NEW YORK — The hour hand of the clock had barely passed 10 on Wednesday morning, but Betsey Johnson was already sipping a frozen watermelon margarita during a photo shoot at Splashlight Studios here.
“We might need a refill later. I don’t know if they want to shoot with the drink three-quarters gone,” she laughed, and tugged the hem of her yellow “Betseyville” T-shirt over her leopard-print skirt.
Sure enough, they did. “Where’s the margarita man?” the designer called out to the 20 handlers and hangers-on milling around the studio, and an earnest-looking bearded man scrambled for the blender.
“Maybe they can ship this to Mexico,” Johnson wondered aloud, referring to the two Mexican hideaways she treks to for monthly design retreats.
While the merriment might seem a tad early, Johnson was just doing her job. She was one of five designers shot for summer ads for Cointreau, the 150-year-old cognac brand. Charlotte Ronson, Bradley Bayou, Lulu Guinness and Max Azria will also appear in the potable’s “Haute Cocktail” six-page advertising spread, which breaks in the July issue of Vogue (which, like WWD, is owned by Advance Magazines). Each designer was asked to take a favorite piece from their summer collections, and Cointreau helped them whip up a coordinating cocktail. Johnson’s turquoise chiffon dress printed with big pink roses inspired the watermelon margarita, Ronson’s strapless white minidress with a colorful fruit print drummed up a pale pink “glamourtini” and Bayou’s froufrou bubblegum pink evening dress prompted a white martini.
Industry sources said Cointreau is spending about $750,000 on the campaign. The designers worked pro bono.
Afterwards, Johnson said Cointreau-spiked margaritas are her drink of choice, so endorsing the brand was a no-brainer. But this is only the second brand she has ever endorsed. In 1972, she appeared in an ad for Bayer aspirin along with Ozzie Nelson and Lee Trevino. Johnson said she initially turned down the $10,000 four-hour gig, because she worried customers would stop buying her clothes. “No one did endorsement deals then,” she said. “Even John McEnroe wasn’t doing endorsement deals.”
Johnson changed her mind once it dawned on her that she had taken Bayer all her life. “I invested that $10,000 late one night at Max’s Kansas City with some Wall Street guy and five years later it was $60,000. That money allowed me to start my business.”
Ronson, who is moving to a new showroom this week and is on the hunt for a space for her NoLIta store, also viewed the Cointreau ad as a business opportunity to some degree. “This sounded fun and it was a compliment to be asked to show my line and to work with a company that is supportive and chooses you.”
She was equally diplomatic about her wardrobe selection. After showing stylist Edward Jowdy an armful of garment bags holding several dresses from her C. Ronson collection, the designer dutifully reviewed the pieces that Jowdy had selected for her, including a brown Chloé “I’m-going-on-an-interview” pantsuit, which spurred a pursed, but polite smile. “I don’t think she’s ever worn a suit in her life,” Ronson’s publicist whispered. Nor was Ronson going for the $300 distressed Marc Jacobs jacket or the blue-and-white striped cropped Galliano pants with the $15.99 Century 21 price tag. In the end, she went with one of her own, an orange off-the-shoulder minidress, a striped sweatband, necklace and strappy stiletto sandals with dangling cherry details.
After an hour’s worth of hair and makeup, Ronson’s matted long hair was full and wavy.
“Wow! There’s a little Shakira going on,” said Rony Zeidan, art director of Kraftworks, the agency creating the campaign, which will include parties leading up to its launch.
On the set, Ronson managed to look ladylike even when she was seated in a chair that looked like a giant tooth with a cavity. By this time, Bayou, who was next up to be photographed, had moved to the manicurist’s chair. “I’m a clothing designer,” he said. Earlier he had told Zeidan, “It’s surprising how many people actually buy this dress,” gesturing toward the $24,000 pink laser-cut strapless look on a mannequin.
Aside from the exposure, Bayou is eager to see his friends’ reaction. “My friends are going to think this is funny. They know it’s the only thing I drink.”