The media world is ready for Caitlyn Jenner — but are fashion and beauty advertisers?
As Vanity Fair relishes the flood of media coverage from its cover story on the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, brands are beginning to ponder whether to tap her as one of its faces. A potential one is MAC Cosmetics — long known for edgy advertising — which reportedly is in talks with Jenner about an ad campaign. Sources said the idea is being considered within the halls of parent the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., but no approach has been made. The company said, “MAC is a brand that embraces all ages, all races and all sexes and is a longstanding supporter of the LGBT community. We are inspired by Caitlyn Jenner and her personal journey and we admire her courage and beauty. We have not signed Caitlyn as a spokesperson for MAC.”
While Jenner is seen as a natural fit for MAC — whose past faces range from RuPaul to Dame Edna and Lady Gaga — she might not work quite as well as the face for fashion designers and retailers, where there are few brands known for risk-taking, thought-provoking ad campaigns. Even Benetton, one of the edgiest and most controversial marketers during the Eighties and early Nineties, has become tame in recent years.
Still, Jenner has drawn nothing but praise from the fashion world.
“When launching our ‘Brothers, Sisters, Sons and Daughters’ campaign almost two years ago, it was our hope it would raise awareness about the inequalities faced by the transgender community,” said Dennis Freedman, creative director of Barneys New York. “Today, we applaud Caitlyn for her courage, and believe that brands will look to her in the future to continue to inspire others.”
“I would certainly hope fashion brands embrace transgender models, be they celebrities or not,” said Charles DeCaro, co-creative director of LaSpata DeCaro, which has produced ad campaigns for everyone from Alice + Olivia to Harry Winston. “The fact that the world is engaged in conversation about the transgender community as a result of the Caitlyn phenomenon is what’s important.”
“Caitlyn Jenner is marking a real turning point in our society and changing how we view society on so many different levels,” said Roopa Patel, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive who runs a consulting firm for the fashion industry. “She’s incredibly inspiring and epitomizes confidence, beauty and inner strength, all qualities we should be striving for. MAC’s position in support of cultural change is revolutionary.”
James A. Roberts, the Ben H. Williams professor of marketing at Baylor University, said of Jenner possibly being the face of MAC: “From a marketing standpoint, the transgender population numbers only 700,00 people or 0.3 percent of the U.S. population. This could cast MAC in a favorable light that could play well outside of the transgender population. Hiring Caitlyn could also backfire by alienating those groups who may not hold such favorable attitudes toward the transgender population.”
Trey Laird, founder of Laird + Partners, a branding agency for fashion, luxury and lifestyle, said of Caitlyn Jenner and MAC: “It’s the right fit. MAC is unconventional and represents different types of beauty done in a bold way. If it was Maybelline or Estée Lauder or Cover Girl, it would not be such an obvious fit. It’s part of the cultural conversation. MAC’s hallmarks include being provocative and interesting.
“I’m sure there are a lot of offers out there to take advantage of someone who’s in the spotlight right now,” Laird added. “It’s hard to imagine another brand hiring Jenner. It wouldn’t feel authentic. If it was a jeans brand or a fashion collection, it would be more about the celebrity and hype.”
“I think other fashion brands are going to lead,” Patel predicted. “Jenner is proving that she can look beautiful in anything she wears. She’s going to be gracing many covers. She’s redefining how we look at beauty and she’s challenging society. It’s very empowering.”
Calls to Donna Karan and Zac Posen were not returned. Jenner wore a DKNY dress and a Posen gown in her shoot for Vanity Fair, which was revealed on the Internet on Monday.
Robert Hollander, cofounder of Give Back Brands, who has worked with celebrities such as Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, said Jenner is not representative of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community. “There needs to be more diversity,” he said, adding that MAC should beware of giving consumers the idea that it’s selling products “just for tall, thin models who look beautiful in photographs. The risk is that MAC looks like it’s only picking out the most glamorous LBGT representative.
“Honestly, I’m not sure if we really know yet who [Jenner] will appeal to,” Hollander said. “It’s interesting that she came out totally glamorous. This is not a soccer mom.”
Laird and others said Jenner’s story — suppressing her desire to be a woman for decades and breaking the news of her transformation to her family — has touched a chord with the public. “The beauty of [Jenner’s] story is that this person is finally able to express beauty on their own terms,” he said.
“I think it’s brilliant,” said Neil Kraft, founder of Kraftworks. “She broke the Internet so people are really attracted to her and her story. Clearly, the Vanity Fair pictures were heavily retouched. Whether the consumer will buy into all that retouching remains to be seen.”
Kraft said photos of Jenner on the street taken by paparazzi look quite different. “They did a brilliant job,” he said of Vanity Fair’s hairstylists and makeup artists, who employed falls to make her hair long, not to mention the lighting magic of photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Retouched photos have a precedent in beauty ad campaigns, Kraft pointed out. “Look at big-time beauty ads of older women. Yet, in this day of the Internet, when ‘before’ pictures get released” it will be harder to keep up the illusion.
Andrea Robinson, beauty marketer and author of “Toss the Gloss: Beauty Tips, Tricks & Truths for Women 50+,” said it would be a brilliant move on MAC’s part to sign Jenner, who is 65 years old.
“MAC has always stood for speaking to people who have felt different and this is a continuation of their brand positioning. They’ve spoken to age before. Even in the beginning they spoke to the transgender community with RuPaul,” she said. “This can be very wide-sweeping. Certainly parts of the country are not ready for this. If they’re not, like everything else, somebody has to have the courage to step up and I certainly think Caitlyn Jenner has done that.”
Robinson noted that there are 58 million women over age 50 and that it’s the largest demographic in the history of this country.
“The customer will decide if it’s good for MAC,” she said. “MAC is one of those brands that has great products, but people go there for its sense of ethics.” As for Jenner, Robinson said, “It’s going to take her awhile [to adjust], but she feels free and happy now, from everything I’ve read.”
“What Caitlyn Jenner represents is that beauty is no longer surface,” Patel said. “It’s beauty on the inside and the outside. What she’s demonstrated is that you have to love your inner self to project beauty. You can feel beautiful, and beauty is ageless. Age doesn’t define how we think of beauty anymore.”