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The Bird: Are we too conservative?

By Tony Leishman

Recently we were engaged to launch a new client. 

We were engaged to develop a name,  positioning, and concept to launch a brand offering high-end pre-loved luxury bags, jewellery and accessories. A brand that would do its major share of trading online with a flagship store to open in July in St.Kilda Melbourne. 

Through workshops and a defining process, we developed the name theUpstyler; Australia’s new premier boutique destination for preloved luxury bags, jewellery and accessories. The tone was cool, edgy fashion so as part of the brand launch we created the positioning line, ‘up your style’.

In maintaining our edgy approach, we created a cheeky print campaign with a sophisticated image of a stunning woman giving the ‘bird’. Yes, this may be a little cheeky; but hey, this is fashion! It was also a great way to showcase the Chanel jewellery and cuff accessories across her fingers and wrists. We presented the concept and our client loved it. Although to measure its impact he presented it to several key affluencers among his target audience. All loved the attitude and power of the image.

Giving the ‘bird’ under some circumstances can be confronting and we may have been pushing the boundaries but that’s what we do. When you look at the history of fashion and what has come before, we felt this would be seen as acceptable. Little did we know in this day and age it would be so controversial.

Are we more conservative that we were in 1965?

The ad was to run in the May 2017 edition of Vogue Australia. We were all excited with the final ad and happily fired it off the Vogue magazine. So you can imagine our disappointment when we received the below response from the editor in chief of VOGUE Australia, Edwina McCann, on theUpstyler’s current creative:

Vogue cannot run theUpstyler ad with the model raising her two middle fingers to the camera because the gesture can be seen as offensive. We value our reader feedback, and experience tells us that this will not be beneficial to the Vogue brand and theUpstyler. We are really looking forward to working with theUpstyler, and we hope that there is alternative creative available and apologise for any inconvenience.

Kind regards,
Edwina McCann

Obviously, from our perspective, there are some inconsistencies with what Vogue has run in the past with relation to “the bird.”  Before sending off the ad to Vogue, for reassurance we did some research to see if they had printed similar imagery in the past. The first recorded appearance we could find was in Italian Vogue in 1965. It was an article about Andy Warhol’s “going out west” shoot. That’s 52 years ago. We then found Christy Turlington, 1991 Vogue UK by Peter Lindbergh.  The ‘bird’ appeared again with Marystella Gomez, 2011 Vogue Paris Joan Smalls.

I always imagined the fashion industry as forefront when it came to freedom of expression and the ability to embrace the ‘edge’. At the end of the day, it’s those who push the boundaries who create the fashion. My faith was restored shortly afterward when we received feedback from Marie Claire who loved the ad and pulled out all stops to get it into their July publication.  

So are we more conservative than we were in the 60’s? Or are we simply more conservative than the Italian’s, French and English? I’d like to think not.

The whole process did get me thinking ….

Maybe back in the 60’s, it was all about liberation. Freedom was embraced. Break the rules, go wild, do what you want. With so much in a state of change, it took more than a celebrity giving ‘the bird’ to get consumers outraged. I think society as a whole HAS become more conservative.

There is more external pressure these days. Sure we can state that ‘terrorism, distant or close to home won’t effect how I live’ but I think in the rear corners of our psyche our carefree attitude has been dulled some what. 

Has the explosion of social media, in fact, made consumers ‘less’ social? Are we more wary, protective and private?

It’s always been the case that what some may view as cheeky others will view as offensive but in this context; how offensive is it really? Andy Warhol gave us the ‘bird’ in 1965. I’m with him.




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