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NEW YORK — It’s easier to find a taxicab wearing Bonjour in this town than a stitch of clothes bearing the label.
For a year, New York has been the heart of a multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing campaign that has plastered the Bonjour name on phone booths, bus shelters, the backs of many buses and on the tops of hundreds of taxis, all promoting the revival of the Seventies designer denim brand with images of languorous young women and men posing in the back of a convertible, with the inviting tag line, “Come with us.”
All right then, a little experiment to see how long it takes to find an available cab that’ll take a reporter up on that offer.
At the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street on a recent morning, the answer turned out to be less than five minutes. After two Helmut Lang cabs passed by — both taken —and then a “Rent” cab and one with an ad for “Avenue Q,” a Bonjour cab pulled up.
But another experiment to find some Bonjour clothing, now focused on the casual moderate market, turned out to be a lot more difficult. Walking through the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square, inquiries to the location of Bonjour were met with blank stares. One sales assistant gave directions to the new fourth-floor denim and juniors department, where the closest things were Bourjois and Buffalo, but no Bonjour. In better sportswear on three, another shrugged and said, “Bonjour jeans? I don’t think we carry that anymore.”
Given the saturation of Bonjour advertising in New York, such an omnipresence seems all the more brazen that Bonjour product is not sold anywhere in this city. The ads also preceded by six months the relaunch of the collection nationally in stores like Parisian and Macy’s West. Some images from the campaign have even featured men wearing jeans and women in sunglasses, presumably with a Bonjour label, yet no such product exists to date.
This month, Macy’s East is expected to be the first Manhattan retailer to carry the women’s sportswear line, mixed in with the jeans collections of Gloria Vanderbilt, Bill Blass and Jones New York on the sixth floor, while other various licensed products such as handbags and watches will separately reach stores this fall.
Market sources have estimated that Bonjour, owned by the Dayan family, which also produces Faded Glory jeans for Wal-Mart and Route 66 for Kmart, has spent in the neighborhood of $9 million on the outdoor campaign, which also appears in such cities as Chicago, San Francisco and Birmingham, Ala. By contrast, Bonjour shipped about $5 million (at wholesale) worth of jeans and sportswear — produced under two separate licenses by the Levy Group —?to stores for spring retailing this year.
As a sarcastic French person would say, “Bonjour?” Basic laws of marketing suggest that to aggressively advertise a product that barely exists is a dangerous investment, but Carmine Porcelli, the man charged with bringing back the Bonjour brand, has a different view.
“A year before the product was out there, it was being supported by advertising and marketing,” said Porcelli, managing director of Bonjour, who formerly directed the relaunch of Halston in the late Nineties and managed Oscar de la Renta’s licensing before that.
“In the times we live in, this has been a daring way of doing things,” he said. “But unless you put yourself out there and you’re going to play with the big boys, you won’t succeed. The bottom line is product, but the marketing is what brings product to its success.”
Not surprisingly, Porcelli is bullish on Bonjour’s prospects. For the first 18 months of shipping, he projected the volume of all Bonjour products will reach $50 million, and $100 million by December 2004. The Bonjour Group, the Dayans’ company at 1400 Broadway, produces no Bonjour products itself, but is rebuilding the brand through licenses, including the Levy Group; Wathne Ltd. for handbags; small leather goods and belts, and IMT for watches.
Porcelli has approached the marketing of Bonjour in a similar manner to Apple’s introduction of the iMac, which used teaser advertisements for several months before the product was available to consumers. But he’s also trying to subliminally cleanse the Bonjour palette, since its target audience is women in their 40s, who are familiar with the brand’s disco-era heritage, and the outdoor market could reach them more effectively than a print campaign. The imagery, casting and related marketing collateral have all been created in-house to keep costs down, as well.
“The customer we’re going after has a real lifestyle,” Porcelli said. “The biggest luxury for those customers is time. To spend on a magazine, unless I buy six to eight pages, I lose that customer. I get 10 seconds for her to see that name and make an imprint on her. This was pre-advertising, six months before the product was ever in stores.”
The campaign also has another audience in mind — the department store buyers who are looking to Bonjour to demonstrate that the company intends to support the growth of the brand, since it is carried around the country at Macy’s East, Macy’s West, Marshall Field’s, Nordstrom, Parisian and Belk. Featuring the campaign so prominently in New York reaches the out-of-town buyers and press when they come to the city for market weeks, during which the number of cabs with Bonjour tops is increased from about 450 to 650, or more than half of the city’s ad-bearing fleet, and an additional 200 kiosk ads go up around town, increasing the total to 600.
“It’s all subliminal,” Porcelli said. “Advertising today has to be much more than setting out to sell a specific product. That has been an old-fashioned way to sell a product. This is never about the immediacy. It’s about what it’s going to do down the road. Between now and December, we will have this enormous group of products coming into the market, with more licenses for socks, tights and panty hose, and for loungewear and intimate apparel. It’s been an amazing time for us and the name has really gotten across to the consumer.”
Bonjour is similarly mounting a huge marketing campaign, blanketing retailers with look books and mailers on all of its product offerings, not just the categories that a particular store has bought. The idea is to attract more licenses — for men’s wear and fragrance — and sell more product, creating the kind of revenues through critical mass to justify the expense of the advertising.
“When I market one product to a store, I’m marketing the entire brand,” Porcelli said. “It’s building, building and building.”