Byline: Sara Gay Forden

MILAN — Italy’s top fashion designers have thrown off those stark, black-and-white ads for spring with a slew of colorful, evocative images, ranging from Stephen Meisel’s painterly scenes for Valentino to Glen Luchford’s high-contrast desert shots for Gucci and Mario Testino’s “Bloomsbury feeling” for Missoni.
And, despite a difficult European market, Italian media strategists are upbeat about sales growth and are increasing budgets 15 to 30 percent — reflecting higher revenue projections, as well as higher charges for four-color processing.
As for new outlets, some houses have added murals and posters for specific products such as jeans and eyewear, while lifestyle magazines are gaining in popularity as advertisers seek to target more specific demographic groups.
Wallpaper, a hip new U.K. interiors magazine, is one of the new publications the Italians are watching. “It’s becoming the insiders’ favorite decorating and lifestyle magazine, but it’s very modern. There’s nothing traditionally English about it,” said one insider. “It’s very styled, very clever.” Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Missoni and Versace fragrance were in the first issue, but time will tell if the Italian houses take it to heart.
Other niche magazines are getting some new business, as well. Missoni has added Out, Gucci is adding Icon and Mixte by Max in France, and George is still in with Gucci and Giorgio Armani, though most fashion houses with smaller budgets have dropped it after its initial splash.
Meanwhile, Meisel is once again the busiest photographer on the Italian front. He did the campaigns for Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Istante and Alberta Ferretti. Paolo Roversi was also in demand, doing campaigns for Giorgio Armani, Krizia and Anna Molinari. The season’s busiest models include Amy Wesson in Versace and Valentino and Jenny Knight in Krizia and Iceberg. Other faces include Amber Valletta in Prada, the sultry Elsa Benitez in Dolce & Gabbana, Kim Iglinski in Missoni and Nadja Auerman and Stella Tennant in Giorgio Armani.
This spring’s ads are a moody lot, with designers saying they strove for atmosphere over impact.
Meisel’s new campaign for Valentino was inspired by Balthus, who is being featured in an exhibit at the Valentino-sponsored Accademia art academy in Rome. It looks as if it were created by brush strokes and features an ethereal Amy Wesson holding a mirror or lighting a candle, among other images.
“This is a very sophisticated campaign, which reflects the whole philosophy of the lightness and transparency of the Valentino woman this season,” a spokeswoman said. Valentino also plans to erect a mural with an image from the campaign above its Milan offices during the women’s shows in March.
Meisel also shot Dolce & Gabbana’s ads, including the signature line; D&G; their line of eyewear, and Dolce & Gabbana Jeans. For the first time, Dolce & Gabbana used color for its top line, next to black-and-white images, while the D&G campaign is entirely in color.
“Our campaigns have always been characterized by black and white to capture the feeling of the tremendous influence the Italian neorealist cinema has on the work of the designers,” said spokeswoman Carla Buzzi. “The novelty of color [for the first line] was chosen in order to make a break with the past,” she said, “while for D&G, there was a need to create a new, more aggressive and modern look.”
Prada, which increased its ad budget by a whopping 60 percent as part of its international expansion program, also went for color for the Prada and Miu Miu campaigns, both of which were shot by Glen Luchford — back for a second season — in and around Rome. Prada is also adding a seasonal accessories catalog for direct mail and in-store promotion.
Gucci, which this season presented a monochromatic collection featuring tones of brown and black, added black and white, as well as color, for the campaign, which was shot by Mario Testino. In a new move, still-life shots were done by Jay Zuckerkorn “in order to evolve and create a noticeable change in style,” a Gucci spokeswoman said. The women’s collection was shot in Palm Springs, and some shots taken in the desert have stark, arid backgrounds and hard sunlight. Other photos were taken in a Palm Springs home “at night, with artificial, high-contrast lighting.” The product shots were done on location using models, rather than in still-life settings, the spokeswoman said. Gucci also added a separate men’s wear campaign “in order to emphasize our growing men’s wear business.”
Even Giorgio Armani, who practically created the institutional black-and-white ad image with Peter Lindbergh, started to spin the color wheel: He had a second campaign shot in color by Paolo Roversi and liked it so much he decided to run both Roversi and Lindbergh’s shots this season.
“Armani was interested in both photographers’ work and, in particular, with this collection, which has a special, romantic spirit to it. He wanted to see how someone with a mood like Roversi’s would deal with it,” an Armani spokesman said.
Armani has planned a series of special multiple-page monographs, including a 16-page Emporio insert in Marie Claire, a 12-page unit in Elle and eight-page units in Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and George. The Emporio campaign was shot by Enrique Badelescu on location in Mexico. Another initiative was this week’s issue of D, the weekly fashion magazine in Italian daily “La Repubblica,” in which Armani was the sole advertiser.
Armani is also boosting its outdoor advertising for eyewear in collaboration with its manufacturer, Luxottica, with billboard campaigns slated for seven major U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Houston. Armani will also use billboards in Italy for the Armani jeans campaign, which was shot by Rudi Hoffman in Pennsylvania.
Gianni Versace continued with Richard Avedon for his women’s campaign. Avedon also shot Elton John in drag and rocker Jon Bon Jovi. Bruce Weber, who did the men’s wear collection, shot Versace Jeans Couture and Versus on location in Miami.