Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — They loved Versace-Madonna, and they hated Versace-Madonna. Ditto for DKNY in Hollywood.
These two spring ad campaigns elicited some of the strongest responses from advertising executives, who were asked their opinions on the best and worst campaigns of the season in the fashion/beauty category.
Neiman Marcus’s portfolio of ads, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, received high praise, while the experts slammed Pepe Jeans’ double-exposed images of the recently outed Rachel Hunter.
But the biggest attention grabber was the Versace-Madonna campaign. Shot by Steven Meisel, the mostly black and white ads depict the pop princess as a lady of leisure hanging around Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. The campaign was described by one ad executive as the season’s best because it tapped into the close relationship between fashion and celebrities, while another found the campaign “frightening.”
Overall, agency executives complained about the sameness in the spring ad scene, and many had a difficult time trying to cite any standouts. Here’s what the ad pros had to say.
Richard Kirshenbaum, partner and creative director, Kirshenbaum & Bond: “The only thing that caught my eye was the Versace campaign for Madonna. Maybe I’m a sucker for Madonna, but I just like looking at her. The fashion industry always had close ties to celebrities, and the fact that a star as big as Madonna would pose for the campaign and put her name behind a designer’s name is great. I don’t know whether it’s great brand building, but as far as seasonability, I kind of liked it.”
Charles DeCaro, partner, Laspata/DeCaro: “The one I’m most impressed with is Gucci. It’s very clean and very to the point and almost reminiscent of the Fifties. It just seems very fresh.
“I hate the Versace ads with Madonna. I wasn’t sure if it was Madonna or Peggy Lee. It was very frightening. The Pepe jeans ads seem very passA — superimposing a girl with London in the background. It was very confusing.”
Ed Taussig, group creative director, Grey Advertising: “So far, I really like Banana Republic’s body care ads. It’s really pretty; it’s not over-reaching. It fits in very nicely with their re-dos. It’s gentle and nice and sensual. Everybody else is trying so hard. It just feels good.
“I really dislike DKNY Hollywood. It’s very forced. No one believes it. She [Karan] has a tendency to overreach, in general. If you’re doing a campaign called Hollywood, she should get someone who speaks to Hollywood. It looks so staged and very forced. The clothes themselves are not Hollywood.”
George Fertitta, president, Margeotes, Fertitta, Donaher & Weiss: “I like the Donna Karan and DKNY ads. The new work is surprisingly good. It still looks very much alive, even though it’s been done before. Nobody does it better. The Polo Sport ads are so simple and so basic, it makes its point. It doesn’t look like it’s trying at all.
“In the new Neiman Marcus inserts that Annie Leibovitz shot, it’s easy to see why Anne Leibovitz is Annie Leibovitz. In the context of retail advertising, it really makes it.”
John Amodeo, partner, Amodeo & Petti: “I love Donna Karan’s ‘A Man and a Woman’ campaign. I love Anouk AimAe and Isabella Rossellini and k.d. lang. The use of celebrities was really interesting and surprising. It was beautifully done. I also love Neiman Marcus’s ‘Art of Fashion’ photographs with Annie Leibovitz.
“Anne Klein II came back very nicely with ‘live where you work.’ I think it was really smart to come back and talk to the working woman. It was smart copy and a really nice comeback after floundering around.
“There’s so much sameness out there, it’s hard to say the worst, but if I had to pick, I’d say the Request stuff. It’s the sameness of it and the pointlessness of it. It doesn’t seem to be saying anything to anyone.”
Paul Gigante, president and creative director, Gigante, Vaz: “Diesel Jeans has the best print ads right now. It’s allegorical and it’s impactful. If print ads are supposed to have great stopping power, this one has it. You can’t not look at that stuff. It really tells a story and positions the brand very well. If you wear the jeans, you’ll be very unique. It has the perfect sense of humor.
“The antithesis of that is Pepe Jeans, a montage of found black-and-white photographs and typical posed models. It’s very weak in concept and not engaging; it’s very flat. Just the opposite of Diesel.”
Peter Arnell, chairman and executive creative director, The Arnell Group: “You know what I love, Calvin Klein’s introduction to his ladies’ underwear with Christy. The communication is so focussed and so precise in its message that it’s difficult to deny the purchase.
“I also like Ralph Lauren ads with Tyson holding up the bicycle for Polo Sport. It represents the spirit of freedom. I also like the Polo Sport cologne ads with the muscled arm.
“Lord & Taylor continues to be the worst American’s dress communication in the world. And the Emporio Armani ads are confusing.”
Ellis Verdi, president, DeVito Verdi: “I haven’t seen anything that’s great. Typically in fashion advertising, there’s a tendency to want to show a lot of pretty people and big logos with small ideas. The sexier the pose, the better the campaign, according to some fashion people I’ve spoken to. It’s getting increasingly bland.”
Marc Balet, partner and creative director, Balet & Albert: “The ads I like the best are the shoe ads. The Bottega Veneta ads are absolutely beautiful. The Charles Jourdan shoe ad looks like old Helmut Newton. It’s forever.
“I hate the milk campaign. It all looks like they’re trying out for the Little Dictator role in the Charlie Chaplin movie.