By  on July 23, 2007

Lord & Taylor is ready to exude personality.

After four years of store closings, remerchandising and ownership changes, the retail chain is spending more than $10 million to launch an ambitious image campaign for the fall and holiday seasons.

The effort isn't intended to make L&T hip, but to modernize its image and promote the 181-year-old store's heritage and its "unapologetically classic, multigenerational" approach to style, said Jane Elfers, president and chief executive officer.

"There is no direct sell in this campaign,'' Elfers said. "It's all about branding Lord & Taylor. This is a long-term, multiyear commitment to branding. This isn't a one-season wonder."

The campaign, created by ad guru David Lipman, launches mid-August with multipage spreads in Vogue and Vanity Fair, as well as ads in W, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Town & Country, GQ, Cookie, In Style, O and Interview.

Ads will also appear on 25 billboards in Boston, Chicago, Connecticut, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, including on the West Side Highway and at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, as well as railroad stations in upscale suburbia and by the tents at Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week in September. Later, illustrations will be added to the mix.

The campaign glorifies the familiar, decades-old script logo, which for years was usually buried on the corner of ads. The script is the same, but enlarged and in gray and set on a white backdrop. Previously, the logo was white and set against a mink-colored backdrop. Shopping bags and boxes have been revamped so they are sturdier and brighter and inside have a "sunrise" color, which appears to be a blend of yellow and orange. Signage and the L&T Web site are also being overhauled.

The $10 million-plus expense is just for this year's branding effort, and completely separate from newspaper advertising, Elfers said. Those ads are being updated by Lipman and will continue to be product- and sales-focused.

The branding campaign has several objectives: to shed L&T's lingering reputation as your grandmother's store; entice new shoppers, particularly a younger clientele, while preserving the existing base; to create some buzz in the fashion industry by signaling changes in the store, and to help L&T further its merchandise upgradings.It's rare when department stores launch image campaigns, and when they do they usually flop. Macy's tried it last fall in conjunction with the renaming of about 400 former May doors into Macy's. Specialty brands, such as Nike, as well as Target, have had more success, but Elfers acknowledged it is difficult to brand a department store considering the scope of the merchandise and the different fashion messages that emanate from the selling floors.

As one of the handful of surviving regional department stores, Lord & Taylor is still faced with some industry skepticism about its long-term viability. But Elfers stressed that the company is spending for the future and that the image campaign has legs over several years. In addition, she reiterated that L&T is investing $250 million to renovate stores over the next few years.

There's more than a hint of youth and wit injected in the ads, though they often depict family gatherings, picnics and parties in suburban settings. The 47-unit, $1.4 billion Lord & Taylor performs best in the suburbs.

There's a wholesome, all-American spirit to the ads, and no hard edges or hunky types. Some are reminiscent of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger imagery.

"There is nothing controversial about advertising this company," Lipman said. The mood is happy and uplifting, marking a return to "enduring, wonderful human values."

It's a store that Lipman visited as a child, part of a day's outing that would start at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, continue to Schrafft's restaurant for some ice cream and wind up at Lord & Taylor. "My mother was a Loehmann's lady, but her dream was to shop at Lord & Taylor."

Mario Testino shot the ads on a Walt Disney back lot in California. They feature an eclectic cast of actors, models and offspring of celebrities. There's artist-photographer Edward Ruscha, who in one ad holds a rabbit and appears side by side with Carolyn Murphy. Among the others who appear in the campaign are Lauren Hutton; Lydia Hearst, daughter of Patty Hearst; Sean McEnroe, son of John McEnroe; Scott Eastwood, son of Clint Eastwood, and models Jacquetta Wheeler, Hanne Termote, Megan McNierney and Erin Heatherton, among others.The campaign culminates four years of revamping the merchandise so that 85 percent of the inventory represent labels new to the store. Stockkeeping units have been reduced by 45 percent, reflecting stronger editing efforts and reduced merchandise clutter. In the last four years, 38 poorly performing stores were closed.

Elfers said the capital infusions reflect the commitment of L&T's new owner, NRDC Equity Partners, to build the business. The firm last year paid $1.1 billion to buy the chain from Macy's, which inherited the business through its acquisition of May Department Stores two years ago.

"This will be our first big message to the world about everything we've done and how the store has changed," Elfers said. "It says come take a look at our stores. We feel strongly that if customers come in to our stores, they'll buy."

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