NEW YORK — After landing Nicole Kidman as the star of its first Key to the Cure campaign last year and raising more than $3 million for cancer research, Saks Fifth Avenue executives were left wondering how they could possibly do better in 2004.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The question was, ‘How can you top that?’” said Michael Macko, director of fashion merchandising for men’s at Saks Fifth Avenue. “And the answer was by getting this year’s Oscar winner for Best Actress.”

Charlize Theron, who won the award for her role in “Monster,” will appear in advertisements promoting the retailer’s Key to the Cure initiative. The Saks’ annual fund-raising program for the second year will benefit the Entertainment Industry Foundation and its Women’s Cancer Research Fund.

Theron will appear in a T-shirt designed by Marc Jacobs that will be produced in a run of about 25,000 and will be sold for $35 at Saks stores around the country to benefit the charities. Like Kidman, Theron joined the campaign through EIF, which has rallied celebrities for various charitable initiatives during its 63-year history.

Since Saks began its women’s cancer research program five years ago, the company has raised more than $13 million for charities. Last fall, Saks introduced its custom designed T-shirt initiative with a boat-neck style from Stella McCartney, which sold more than 17,000 units. In addition to the Marc Jacobs T-shirt this year, Saks will repeat its four-day shopping weekend, Oct. 14-17, during which 2 percent of sales at all stores and at its saks.com Web site will be donated to local and national breast and women’s reproductive cancer research centers.

“To have a high-profile female associated with this initiative every year is so helpful in bringing attention to the cause,” said Fred Wilson, chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises. “The whole notion of this is to be effective in combating this disease that is so damaging to females, and part of this is not only bringing attention to the cause, but also trying to do something concrete.”

Lisa Paulsen, president and ceo of EIF, said the Key to the Cure campaign was one of the organization’s most successful launches, raising funds that will be used to further the study of biomarker discovery for early detection of breast and ovary cancers, a project of the Women’s Cancer Research Fund established by Kelly Chapman Meyer, Anne Douglas, Quinn Ezralow, Marion Laurie and Jamie Tisch, and chaired by Rita Wilson and Kate Capshaw.

The ads featuring Theron and the Jacobs T-shirt will appear in fashion and lifestyle magazines in October issues. In addition, Mercedes-Benz USA, which donated $1 million last year by creating a special vehicle for the initiative that was sold at dealerships around the country, will again design a special edition of its SLK350 roadster that will be available in September.

A new partner this year is Hanes, which is donating the T-shirts and production so that the entire $35 retail price will go directly to the charities. The shirts, a long-sleeve style featuring a motif of swirled clouds from which a hand extends, bearing a pink key, will be featured in all 64 Saks Fifth Avenue doors around the country, in kiosks with central placement, Macko said. The company again plans to promote the cause by sending T-shirts to celebrities and stylists, hoping to replicate the success of similar efforts last year that placed shirts on the hosts of “The View,” “The Today Show’’ and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”