Tribune staff reporter
Published October 12, 2006
a classy but deceased actress, somebody must pay. Tribune staff
reporter Steve Johnson has some ideas about exactly who that should be.
Because this is a reverse ransom note, I don’t feel compelled to make
it up out of letters cut from different magazine headlines. I can just
come out and say what I want to say, I can use a normal typeface and I
can even sign it with my own name.
What I want to say is this: Give her back. Give her back, or else.
For a few weeks now, you’ve been holding Audrey Hepburn hostage to your
perceived marketing needs. Pushing something called "the skinny black
pant," you’ve used Hepburn’s "bohemian" Parisian nightclub dance from
the movie "Funny Face" in a television ad. It’s backed, with what is
supposed to be charming dissonance, by AC/DC’s pop-heavy-metal hit
"Back in Black," and it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to get irate
letters, too, from the AC/DC fans who happen to be literate.
The ad’s suggestion is that Hepburn, who died in 1993, did that dance
not to express her creativity and free spirit, as the movie’s plot
would have it, but to sell Americans on cluttering their closet with
yet another iteration of casual slacks.
This makes one of the classiest actresses Hollywood has seen into the apparel industry equivalent of Ron Popeil.
Give her back.
Like United Airlines grabbing "Rhapsody in Blue," you have no right to
purloin something so valuable from the popular culture, even if your
lawyers tell you that, in some technical fashion, you do have the
right. While it matters, legally, that her son OKd the ad campaign, it
doesn’t matter, morally.
Rather than cleverly trading off of a celebrity’s image, you are
ham-handedly tarnishing it and, in the process, staining your own.
"Come visit the Gap," your new slogan might read, "the store that
managed to make Audrey Hepburn look crass."
You metaphorically stuffed Hepburn into your car trunk, I understand,
because your stores have lost their cachet among the youth and you
needed something to jolt people into paying attention again. What’s
wrong with the grand old clothier tradition of an absurdly oversexed
catalog, a la Abercrombie & Fitch?
Even if it weren’t so unsettling, the campaign is still off the mark.
Audrey Hepburn, a high-fashion icon, has nothing in common with the
Gap, whose stores these days look-at least in the men’s department-as
if somebody raided the drawers of my college dorm. Miss Hepburn was no
Also, there’s this: Skinny black pants really only look great on the
few women who have the scant proportions of a Hepburn, and even there,
only for a few wearings, until they start to fade.
Now, I am not unreasonable. I recognize you probably have a substantial
investment in this advertising campaign. To ameliorate your losses, I
am prepared to offer you a fair trade.
You give back Audrey Hepburn, removing the "Pants for Sale" sign from around her elegant neck.
We, the American people, will give you back every pair of stonewashed
jeans, male capri pants, pre-wrinkled shirts, sherbet-colored khakis
and other fashion mistakes you somehow persuaded us to buy.
We’ll even throw in, as a special bonus, all those garments that say
"G-A-P" in giant letters because, you know, we turned 25 and realized
that only a sucker pays money to advertise someone else’s products for
If you’re still not persuaded, Gap, you’ll remember that this letter began with an "or else."
What, you may be wondering, is the "or else"?
It’s this: Give Audrey Hepburn back, or else we’ll all take an honest
assessment of our clothing situations, count up all the pairs of chinos
and jeans, and realize we don’t ever need to set foot in a Gap again.
And if we do, by some terrible coincidence of undone laundry and
spontaneous picnicking, suddenly need new chinos, we’ll go to J.Crew
instead, even though we strongly suspect there is no actual person
To show you agree with these demands, simply put all your Hepburn tapes
and images in a big, unmarked box. Leave the box on the north side of
the Buckingham Fountain at midnight Tuesday. Restore Audrey Hepburn to
Steve Johnson is the Tribune’s Internet critic.