CLOTHES MAY MAKE THE MAD MEN
But We Still Called Them “Suits”
By Erwin Ephron
One of the few miss-steps of TV's celebrated series is how agency people dressed. The mad men of the 60's and 70's looked more like Woodstock than Brooks Brothers and often went shoeless in the office. Only clients and account people dressed for daily business and for doing that we called them "suits."
The Jeans Revolution
At one of my favorite agencies, Epstein, Raboy Advertising, or ERA for short, that rugged fashion sense came in handy. Through Mitch Epstein's connections at Revlon, ERA became Calvin Klein's first agency.
In the 70's Calvin was just emerging as a force in fashion, but his specialty at the time was hardly a designer item. It was blue jeans.
The agency was comfortable in jeans, but knew SAKs wasn't, and neither were fashion conscious women. To make jeans chic, the agency came up with what is probably the greatest (and cheapest) campaign in fashion history. An enormous Time Square Bulletin appeared the week department store buyers came to New York to preview the Fall Fashions.
The huge image was an easily recognized top fashion model wearing Jeans with an extravagant silk blouse. The only copy was "Calvin Klein Jeans." Those buyers who didn't see the board heard about it.
One billboard. A bold new fashion statement for an industry that lives on change. And that week Jeans became fashion. Brooke Shields came later.
The Tie Review Board
"Madison Avenue" was advertising's label, but today it's hard to grasp how geographic the business was in the 60's. I worked at five agencies over a 14 year period and all were located within a four block radius. We were tribal and so was our support system.
One of the pillars was Phil the white-haired haberdasher and his men's store, "Phil's." Phil specialized in ties for admen back when the luck of a new tie was thought essential to success at a client meeting.
When creatives were invited to these meetings, they were first sent to Phil's to get a tie. This wasn't shopping. Phil chose the ties. In his words, "Not too bright, but snappy." White-haired Phil was not alone at Phil's. The tie review board included his white-haired mother and her white-haired dog. Phil's daughter visited occasionally, kept quiet, and as if to publish her independence, had jet black hair.
Phil's was an essential part of the Mad Ave tribe and kept its rituals. In 10 years Phil's moved to a new location three times, but always on the same block.
Such a Long Drive
Phil was an avid reader of the Daily News and would comment on its stories with wisdom and wonder. I remember the day in 1977 when David Berkowitz, AKA "Son of Sam" was captured.
I wandered into Phil's for a tie and saw him hunched over the paper. "What's going on, Phil?" I asked. "They caught Son of Sam in Brooklyn" he replied. "That's good" I said. "Wait," Phil interrupted. "He had an automatic rifle, lots of ammunition and was going to the Hamptons for the weekend."
Phil thought for a moment, shook his head, and added. "Such a long drive."
The One Club Exhibit
In celebration of the success of Mad Men, the One Club, representing agency creative people, had an exhibit in the NY Public Library. The one on Madison Avenue of course.
Many history-making ads were shown. One of my favorites is Doyle Dane Bernbach's pumpernickel ad: A full head-dress Indian with the copy "You don't have to be Jewish to Love Levy's." A funny, warm ad that made Levy's a celebrity and built the business.
The Coup De Grace
Great ads like Levy's are strategic as well as memorable. I remembered one from Carl Ally that should have been at the Library show, but was missing, perhaps because it took aim at another agency. It was the advertising embodiment of a coup de grace.
Ally won the Hertz account at a time when the car rental company was suffering. Upstart AVIS had stolen the public's heart and rentals with Doyle Dane Bernbach's famous, believable and effective 'We Try Harder" campaign.
It said "we're not the biggest, so we try to be the best." and turned Hertz's strength as the world's biggest car renter into a handicap. Up-ending the land mark AVIS campaign (and the world's top creative agency) was the kind of challenge Carl Ally loved.
The first Ally ad for Hertz was a spread in the NY Times. It said " For years, Avis has been telling you Hertz is No. 1. Now we're going to tell you why. " Levy's, AVIS, Hertz. That's what's really missing from Mad Men --
The great advertising.
- August 31, 2009 -