Cookie, Toothbrush Brands Invade Fashion Week

You expect to see MAC or Tresemme at Fashion Week, but a Kraft cookie brand?

You won’t see Kraft’s Le Petit Ecolier school boy cookie doing his thing on the runway, but the food giant will offer complimentary samples of the sweet to visitors inside its LU Lounge during Fashion Week. Presented by the IMG Group in conjunction with title sponsor Mercedes-Benz, this season’s event runs through Sept. 12, and Kraft, through its LU Biscuits brand, has partnered with celebrity designer Erin Fetherston.

Kraft sees the event, known for its stick-thin models, as the perfect venue to publicize its premium biscuit line. “It’s [about] looking at the right venue and the right opportunity,” said Laurie Guzzinati, associate director of corporate and legal affairs at Kraft.

Guzzinati pointed to the brand’s French heritage (Kraft bought it from Danone in 2007) and reasoned, “Le Petit Ecolier, in and of itself, is a very fashionable product, if you will, based upon the design, the scalloped edges, the imported chocolate and the buttery biscuit.”

C’est la vie perhaps, but Kraft isn’t the only brand that has a tenuous link to the industry to glom onto Fashion Week. DHL, American Express and T-Mobile all have sponsorship stakes in this year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Procter & Gamble, on the other hand, is taking both its Tide and Oral-B brands straight to the catwalk as part of Style360, a Fashion Week spin-off, which takes place in downtown Manhattan. Models wearing clothes washed several times with the new Tide Total Care line walk the runway this morning; and tomorrow, Dash/Smooch presents its latest pajama collection in conjunction with P&G’s new slim, rechargeable Oral-B Pulsonic toothbrush.

The presence of such supermarket-friendly brands makes Fashion Week look increasingly accessible. Critics say that could pose a problem. Too many toothbrush and cookie brands may be hurting the fashion industry. “Wrong brands can dilute the fashion aspect and make Fashion Week appear almost too accessible,” said Stephen Niedzwiecki, president of YARD, a creative agency specializing in fashion and cosmetics in New York. “It’s like back in the day when concerts were always being sponsored by brands and people looked at it as a way for a brand to just slap its face on a concert.”

“If you are a brand called Fashion Week, in terms of the company you keep, what kinds of brands do you want to allow and enable to share that prestige and that brand space?” asked Paul Kurnit, marketing professor at Pace University.

Nevertheless, many brands see the event as a way to bask in the glamorous halo of New York’s premiere fashion event. In the case of Tide, P&G is trying to use the brand’s new Total Care line as a crossover from “fabric care to fashion care,” said company rep Kash Shaikh. Last month, Tide, in conjunction with Downy, unveiled its new laundry and fabric softener line, which is made from the same ingredients found in beauty and hair care products. The collection is intended for clothes that require gentle washing.

“For years, high-end fashion has been about dry cleaning, about garments women didn’t feel comfortable with putting in the washer because of the quality or expense of the garment,” Shaikh said. By P&G’s estimates, women spend $1,500 a year dry cleaning clothes that can actually be washed. The move is part of P&G’s push to make “washable fashionable.”

Oral-B, on the other hand, is going after the consumer who wants a toothbrush that not only delivers whiter teeth, but is aesthetically appealing as well.

“Before, it was you can get a great performance toothbrush, but the design element wasn’t there,” said P&G oral care rep Alissa Hammond.

While both Kurnit and Niedzwiecki agreed that linking Tide, Oral-B and LU Biscuits to fashion makes sense, Kurnit said that this does not mean all brands within the same company portfolio can pull it off.

“I get Tide Total Care. I wouldn’t feel as good about Charmin bathroom tissue. Nor would I want to see analgesics and stomach remedies,” he said.

How about bottled water? Evian was among the first brands outside the rag trade to see Fashion Week’s potential. Evian has been the event’s bottled spring water of record for 10 years straight (1993-2003). After a five-year hiatus (its disappearance was due to a change in marketing plans, per the IMG Group, which runs Fashion Week), Evian reemerged as the venue’s official H2O sponsor this year.

The close tie to the event has helped Evian carve a niche, said Fern Mallis, svp and IMG Fashion, which hosts Fashion Week. “”This was a way of getting their water in front of a stylized audience as opposed to having it viewed as just another sports water drink,” she said.

In other words, Evian is no Dasani. Mallis said her organization conducts close screenings when seeking out new and potential sponsors. The same holds true with existing contracts, as “we look to see what these companies’ marketing goals are and if there is a synergy with what we are trying to accomplish,” she said.

In the case of Evian, the brand had the French pedigree to make it a good fit with the show. “Fashion, beauty and health are all core to our brand DNA,” said Evian vp-marketing, Jeff Caswell. “It’s something that has been with our brand for years and something we have activated for years.”

But Kraft may be a different story. “The tricky thing is, if it’s being marketed as Kraft, then I wonder. How do people see Fashion Week being associated with a large brand like Kraft?” asked Niedzwiecki.

They seem to like it fine, so long as the Kraft affiliation is kept on the down low. A press invite for tomorrow’s cookie announcement read “Get a Taste of Fashion Week with LU Biscuits and Erin Fetherston.” Nowhere does the invitation mention parent company Kraft.