Everyday blokes lead retailer's fashion push
Ambassador ... Hugo's executive chef Massimo Mele. Photo: Steven Siewert
When Witchery launched a menswear label three years ago, its viral campaign at first enthralled viewers but then ultimately backfired when it was revealed as a hoax.
In the January 2009 video, a woman named ''Heidi'' pleaded for help in finding a man she had met at a Sydney cafe. She held up the jacket he had supposedly left behind, which was part of Witchery's new menswear line, and what appeared to be a romantic quest was soon exposed as an advertisement with a paid actor.
Negative comments were posted on YouTube and some media outlets were scathing, but the menswear design manager at Witchery, Sarah Shand, stands by the campaign.
The new Witchery Man campaign image.
''Our viral campaign received an overwhelming response, with a 17 per cent awareness factor achieved in a very short period of time,'' Shand says. ''From our point of view, awareness was crucial as we were historically known as a womenswear brand. As we were foraying into the menswear industry for the first time, it was important for WitcheryMan to be on the men's fashion industry radar.''
Three years later, Shand remains unrepentant and Witchery has again embraced social media for the relaunch of WitcheryMan.
On Monday night Witchery revealed a revamped design direction with a dinner at Neild Avenue restaurant in Rushcutters Bay, which was attended by men from different walks of life who have been recruited as brand ambassadors. Sports agent Richard Briggs, Hugo's executive chef Massimo Mele and builder Dan Reilly are among 10 ''W.Men'' who have been charged with using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs to give updates about their daily lives, while incorporating WitcheryMan into their wardrobes.
''Bringing together a collective of real men is part of our new vision to inspire the male consumer with relatable, engaging content,'' Shand says.
''Telling [consumers] a story about each real man, not only profiling their style but also their favourite pastimes, can't-live-without products, maybe even where to get the best steak in their home town.''
Shand says the content will be shared on WitcheryMan-owned channels including the above social media and Instagram, as part of the brand's belief that men are more likely to buy clothes if they see them on other ''genuine'' men, rather than models.
''Highlighting real men in our campaign, rather than famous models or celebrities, is an attempt to engage men and demonstrate how WitcheryMan can fit in their existing wardrobe with ease,'' she says.
Shand believes men have a fundamentally different approach to shopping than women, who she says ''tend to see shopping as meeting an emotional need or social activity. Men regard shopping from more of a practical point of view.''
Witchery has reinvented its menswear along these lines to create a new collection of understated, pared-back garments, rather than overtly trend-driven clothing.
Unstructured blazers, polo shirts, chinos and classic white shirts are among the pieces in the new range aimed at capitalising on recent growth in the menswear sector - a recent survey of the luxury menswear market reported global growth of 14 per cent.
''Men are the new women,'' the editor of influential website the Business of Fashion, Imran Amed, said recently.
''Menswear is a growing priority for luxury and fashion brands.''
WitcheryMan may be eager for a piece of the action, but it faces tough competition from existing labels here such as Calibre, Arthur Galan, Jac+Jack and Bassike, which all produce strong collections for men.
Shand says her brand's social media campaign this time around is aimed at being proactive in the crowded market.
''We are taking the key message of our campaign and the highlights of our collection to the male consumer, rather than waiting for him to come to us,'' she says.