Byline: Miles Socha

PARIS — Betty Catroux no doubt will be blushing some more.
Tom Ford channeled her sleek style in his debut runway show for Yves Saint Laurent last November in Paris and he continues the homage in his first advertising campaign for the legendary French house.
Shot by Steven Meisel in a studio in New York, the stark, black-and-white images feature models who are dead-ringers for the house muse and who ooze her brand of androgynous confidence. Eight-page spreads will break in French fashion glossies in February and in American and other titles in March.
In an exclusive interview with WWD about the campaign, Ford described it as a reaction to fashion photographs that are overly “constructed and contrived” and an expression of his desire to focus on the shape and attitude of his new-look YSL designs.
“I wanted a certain ease to things this season, and I wanted to show the clothes,” he said. “I wanted the same philosophy as the collection and the runway show. I wanted everything stripped away, so what you’re left with are the people and the clothes.
“They’re somewhat stark but they’re also very warm. Both models, Kim (Pearce) and Nicolai (McKinnon) look very touchable, very real, very kissable.”
Indeed, in one of the most arresting images of the series, the two Catroux look-alikes couldn’t resist kissing each other, their matching blond haircuts concealing their eyes, their gender revealed only in the curvature of their partially exposed breasts.
“I like that sort of sexual ambiguity where the girl looks like the guy and the guy looks like the girl and you can’t tell which is which, and they’re kissing,” Ford said. “I think it’s a very sweet kiss.”
Ford acknowledged that he and Meisel, through lighting, styling and the expression of the models, were able to produce quite a few provocative images: a partially exposed nipple here, a glimpse of garter belt there.
“One of my favorite shots is where she is adjusting her breast wearing the white elastin dress,” he said. “I’m sure people will talk at about that one. But it’s real, something that a woman does when she’s getting herself into a dress like that.
“To get people’s attention in today’s world, you do have to be somewhat provocative,” he said. “I did want to do a shot where you saw the garter belt and stockings. I wanted to show them because we used them in the show. For me, that’s very Saint Laurent. Saint Laurent didn’t like a bare leg. I love the idea of a garter belt. It’s hidden sexuality.”
Given the starkness of the setting, casting was paramount, and Ford zeroed in on Pearce, a 22-year-old Belgian who has only a few editorial credits and will appear exclusively in the YSL campaign.
“I love her because she doesn’t look like a model,” Ford said. “She’s the lead singer in a band called Monkey Pussy. I mean, this girl has a life, a real life outside of modeling, and that character comes through.
“Her sexuality is what I like. She’s sexy and strong, and beautiful, yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s trying. She has a very wonderful nonchalant quality that is sexy now because it’s really not forced.”
The male model, McKinnon, is 19 and hails from Washington, D.C. The YSL campaign is his first. For both models, makeup was done by Pat McGrath, with hair by Orlando Pita.
Asked if he researched any old YSL campaigns before attempting his first, Ford said there was no need, because, “At this point, I know Saint Laurent backward and forward.”
But he said the androgyny of the images and the comportment of the models are consistent with the traditions of the house.
YSL declined to pinpoint the budget for the spring campaign. However, Ford said the print buy will be concentrated with multipage spreads in February and March. Ads will appear in more than 50 titles worldwide. Market sources estimate the media buy at about $5 million.
Gucci Group generally allots about 7 to 8 percent of sales to advertising, but Ford said the YSL budget was “pumped up” for spring. YSL Couture sales totaled $79.1 million in the first nine months of 2000.
French magazines that will carry the ads include Paris Vogue, Numero, L’Officiel, Mixt(e) and Elle, while U.S. titles include Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Interview, Elle and the New York Times Fashions of the Times.
Although the media buy is concentrated on print, YSL also plans to run outdoor images in Paris and Los Angeles starting in March. Locations in California will include the massive billboard Gucci Group owns on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood next to Chateau Marmont.
“I really wanted to hit hard with eight pages in most fashion magazines,” Ford said. “YSL doesn’t have the kind of budget that Gucci has, but we still want to have impact.”
Fashion critics have been on high alert looking for signs of similarity between the Gucci and YSL collections, both designed by Ford, who is creative director of Gucci Group. But the designer said there would be no confusion with the spring campaigns: YSL’s is black and white, Gucci’s is color. YSL takes place in a studio, Gucci’s in a bed.
“It’s a different kind of sexiness,” he said.
The YSL ready-to-wear campaign is the second for the French house that bears the imprint of Ford. The first, which bowed last October and was also shot by Meisel, featured a nude Sophie Dahl in repose on black velvet for the Opium fragrance. The posters were banned last month by the Advertising Standards Bureau in London, although most of the 500 posters put up were already taken down because the campaign was winding down.
Ford recently shot new campaigns for the men’s fragrance, Kouros, and the women’s scent, Paris. He declined to give many details, but provocation seems to be a running theme at the new YSL.
“The Paris campaign is very sexy,” he said, adding with pride: “Some of the early images have been rejected, in fact,” in U.S. magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and In Style.

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