Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Saks Fifth Avenue Nazi Campaign

From the Saks Spring Catalog:




Actual Nazi Propaganda Posters:


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.

16 comments:

TLT said...

I have to agree. The campaign completely reminds me of Nazi propaganda posters from WWII and that model's pose is reminiscent of the whole "Heil Hitler" salute. It rubs me the wrong way. I understand they might need to use shock value to get a good response from customers...but there must be a million better and classier ways to do so.

Songy said...

I wonder who was behind this 'brilliant' design. Was it era inspired or the character inspired? I don't get this. It's pretty stupid. Am I supposed to feel threaten by Saks to shop? What kind of brand association or recognition they are trying to get? My immediate reaction was wtf.. dumb asses.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your observation; very disconcerting. Lord & Taylor still remains a great place to find sensible clothing for men and women with a modern twist. Their revamped merchandise is unlike Saks or Bergdorf's, but something they call their own look. Despite image, how many people are actually buying the trendy $1800 pocketbooks at Saks? They have gone overboard and now there is consumer pushback.

M. said...

Agree..I felt uncomfortable seeing the ads much more shop?
-M.

Amol said...

I think it's ridiculous that that's how they want to go about getting customers. It's an odd and shocking way and it's not cool or good. If they wanted customers, then they needed to focus on helping customers by giving them something new, fresh and focused personalized attention like in bloomingdales.

miss cavendish said...

Oh yes, or some Soviet bloc propaganda. This is the first Saks catalogue that I've thrown out in a while--thought everything was utterly uninspiring.

miss cavendish said...

Oh yes--or some Soviet bloc-era propaganda!

This is the first Saks catalogue in a while that I've thrown out immediately. I was utterly uninspired by anything inside it.

The Little Fashion Treasury said...

I still can´t believe what I´m seeing here, can´t understand any officials from Sak´s...
Something like this should be forbidden.
I´m speechless.

deep_in_vogue said...

Well said. The days of high-end department stores are numbered.

Anonymous said...

this is surely a Rodchenko and popova inspired design, a la the current exhibition at tate modern, not a nazi thing? that period of soviet/modernist design is very popular right now, it looks a bit retro, a bit 80s.

I don't know if that makes me want to shopping though, but I don't think there's anything sinister about it

Snowberry and Lime said...

I gotta agree with 'anonymous' above... it is soviet inspired art, but I don't see that strong connection to the posters in your entry here either. Not what I would have chosen these to sell clothes with, but they are nothing scary either. :)

discolantern said...

While I don't know all that much about fashion, I think its a bit hasty to automatically jump to comparisons of the new Spring '09 catalogue design to Nazi propaganda. To my knowledge, Saks isn't anti-semitic and it would be pretty bold of them (not to mention catastrophic to their sales and reputation) to put their beliefs out there like that. The catalogue, designed by Shepard Fairey (most of you might know him as the Obama campaign poster guy) went with a simple Constructivist motif that, while it was used in Nazi propaganda, was prevalent in many other platforms throughout the 1930s and '40s. And not just from Germany, but from Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain as well. I guess what I'm getting at here is that its funny how everyone is in a tizzy about the associations with this type of art style rather than just appreciating it (or not, if you happen to not be a fan of Constructivism, De Stijl, New Typography, etc) for what it is. Its unfortunate that this type of art has bred such negative connotations. Associations aside, its just a good-looking, simple format that I consider to be successful.

Thumbelina Fashionista said...

Thanks for your feedback. I certainly agree that there is the Popova/Soviet influence there. Personally, it still bothers me that a dept. store is using art that is reminiscent of that time period/communism. And the color combinations and the aggressive arm gesture still hold those Nazi associations. There's definitely a propagandist quality to those ads that I find offensive. But all in all, your points are well taken, and they're certainly valid viewpoints.

Anonymous said...

I can see the similarity a little bit. But I have to say, when I saw the pictures what came to my mind was drinking a Coke.

I'm not big on fashion, so to me the offensive part is not whether they look like nazi or soviet propaganda, but they telling me to arm myself with an expensive bag?

Arm yourself with a gun, waste your money with an expensive bag to get the supposed approval of others, or just because you like it. Mixing serious stuff with fashion stuff is what I find offensive.

David said...

I've always liked the look of classic propaganda both from the Nazi's and commies of various stripes. I look past the ideology and simply consider it on artistic merit. It's bold, funny and an interesting mix of themes. I love the "slouchy bag" poster. Were I a girl, I'd buy it. I think the real offense here is probably the price tag on the bag itself.

Anonymous said...

I feel that the new saks ads are extremely disturbing. The colors and bold lettering clearly resembeles Nazi banners. I actually called saks to complain and they said they recieved many complaints. You can call too @ 800-238-3089 or e-mail/chat with them.