Baz Luhrmann’s hotly anticipated $125m cinematic version of the F Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby premiered in New York on Wednesday. Speculation as to whether it will be a hit is rife but one thing is certain: among luxury brands, it has already struck gold.
Indeed, this cinematic extravaganza is so product-stuffed, it even puts the Bond film Skyfall, showcase for everything from Tom Ford suits to Coke Zero, in the shade. As orchestrated by production designer Catherine Martin, Gatsby features 40 bespoke Miu Miu and Prada 1920s cocktail designs – which are on travelling display at Prada’s flagship stores in New York, Tokyo and Shanghai until mid-July – each dripping with crystals, embroidery, sequins, fur and fringing. Tiffany & Co created fine jewellery for the film based on its 1920s designs, coming up with a series of headpieces, bracelets, necklaces and strings of pearls.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Gatsby, sports Brooks Brothers suits; the brand created 500 day and evening looks as well as 1,700 accessories for the cast and extras, all based on its archives. Add to that legwear from Fogal of Switzerland and champagne courtesy of Moët & Chandon and the result is a new kind of product placement, one that doesn’t rely solely on obvious close-up shots of branded products but is more integral to the look of the film as a whole – and ultimately just as effective as a marketing tool.
Some brands have not only created pieces for the film but also entire collections “inspired by” their work in the movie. Brooks Brothers offers, for example, The Gatsby Collection, a series of 1920s-inspired looks including burgundy Regatta blazers, pastel-pink linen suits, shawl-collar cardigans and tattersall vests (as well as traditional straw boater hats, bow ties, suspenders and white buck wingtip shoes to accessorise should you choose to take the look to the nth degree) priced from $198-$698.
Meanwhile, the 30 jewellery showpieces from the movie created by Tiffany & Co – currently touring with the premiere circuit – are attracting interest from collectors ($2m worth in total – the key show headpiece from the film is on sale for $200,000).
“We’re already developing a list of clients who have registered interest,” says Jon M. King, executive vice-president of Tiffany & Co, which has also created a Ziegfield Collection of keepsakes.
James Grant, co-founder of Starworks Group, a global communications agency that lists “360 brand management” and “branded entertainment” as part of its services, says: “Product placement is nothing new but it has been accelerating as the economy of Hollywood changes.”
Fashion consultant Lillian Von Stauffenberg agrees: “Branding of movies has become much more pronounced in recent years. Movie-makers before would just ask for products to be supplied by brands; now they’re seeking investment too.”
Indeed, according to one industry broker, brands are now funding as much as 25 per cent of attractive movie projects, particularly if they have a luxury angle.
“By bringing in brands as investors, movies also get access to the umbrella effect of their publicity teams,” says Grant. Case in point: Tiffany’s store windows, currently decorated with towers of champagne coupes strewn in diamonds and miniature stage sets featuring crystal bedecked pillars, and Brooks Brothers’ flagship stores, which will showcase a selection of the original costumes. For the brands, “It’s a visibility issue and brand building,” says Stauffenberg.
Arguably, this is all not that different from the way many child-and-teen-targeted franchises, from Disney to Twilight and The Hunger Games, have long merchandised their products via fashion, make-up and lifestyle.
“Disney has got this right for a long time,” says Grant. “They are experts at creating multiple platforms around characters and movies that extend to every channel, from merchandise to media and publishing. They have coached a generation to experience entertainment expecting to ‘shop it’.”
And in many ways it’s that same generation – “millennials” raised in the 1990s on The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin, at which The Great Gatsby is aimed. “The movie will show a new generation this fascinating period in history [the 1920s],” explains King. “The spectacle of the film perfectly telegraphs the luxury and exuberance of the time and shows Tiffany & Co in situ – it brings the pieces to life.”
In Gatsby’s case, at least, the collaborations do have a certain historic legitimacy: Brooks Bros was mentioned in Fitzgerald’s books and Tiffany & Co was a favoured brand of 1920s New York society. Luhrmann’s connection to fashion is also longstanding, be it his Chanel advertisements with Nicole Kidman or his work as creative consultant for the recent exhibition Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Still, there’s always a risk of a backlash when a film is so clearly branded. “I don’t think the consumer minds being marketed to in films so long as it’s clever,” says Grant. “But sometimes the advertising by brands outside their partnership – in posters and TV – can damage the credibility of collaborations if they are badly executed.”
Stauffenberg says: “Get it right and it can be hugely important. Looking back at history, there are lots of great films with fashion brands associated, and that has actually made them more iconic. When I think of the original Great Gatsby movie starring Robert Redford, the first thing I think of is the amazing Ralph Lauren costumes. The same when I think of Givenchy’s designs for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Donna Karan’s for Great Expectations in 1998. If it’s done in a meaningful way, it adds to the film.”
A brush with history: Grease is the word
“Just as Jay Gatsby wanted to make an impression on Daisy, a haircut can effervesce status and wealth like a Patek Philippe timepiece or a tailored Prada shirt,” says Kerry Warn. Warn is the hair maestro responsible for Leonardo DiCaprio’s slicked-back 1920s locks in The Great Gatsby, writes Jonathan Heaf.
“Men now realise that changing your hairstyle can have a deep impact on your overall look,” adds Warn. “You can be wearing the same old tweed jacket but, trim your hair, slick it back into a side parting, and you’ll revolutionise other people’s perceptions.”
I can testify to the truth of this: as a schoolboy I could never leave my hair alone; I still have trouble now, truth be told. Back then I hated the fact that my hair had in it a little kick, a little curl; in my quest to achieve sleekness I bought the gloopiest wax I could find and did battle each and every morning armed with my mother’s Mason Pearson hairbrush and an old baseball cap.
Just before leaving for school I would run my head under the cold tap, slap on two fingers of “putty”, brush my mousy mop into a dramatic side parting and then – gently, yet precisely – lower said cap over my head to “set”. At the school gates, off came the cap, leaving me with a hairstyle that was practically bombproof. (Also, unfortunately, girl proof.) I was ahead of my time; micromanagement of one’s natural follicular tendencies is widely expected to make a comeback thanks to Baz Luhrmann’s much-hyped film. Designers from Alexander McQueen to Burberry Prosum, Lanvin and Hardy Amies were all channelling the slicked-back Gatsby look for next autumn.
Not that the hair has to be completely glued to the head, says Warn: “For the movie we went back and looked at the original source material, photos of actors and society gentlemen. The parting for men wasn’t too tight, not “mobster” tight. Their hair loosened up along with their morals after the war, remember.”
Jonathan Heaf is features director at British GQ