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NEW YORK — Shortly after breaking for a late lunch here at Pier 59, actress Michelle Rodriguez, wearing a short, tight, red Ecko Red dress, kicks off her black stilettos and shuffles barefoot to the stereo to flip on something a bit more mellow than the blaring hip-hop tunes. Content, she falls into a nearby couch and cradles her tiny, three-week-old kitten, Precious, in the palm of her hand.

Such is the mood between takes of the photo shoot for Ecko Unlimited’s celebrity-drenched spring 2005 advertising campaign, titled “Motel Paradise.” The company is so tight-lipped regarding the theme of the campaign that all Randy Wells, Ecko Unlimited’s in-house producer, would say was, “People will be like, ‘Oh wow!’”

“This is the most secretive campaign we’ve worked on,” Wells said on the deck of Pier 59 overlooking the Hudson River, where three sets were constructed for the shoots, which took place last week. “There’s a sense of pride. We’ve got to protect it as much as possible until it’s complete.”

From what the company has leaked, the ads will feature heavyweights from the hip-hop arena such as The RZA and Ghostface from the Wu Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, DMC of Run DMC, Eamon and Fat Joe, in addition to actors such as Giovanni Ribisi, Chiaki Kuriyama and Rodriguez. Each actor and musician will play a specific role in the campaign and, according to Rob Weinstein, vice president of marketing for Marc Ecko Enterprises, the ads will “capture some of the emotion of a Hitchcock thriller.” Photographer Roberto D’Este is shooting the campaign.

“I think Marc Ecko is one of the top 15 people who’ve legitimized the hip-hop world,” Rodriguez said between sips of a cappuccino on the deck of the pier. “He is the epitome of youth around the world.”

Rodriguez, who has previously appeared in ads for Gap, was excited to be a part of this campaign, but admitted to having reservations at first. “As one of the only Spanish actresses out there,” she said, “I have to represent on a universal level. I never want to get too specific and I thought, in dealing with Marc, I was going to get pigeon-holed. But he proved to be on the same page and we realized it’s all about inspiring each other in some way.”

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Rodriguez, who has appeared in such films as “Blue Crush,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Girlfight,” was particularly interested when she heard who was in the lineup for the campaign. “When I heard Giovanni Ribisi was doing it, I thought, ‘He’s not very specific.’ It’s not all about being hip-hop. Marc was repping the lifestyle, not the music, and we’re all a part of that.” Plus, Rodriguez had a gut feeling. “Marc is a good f——g guy. I just really like him.”

Called back inside, she changes outfits and walks on the set as Jay Z tunes fill the air.

The cast for the campaign was strategically selected. “We selected them based on their relevancy in hip-hop and urban culture,” Wells said. “We liked what they had to offer in terms of integrity and personal style.”

Weinstein agreed. “These people actually stand for something,” he said. “We’ve always supported Talib through the years. He’s important and critical to the hip-hop nation, as is The RZA. We chose Eamon for his international appeal and Fat Joe is just a staple. We’ve used him in the past in big and tall ads.”

Nothing says credibility in the urban world like having DMC from the legendary hip-hop trio Run DMC on your team.

“I have young kids come up to me and say, ‘My mother and father say you started hip-hop,’” DMC said, waiting to be called to the set. “I feel like kids think, ‘If we don’t like Run DMC, ’cause everyone else does, we’re not cool.’ Kids give us respect because they grew up listening to us.”

DMC believes he very much represents the Ecko brand. “Run DMC is timeless. We represent music and fashion. The reason fashion is so big in this culture is because of Run DMC,” he said, alluding to a time when Adidas sneakers and tracksuits were almost a uniform on the streets. “Marc’s line is universal. It’s not just about hip-hop ’cause that would make it a fad. It’s about kids in the ’hood, rich kids, college kids, Asians, blacks and whites. If you represent those people, you’re timeless.”

Weinstein said this campaign marks how far the company has come since being founded by Marc Ecko and Seth Gerszberg in 1998. Last year, the company generated $1 billion in retail sales. “Our company is rooted in art and design, where others in our set may be rooted in a record label,” Weinstein said. “We always want to give our consumer more value and make sure everything is original and thought-provoking.”

The ads will appear in at least 15 magazines such as The Source, Vibe, Blender, Complex and Teen Vogue, and Ecko Unlimited is in the process of adding more titles to the list. The campaign will debut in March magazines and continue to run until July. The ads will run as singles and spreads, but some magazines will feature a 16-page pull-out booklet featuring every ad. “It’ll be a look book that tells the whole story,” Weinstein said.

Until then, just like Hitchcock, it will remain a mystery.