STOCKHOLM — Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental activist, lawyer and author who has one of America’s most famous family names, will be the international face of the Gant brand this spring.
The $8.5 million media blitz featuring the sporty Kennedy clan — his wife and four of their six children — in Gant casualwear will break in February and March in 67 different markets, but not in the U.S. “This was a limitation we decided upon,” Kennedy said.
Gant executives are convinced that Kennedy, named a “Hero for the Planet” by Time magazine for his success in helping the Riverkeeper organization restore New York’s Hudson River, is the right man to promote the brand’s values and roots.
“We couldn’t think of anyone better,” said chief executive officer Arthur Engel. “We want to reinforce our East Coast heritage, and we also want to build our lifestyle image. We both share a passion for water. Water has always been a source of inspiration for Gant. We have developed navigator collections for years, and have been sponsoring major sailing races like the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race.”
So why is one of the best-known Kennedys of his generation collaborating with a clothing company?
“Money,” Kennedy said, with a toothy smile reminiscent of his father, during a press conference at Gant headquarters here on Thursday. “Gant is making a donation of more than six figures to the Waterkeeper Alliance,” the environmental group he heads.
The Kennedys were photographed by Morten Bjarnhof as they frolicked on Martha’s Vineyard in August.
The collaboration with Kennedy, who is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller “Crimes Against Nature” (2004), is the first time Gant has made use of a celebrity model. In fact, this might be the first time a person regarded as a political figure, rather than a pop star or actress, has lent his name and image to a fashion house.
Tie-ins with causes are in vogue. Angelina Jolie, an actress with a strong social conscience, is the face of St. John, which created a charity in support of children’s issues and causes.
It is clear that Kennedy, 52, sees the cooperation as an opportunity to promote the environmentalist gospel and make the Waterkeeper Alliance better known.
Is he actually interested in fashion?
“Well, it is not a primary preoccupation,” he said. Pressed to describe his personal taste in clothes, Kennedy added: “I dress pretty conservatively. I wear jeans and khakis.”
He felt comfortable during the two-day photo session, saying: “I and my family are used to having our photos taken. We just did what we would normally do at home.”
Don’t expect Kennedy, a master falconer and white-water rafting enthusiast, to start strutting the catwalks. “I do not anticipate a future career in that area,” he said.
Gant, founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1949, is owned by Gant AB, a subsidiary of Swedish parent company Gant Pyramid AB. Gant generates $600 million in global revenue. While its heritage is in men’s wear, Gant started wholesaling its women’s line in the U.S. for this spring. The women’s line has about $100 million in sales overseas.
An estimated 85 percent of the media costs for the Gant/Waterkeeper Alliance campaign will go to print advertising, and 15 percent to outdoor advertising and other venues, said marketing director Eva Boding. “In total, the folder will be going into around 80 titles, in both weekend supplements and the fashion magazines,” she said.
In some markets, such as the U.K. and Germany, “we have used weekend supplements in the past, but this time we have it in more countries like Portugal, France and the Benelux,” Boding added.
Engel wasn’t ready to predict the commercial impact of the campaign. “Ask me in five or six months and I might be able to say,” he said. But the ceo was clearly pleased to see more than 100 reporters from around the world at the press conference. “After all, Stockholm is not the center of the universe, especially in January,” he said.