack on oranges all day long. They work for me. The fiber is incredible. It cleans your system out and there are a lot of vitamins and minerals. I’ll eat a minimum of 10 and as many as 50 in a day. I’ll only eat fruits and vegetables. I take about 30 vitamins a day. I eat no meat, no chicken and a little grilled fish. There’s no sugar, no butter, no bread, 150 ounces of water a day, and one cappuccino a day in a paper cup.
WWD: Have you found yourself to be a calmer person?
P.A.: Nothing’s calmed down. I’ve never been a smoker, although I smoked cigars. I smoked for years, but I stopped. I don’t drink any alcohol, and I could. I just have no interest.
WWD: Who monitored your diet?
P.A.: I went to Dr. [Louis] Aronne [a weight-loss specialist] who put together a consortium of doctors, consisting of Dr. Martin Post, a cardiologist, and a dentist, Dr. Stephen Chu. I was into it from the beginning. Every time I went on my scale. I lost weight.
WWD: You always used to wear elastic-waist pants and an untucked white shirt. What brands do you like to wear now?
P.A.: All my suits are made for me in Rome, at F&G Albertelli. I went down to a size 28 in pants. [His waist had been 68 inches]. I wear Gucci jeans now.
WWD: Has losing all that weight helped your creativity?
P.A.: My photography is much more creative. I’m much more facile and able to move more, and I’m not distracted as much by my weight. But the best work I’ve ever done was at 320 pounds. The single most important thing that I feel I ever did was the work I did with Donna Karan — the speeding car, which was the first image. I was innocent and raw and without any boundaries. I only did what I did from my heart. My brain was not involved. The second most creative thing I ever did was painting the DKNY billboard and the third was the Samsung microwave man, where I changed the course of Samsung’s entire culture [photographing a fit, shirtless guy in jeans carrying a Samsung microwave into his college dorm].
WWD: What do you think of the state of advertising today?
P.A.: [Thumbs down.] Fashion firms need to learn what the Europeans did a long time ago: They figured out how to make an event public. Fashion in New York is an intimate, exclusive and scarce thing. They need to do more public events — more powerful live ideas that engage people directly. The best advertising in the world is to invite the public to an event. Why can’t New Year’s Eve be with one million people in Times Square, and have a company like Guess Jeans do an event during that time? The problem is people in fashion advertising tend to want to control their image. They’re in the image-management business. They don’t want to let go of the process and tradition. People who run those companies don’t have the time, money and knowledge of the Web. They’re much more about “touch me, feel me.” If someone spends $200,000 [in a magazine], it’s an ego trip. The Web is not an ego trip.
WWD: You seem to have a lot of nervous energy. What do you do to relax?
P.A.: I tried it once and it didn’t work. I prefer to be active.
WWD: Where do you go to be inspired?
P.A.: I’m very inspired by Kyoto, [Japan], and I go to Rome a lot. Rome is, in my mind, the epicenter of innovation, style and invention. It was built so well and it will last forever.
WWD: How do you describe the Peter Arnell brand today? And how would you have previously described it?
P.A.: “Unpredictable,” “determined” and “complex,” “compassionate” and “difficult.” “Hysterical,” as in funny. Ten years ago, some of the words are the same, but most of my words back then would be much different. I’d use “random” instead of “unpredictable” and “chaotic” instead of “complex.”
WWD: How would you like to be remembered?
P.A.: The thinnest man on earth. That my book spent the longest time on The New York Times Best-Seller list (currently number 14). I’d like to change people’s perception of people with Down syndrome. (Proceeds from “Shift” are going to the Special Olympics.) I’d like to remove the prejudice. I’m on the board of Special Olympics. I’d like to be remembered for designing and producing one of the most memorable Italian sports cars ever. In March 2011, De Tomaso [where he is chief innovation and design officer] is coming out with the Pantera. I’ve been given the responsibility to design the new one.
WWD: What was the best reaction you got from your weight loss?
P.A.: Bill Clinton was speaking about the need for better nutrition in schools and called out to me, “I’m going to embarrass you now, Peter, stand up. When I first met Peter a few years ago, he weighed 356 pounds,” Clinton said. “Now he is 150 pounds — and he doesn’t have any stretch marks.” For me, it was one of the proudest moments.