HOLLYWOOD PICKS UP THE CHECK

Byline: Janet Ozzar, New York / James Fallon, London

NEW YORK — Burberry is having its day in the sun.
For a few months now, barely a day has gone by without some actress, socialite, rock star or designer being photographed in that familiar beige, white, black and red plaid. Its bearers include Sharon Stone, Christy Turlington, Nicole Kidman, Alexander McQueen, Katie Couric, Blaine Trump, Denise Hale, Samantha Boardman, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Prince Charles and his sons William and Harry, and Mick Jagger. Ally McBeal has worn three Burberry outfits just this season. Uma Thurman was thinking about it for Cannes. Jennifer Lopez wants a tote bag.
Is it a case of incredible product placement? Does the company have squads of flacks beating down the doors of top stylists and editors to promote its image makeover and the apparel line introduced only two years ago by former Jil Sander associate designer Roberto Menichetti.
Not exactly, says Burberry.
“There’s just been a natural surge of interest in our products,” said Rose Marie Bravo, the chief executive who’s overseen the revamp of Burberry over the last three years. “If people ask us for something, we try our best to accommodate them. But we don’t go out and actively seek product placements. We’re probably a bit naive in that way.”
Burberry has a marketing and public relations team in London, as well as outside p.r. agencies in New York and London, that handle the requests. But, unlike many of its competitors, it doesn’t have an office in Hollywood hustling stylists to clothe celebrities in Burberry.
“The placement of Burberry products is probably greater in the U.S. than in Europe or Asia simply because America is so media conscious, with Hollywood and all the television shows,” Bravo said.
Harriet Weintraub, a partner in Loving & Weintraub, which handles Burberry’s U.S. press, swears she hasn’t been given an edict to push, push, push, which a few L.A. stylists confirm. Her firm sends out look books to 30 or so top editors and stylists, but that’s about it. And every season, one or another of the company’s products — a hat, a tote, a scarf — is sent out to a list of top fashion contacts to whet their pre-shoot appetites.
That doesn’t mean that obvious opportunities are overlooked, though. Last year, when Hurricane Floyd drowned out parts of New York’s Fashion Week, Burberry hopped to attention and sent out about 30 plaid ponchos. Anna Wintour wore hers to the Bill Blass show, and her photo made it into several papers.
The product placements are part of Burberry’s marketing and advertising budget. Bravo declines to reveal how much Burberry spends each year, but it’s estimated to be about $29.5 million to $32.8 million annually.
Bravo can’t explain the exact reasons why the stars have suddenly woken up to Burberry, although she isn’t complaining. She attributes part of it to the revival of the trenchcoat, which is Burberry’s signature product, as a fashionable item. Logo-mania also helps, especially since the Burberry plaid is so instantly recognizable.
“We’ve had tremendous support from editors and stylists, who’ve kindly suggested that people should wear Burberry to a major public event,” Bravo said. Chloe Sevigny came close to wearing Burberry to the Academy Awards; she went for YSL, but the plaid made it into the Vanity Fair Oscar party, in the form of a kilt worn by hot young British artist Damian Loeb — who also painted it into one of his recent works, “Stop.”
Burberry has had an enviable run this year in magazines, too. As a result, there’s a waiting list 30 people deep at its New York store for the bikini featured in May Vogue. Fashion trends are also supporting the brand, said Bravo. “This is the year of the trench and of the logo, and those things fit in nicely,” with the image, she said.
And what was once stuffy is now ironically cool, said Arianne Phillips, a Los Angeles stylist who has dressed Madonna, Courtney Love and Lenny Kravitz, among others.
“It has a sophistication and a whimsy,” she said. “But the very traditional part of Burberry makes it almost camp.
“The bottom line is that the quality is very good,” Phillips added. “They came out with a fantastic line” that includes stretch fabrics, lightweight microfibers and good-looking leathers that work well for the L.A. crowd.
“Plus, this generation can relate to it,” she said. “We have the plaid in our consciousness from when we were growing up, but now they have come out with cute hats and bags. I love the hats and the signature plaid raincoats.”
Burberry requires some styling, or it can look “dowdy,” said Debra McGuire, who dresses “Friends” and has her own apparel line.
“I love the plaid, but it needs to be combined with something edgy,” she said.
Still, nobody at Burberry is complaining. While not criticizing other brands, Bravo said there are no plans for Burberry to become more aggressive in the product placement area or to devote staff specifically to those duties.
“Each company has its own method,” she said. “The natural approach is gaining momentum for us, so that’s what we’re sticking with for now.”