Special Report

Beauty + Fashion

Our latest special report draws on the resources of our world-famous archive to explore the question: does fashion and beauty advertising play within different creative rules?


28 June 2023


Many sources will tell you Charles Frederick Worth, an English dressmaker who in 1858 established a salon in Paris to sell his haute couture, is the founding father of fashion. He is said to be the first to have sewn labels with his name into the dresses he made. His brand later expanded into producing ready-to-wear garments and also perfume. The template for integrated fashion and beauty brands and business empires was laid and now thrives globally today, even if House of Worth itself closed in the 1950s.

This feature is from Lurzer’s Archive Volume 02/2023


Worth was far from alone in these business efforts but he was perhaps the very best at being a magnificent self-promoter. He knew the value of dressing the celebs 150 years before today’s red carpet showcase … Lillie Langtry, Nellie Melba and Sarah Bernhardt all wore Worth.

Let’s not lose sight of how our species has been wearing clothes of some kind since approximately 170,000 years ago. Given human nature, we might guess that soon after somebody thought to cover themselves in something, somebody else decided to do it a little differently. And so on. And then somebody else started specializing in whatever it was that helped keep us warm or cool, more protected or more attractive. And so we get to our Prada and Zara, even without Mr Worth’s myth-making.

As to the origins of the beauty industry, we can see evidence that Egyptians of all genders and none were definitely applying perfume and makeup about 6000 years ago. That would have spawned a commodified and then quickly de-commodified industry, to feed the choices. As with now, ancient Egyptian social class was in part differentiated by the different quality of lavish pots that people could afford to have their makeup dispensed from.

And so, for all that highly advanced technologies may be applied to fashion and beauty today, at root there are fundamental forces at work. These industries and their marketing are sometimes criticized for being superficial and wasteful, and yet they can be seen as a mirror to the depths of our shallow souls. There are few things more intimately human and value-laden than fashion and beauty. These are industries that are immense and vital and their communications are pioneering and truth-telling, truth-revealing, for all their often absurdities.

The following quotes feature some of the best from our archive, juxtaposing the works with suggested answers to the question of whether fashion and beauty advertising creativity dances to the same or different rules. We summarize the evidence and pronounce the verdict.

Top image: campaign for the premium product line of the Jack & Jones fashion label, by & Co., Copenhagen, with model Christopher Walken.

Costanza Rossi
Head of Art Grey, London

“Fashion and beauty codes force creativity to its most essential way of communicating. Hardly any words, just visuals. A total synthesis expressed just in a picture, a color, a treatment. At the same time, we always admire how certain brands evolve and push boundaries. For creatives, it’s a fantastic exercise and a complex one to get right. In addition to this, fashion and beauty brands are often playing to the codes of culture. It’s like a treasure hunt of cultural savviness in which you need to be the first to find all the easter eggs hidden in a brand’s narrative. Models, celebrities, location, backdrops, collaborators, media placement, it’s all part of curated culture.”

Pum Lefebure
Co-Founder/Chief Creative Officer Design Army, Washington DC

“Like art, fashion is a form of self-expression. It is both expressive and intimate. A great campaign image needs the ability to seduce, allure and create desire for the audience. The best campaigns don’t require copy because they clearly tell you what you are looking at; yet like a memorable painting, it leaves space for imagination. No explanation, no clever copy needed. For example, the flowing movement of a silky fabric can make you feel a summer breeze against your body. The distinct color blocking of a garment will tease and teach your eyes to see in a new color pallet. Or a no- nonsense black and white image will communicate the pure form and luxurious quality of the garment. The greatest images are purely emotional with the focus on how the image is to make you feel.”

Flavio Waiteman
CCO/Founder at Tech and Soul, São Paolo

“How to talk about beauty, knowing that the filters of various apps have caused effects such as toxic beauty, and a lot of anxiety in young people? And on fashion, when the Patagonia brand established a new boundary between reality and perception. Between fast fashion vs global warming? And precisely because all this is happening now, fashion and beauty advertising needs to regain its space with concepts, not just form. A bit like the pharma and health segment are doing. But with content and great ideas. Not just stories. It’s not so much about what this segment is today, it’s how I see it in the coming years. An increasingly talented, inclusive, sexy segment, beautiful as life needs to be.”

Julie Rutigliano
Creative Director Pereira O’Dell, New York

“In terms of fashion and beauty, I’d say the most powerful communication comes when the brand has a unique or provocative point of view on culture. Fashion and beauty are categories consumers intrinsically take more personally. People have a deeper psychological connection to these categories as the products ultimately become expressions and extensions of who- ever is wearing them. A clear, bold, revolutionary outlook or attitude is what separates the best fashion and beauty brands from the mediocre. Diesel, Dove, Fenty, Kenzo and Billie are great examples of big ideas with such flawless execution, they masquerade as artful brand stories. But make no mistake, strategically these ideas all make a clear statement about our society as a whole and how the brand challenges it.”

Krista McCrimmon
Creative Director Recreation, Dallas

“What makes fashion and beauty advertising a special sector? Most advertising uses a concept to sell a product, but beauty and fashion advertising reverses the formula: it uses a product to sell a concept. The former is ‘what do I want to have,’ and the latter is, ‘who do I want to be.’ But at the end of the day, it’s two sides of the same cliché: consumer culture is consumer culture, whether it smells like Chanel No5 or streams in brilliant 4K.”

