Greetings from a bunker, where I have stockpiled dried apricots and seltzer and plan to wait out everything to do with this #ImNoAngel ad campaign. Good try, Lane Bryant, but no number of beautifully shot images of Ashley Graham will erase years of trying on asymmetric polyester garbage at your stores, hunting for the one or two items worth buying.
Empowerment marketing can’t make me forget. Only flattering, well-made clothing can—and that’s not what’s on offer.
The lingerie sub-brand that Lane Bryant is advertising with #ImNoAngel, a clear pot-shot against Victoria’s Secret, is called Cacique, and it’s worth mentioning that Cacique itself is one of the few things Lane Bryant consistently gets right. They’ve got genuinely sexy options and functional heavy-duty bras; they’ve got whatever you’re hunting.
But that’s not the overall Lane Bryant experience, you have to understand. For a long time, they were probably the closest thing to a universal fat girl mall shopping touchstone there was. And despite their opportunity, and their eager market, Lane Bryant produced expensive, ruffly, flowery, dumb shit. I think it’s probably fair to say that a lot of the development of the plus-size blogosphere was driven by sheer fucking rage at Lane Bryant and their naked complacency.
Today—finally—Lane Bryant’s got competition. What, you thought they started preaching body acceptance out of the goodness of their hearts? Hell no. They’ve got to compete with Eloquii, Simply Be, Asos Curve, eShakti, Old Navy, Modcloth, Talbots Woman, Nordstrom’s plus-size section, Igigi, Kiyonna. The effort requires a lot of miscellaneous online shopping, but today you can easily assemble an entire plus-size wardrobe without ever turning to Lane Bryant, and there are only more brands coming. The suits finally noticed all the money left lying around on the table, and now Lane Bryant has to hustle.
So they’re trying to jazz it up with a rebrand. “We’ve been wanting to do a campaign to reintroduce Lane Bryant to a new generation of women, and to reacquaint prior clients about the direction of the brand,” CEO Linda Heasley told Fashionista. This means, in my experience, a lot of effort put into styling ad campaigns and catalog shoots, plus designer-branded capsule collections, but not much improvement in the rest of the product mix. This is what the first two rows of “new arrivals” on the site look like:
I’m good, thanks.
And even the designer collections could be better. They’re getting lots of positive coverage, but that Lela Rose collection looks like the same old pastel florals to me. 6th & Lane has not blown my socks off. The Isabel Toledo collection was exciting, and I bought a beautiful black cocktail dress from the line, but there’s been a lot of filler there, too.
Understanding that advertising isn’t going anywhere, and it’s better to see positive messages involving confident women rather than some aggressive fear-based marketing about how your cellulite makes you an unfuckable monster: Lane Bryant still seems to be misunderstanding exactly what need I—and women sizes 14 and up—want them to meet. I don’t need to be told that I’m beautiful, or #NoAngel; I need good clothes. Empowerment marketing is no substitute for clothing worth buying. For another example, take Modcloth, a company that loudly disavows Photoshop, so loudly that I feel like I’m being pandered to. Their stance on “real beauty” is not why I spend my money there. I shop at Modcloth because they sell fully-lined dresses in my size made of real, actual cotton. Good luck finding cotton at Lane Bryant.
Admittedly, Lane Bryant occupies a tough place in the market, outlined very capably in a big New Yorker piece from last year. Basically, it’s damned hard to offer something for everybody—when your company is seen not to serve a style of woman but a catch-all size:
Heasley told me that Lane Bryant’s new motto is “We are ‘her’ size, we’re not plus size.”
But who is she? “That’s the hard one,” Heasley said. It can be difficult to imagine a customer who represents the majority of the country. “You can go into an Ann Taylor Loft and you say, ‘I know who their customer is.’ ” But in a Lane Bryant store, she said, “you see so much variety, it makes it harder to get a direction.” In Heasley’s ideal world, Lane Bryant would attract both the fashion-conscious bloggers I met at the Eloquii sale and women who are coping with post-pregnancy weight gain.
Combine that with the fact that they’re basically a mainstream mall brand that needs to play in Peoria: Lane Bryant can’t just chuck the forgiving black jersey dresses for crop-tops and high fashion. There are customers who need those suit options.
But perfectly tuned, fast-fashion trends isn’t what anyone ever wanted from Lane Bryant. Shit, the store doesn’t even sell maternity clothing. They have refused to borrow even from the plain, easy, relatively classic basics offered by middle-American mall brands for straight-sized women like the Gap. Instead, lingerie aside, Lane Bryant continues to put out a cauldron of WTF.
And this attempted rebrand seems to be skirting the reality of their customer base. I understand that plenty of people have an issue with the word plus-size, but I’m skeptical when I read something like this:
Meanwhile, the term plus-size is absent from all press materials and ad copy. Why? “We believe it’s about fashion and all women deserve fashion and it’s about great design,” says Healey. “There are many women who are proud to say they’re plus, and women who aren’t comfortable saying that. It’s about making all women feel beautiful and sexy; they don’t want to be constrained.”
Again, the task at hand for Lane Bryant should be making good clothes, not “making all women feel beautiful.” Staking self-worth on beauty is fucked up, no matter what we take beauty to mean. As long as we hang this whole thing on beauty, the main winners are going to be corporations who can keep playing us off one another.
Which is exactly what’s happened with their Big Empowerment Campaign. Now there’s even a backlash alleging the Lane Bryant is “skinny-shaming.” To me, it feels like Lane Bryant made a play for sweet, sweet viral attention (which they got)—and then blundered off into a conversation between size tens and sizes twos, neither size really being their customer. But it gets them press regardless, which reaches people who aren’t quite plus-sized but aren’t quite Victoria’s Secret Angel either, and this, of course, impresses investors.
Meanwhile, their actual customer is still standing here naked from the waist down. Can I get a little help finding a pair of jeans that aren’t fucking bedazzled?
Lane Bryant is neither my therapist nor my boyfriend. They’re a retailer that I continue to frequent because my brick-and-mortar options are rare and I’m addicted to their coupons. The best thing they can do for me—the pain point that they can solve for fat people living in this fat-unfriendly world—is to produce comfortable, well-made, flattering clothing. And that goes for all the brands that are suddenly rushing into the market. It’s not just Lane Bryant thinking they can rely on marketing. The response to Target’s Ava & Viv has been disappointed, because they clearly put a bunch of work into an attractive ad campaign starring popular bloggers, but so far they haven’t followed through with especially impressive offerings.
Just make good clothes. Please. Seriously.
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