When I received my Saks catalog this evening, my immediate reaction to the cover page was almost visceral: the bellicose, primal colors of red, black, and white conjured up images of Nazi Germany. I opened the catalogue to find a barrage of like images, with one notably disturbing image of the young model positioning her arm like a naive and passionate Nazi recruit saluting Hitler. Suddenly, the usually satisfying act of flipping through a store catalogue became increasingly discomfiting.
Like all high-end department stores, Saks reported a marked sales decrease of 23.7% in February. As if in an attempt to combat the growing resistance of women to invest in impractical and expensive clothes, they recently launched a "Wear" campaign of everyday basics, conveniently ordered for the woman who wants quick and easy styling tips for everyday wear. Unlike Barneys and Bergdorf's, Saks has, at least to me, begun to resemble another faltering Fifth Avenue department store: Lord & Taylor. Its selection seems more staid, more conservative, and when I curiously watched its Wear video on its website, I was quickly bored. Instead of seeming practical, it seemed trite.
It appears that this version of their recycled "Want It" campaign is an embarrassing attempt at reviving a dying megachain. Unfortunately, its marketing department has lost sight of its customer base in an almost bipolar frenzy. Women want to feel passionately about clothing, and any attempt at a thinly-veiled, ironic allusion to the 1930s and 40s only leaves the customer rebuffed and offended. After all, economists may talk of the Great Depression with legitimate alarm, but when its cruelest images merge with high fashion, the message may indeed cause the death of its messenger.