Antonia Bekiaris
Creative Director Text at BOLD, Bern

“However, we remain loyal to our fashion or beauty brands for decades … You don’t buy a piece of beauty or fashion, you buy a lifestyle. An attitude, an image to identify with. The creative idea is subsidiary, even the product. It’s all about creating the world your customers most crave to be part of. Even if they never will. Brand experience, identification, consistency. Telling the same story in varia- tions, over and over again.

Remember: fashion is the only product that has the power to turn its customers into advertisements them- selves. Make sure that the right people are drawn to your image. Choose your target audience carefully, otherwise, they will choose you.”

Francesca Romana Ferracini Associate Creative Director Ogilvy, New York

“Advertising is about progress. Fashion is renovation. Brands want to establish themselves, start a journey, and every year build relevance for their consumer. Fashion brands, while maintaining the core brand values each season, must reinvent themselves. This difference impacts creative work and how to talk to consumers. Brands need big ideas, they want to inspire, and they need consistency. Fashion brands want people to feel something. It’s the craft, the music, and the visuals that sometimes need to deliver a simpler message. It’s heart versus gut. And in the best cases, they are not mutually exclusive.”

Claire Stapleton
Creative Lead Copy The Works, Sydney

“I don’t think they’re different. Like every other category, some ideas are amazing, weird, wacky, or just so good that we all wish we’d done them. And some just aren’t.”

Vicky Gitto
CCO & Founder Gitto/Battaglia_22, Milan

“Creative ideas in beauty and fashion advertising differ by emphasizing aesthetics, emotion, trends, story-telling, aspiration, and visual transformation. These ads focus on visually captivating imagery, evoking desire, and establishing personal identity. They tap into emotions and create a connection by portraying desired lifestyles and self-expression. Beauty and fashion advertising must stay current with trends to resonate with the target audience. The use of storytelling techniques and influencer collaborations helps create an aspirational and relatable narrative. Ultimately, these creative ideas aim to inspire and transform, showcasing the product’s potential and conveying a sense of possibility.”

Michael Wilk
Global Head of Art, Serviceplan

“There is no difference in beauty or fashion advertising compared to other industries except that everything is different. No sector is as fast-moving as the fashion industry. Spring, summer, fall and winter cry out for new ideas, again and again. The second something is produced it might already be out of date. On to the next trend!”

Henry Westcott
Freelance Senior Creative/ACD London

“The fashion campaign is a strange beast. Done well and they’re exceptional, like Diesel’s Be Stupid or Burberry’s recent films. Done badly … they end up being akin to the brilliant parody Twitter, Perfume Ads For Sale. They’re a Wild West where strategy takes a back seat. And rightly so. The part of the brain lusting after Louboutins is very different to the part making a decision between two different, yet basically identical, yogurts in a supermarket. So, we love and hate fashion advertising for its brilliant pompousness, it doesn’t play by the rules because it doesn’t have to. And it doesn’t even care; it’s having too much fun.”

So there you have it, over our preceding pages a range of opinions on whether fashion and beauty advertising plays to different rules, alongside work that perhaps demonstrates just that. Or not.

We posed it because, at Lürzer’s Archive, over many years, we have always loved the best of fashion and beauty work and yet at times struggle to place it. Occasionally we have to face down critical remarks such as “that’s not really an idea” or “it’s just like every other fashion ad”, as old-school creative conservatives (if that’s not a full-on oxymoron) fail to see the finer points of how fashion and beauty concepts work. But we know the leading edge of fashion and beauty communications is often the bleeding edge of communications. It is a messy and provocative space, and truly exciting. It is often full of creativity that is beyond clear explanation … it’s that creative.

Our commentators above note that fashion and beauty is often different in its creativity and that is its strength. It plays in a more visual way, or a more avant-garde way, because that is at the core of what it is often selling. How you look is (almost) everything.

Some of the most pioneering creative communications in fashion and beauty point to the future as the very nature of their message.

Typically led by image but increasingly working through powerful integrated ways across media, and constantly pioneering new digital tools and tech, we can see communications in these industries as creative forecasters. For example, they have often been agile in addressing and leading on social and environmental impact issues, and at the forefront of evolving “brand purpose”. But there is much more to do.

For example, fashion and beauty brands have to be at the front in tackling climate change and sustainability concerns. Surely the demise of fast fashion, as we know it, cannot be far off. There will be radical new stories to tell, which will call for new creative methods.

So the answer to our question – does fashion and beauty have different creative rules? – is this: the rules were not so different in the past but may be in the future. These are industries that can be, must be, more pioneering and more challenging, to keep relevant.

Yes, they are just selling clothes and makeup. And yet these industries are, at worst, only superficially superficial. Sometimes the fun of it all makes them seem that way. In fact, they are vital, fundamental expressions of ourselves. The resulting creativity has to walk a tightrope of being wonderfully engaging to shape our tastes but also highly effective to help shape a better world.

Top image: campaign for the premium product line of the Jack & Jones fashion label, by & Co., Copenhagen, with model Christopher Walken.

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