NEW YORK — One of fashion’s most controversial partnerships has come to an end.
Long-time Benetton creative director Oliviero Toscani has left the Italian sportswear firm, according to a statement from the company, although it was not clear whether Toscani quit or was fired.
The company seemed to put a positive spin on the surprise Saturday announcement, describing it as the conclusion of a “collaboration” between Toscani and president Luciano Benetton.
“Fortunately, nothing lasts forever,” said Toscani, in the statement. “It’s good to have the courage to end something that has been fantastic and still have the enthusiasm to take on new projects.”
Neither Benetton nor Toscani could be reached for comment.
Toscani’s 18-year-run at Benetton resulted in some of the most controversial advertising the fashion industry has ever seen. Never content to feature something as ordinary as a supermodel in a sweater, Toscani instead choose to focus on social issues and current events.
His campaigns were frequently criticized for their sensational nature and banned by publications around the world, but they succeeded in generating tons of free press for Benetton. They caught people’s attention, but it was never clear if they helped sell clothing.
Toscani’s greatest hits have included photographs of a nun and a priest kissing, a black woman nursing a white baby, and images of Fidel Castro, Jesus Christ, child laborers, oil-soaked birds, mating horses and the blood-stained uniform of a soldier who died in battle in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Benetton faced a barrage of criticism over its AIDS ad campaign series that ran in 1992 and 1993. Some ads featured body parts tattooed with the words HIV Positive; another one showed a dying AIDS activist surrounded by his family members. A German court banned the ads, and a French court ordered Benetton to pay damages for “exploiting AIDS in a provocative manner.”
In February it became clear that Benetton’s advertising was hurting the company’s bottom line. That month, Sears Roebuck & Co. dropped the Benetton USA line following the apparel maker’s ad campaign featuring death row inmates, which ran as a 96-page supplement in Talk magazine. Benetton’s merchandise was expected to generate $100 million in sales in its first year at Sears.
Whether this was what led to Toscani’s exit is not yet known, but in press reports, Toscani’s wife, Kristi, said his departure from the company was a mutual decision.
Benetton said its advertising now will be handled by Fabrica, the in-house creative laboratory founded by Toscani in 1993.
Starting in June, Fabrica will be housed in a new complex outside Treviso, Italy.
Although he is out of one job, Toscani isn’t completely unemployed. In November, he was named creative director of Talk magazine.