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Having your designs featured in a non-fashion company’s advertising may sound like a dicey venture, but a few ready-to-wear designers see it as a new way of branding.

This story first appeared in the December 4, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While forking over the money for a signature campaign may cost millions, a few have managed to get national exposure by piggybacking on another company’s efforts, but not all have been pleased with the final outcome.

TV watchers can catch tennis star Serena Williams giving her Aneres clothing line a major plug on an HP commercial — so much so that the 90-second spot closes with a close-up of her midsection in one of her designs and “ANERES” stretched across the screen. The national spot seems disproportionate to the business. Launched in 2004, the label — which is Williams’ first name spelled backward — is sold in only four or five specialty stores.

“We wanted to create a lot of buzz before going exclusive with one major retailer,” said Aneres’ general manager, David Tomassoni. “We’ve been doing more advertising and lots of charity events because the fashion industry is quite difficult, especially for celebrity designers. A lot of celebrities have failed.”

Aneres has lined up an exclusive deal with a chain that will be announced at the end of next month, he said.

The HP commercial — which aired internationally — helped drum up so much interest that Aneres had to have the phone number listed on its Web site disconnected because the calls were too distracting to employees, Tomassoni said. “We were going crazy with the phones,” he said, calling from the company’s nonpublished number.

Monthly hits at the company’s Web site also soared to one million from 300,000, he added. Now Aneres is gearing up for its big news with three locations to meet with prospective buyers, including a showroom in Jupiter, Fla., not far from where Williams lives, and a Los Angeles office. When needed, the brand rents a temporary space in New York, Tomassoni said.

Williams, who is launching an Aneres intimates collection with Blue Intimates and a fragrance, also singles out her on-court sponsor, Nike, in the HP commercial. She gives viewers a preview of one of the designs she is working on for the Beaverton, Ore.-based sneaker giant.

Heidi Weisel was more than happy to work with the rug and carpet maker Karastan, and designed six pieces for the brand’s upcoming ad campaign. Weisel even flew to Los Angeles Friday to be on hand with 39 others for the shoot with Kelly Preston at Smashbox Studios. The ads will appear in the March editions of 27 different publications, and Weisel will be given credit in the ad — a first for Karastan, a spokesman for the designer said.

The collection that Weisel will show in February was inspired by the experience, and she is considering further collaborations with the company, he said.

Carmen Marc Valvo often receives requests for dresses to be used in non-fashion brands’ ads, but the company “opts not to accommodate them unless it will receive credit,” said director of communications Frank Pulice. The designer, however, recently made an exception for Ritz-Carlton and provided a $2,458 iridescent blue chiffon gown from his resort collection for an upcoming campaign.

Tim Snell, the stylist handling the shoot, has worked with Valvo in the past in suiting up Angela Bassett for various occasions. He also works with Whitney Houston, Pulice said.

“In this case, we had a relationship with the stylist so we were more apt to be of assistance. We felt it was a good opportunity,” Pulice said.

Marc Bouwer hasn’t had such a rousing reception to ads that feature his designs — namely because he didn’t authorize the use of his clothes. The company is considering taking legal action against two stylists who requested clothes under false pretenses and used them for major advertising campaigns, according to president Paul Margolin. He declined to name the individuals for legal purposes.

The first stylist requested and received a few dresses for a Latina Vogue shoot featuring Lydia Hearst. Margolin was told nothing came from that shoot, but Karolina Kurkova wanted to try one of the dresses. When the gowns were returned, one was damaged, and after some arm twisting, the stylist has agreed to settle, said Margolin, adding, “It cost a fortune to repair.”

More frustrating was the fact that the dresses appeared in a print ad for a hair care company without any credit. “We were showing some things to one of our A-list clients and she said, ‘Didn’t I see this in a hair ad?'” Margolin said. “It totally brings down the brand.”

The second instance involved a stylist who asked Bouwer if he would like to dress a well-known singer, a request to which he agreed. The stylist bought the red gown. “He wouldn’t say it was for advertising because he knows designers don’t want to do advertising with other brands,” Margolin said.

The dress allegedly wound up in an ad for a mass retailer featuring the singer, but the stylist insisted the dress featured in the ad was a knockoff. As a result, a celebrity who had borrowed the dress to wear to the Golden Globes awards changed her mind and returned it. “None of it’s good,” said Margolin, whose lawyers advised him not to name the parties in question.

“I think both these campaigns directly tarnish our reputation. We would have never agreed to do these without careful negotiation. In both cases, we have received no compensation or credit,” he said.

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