Oh, cranky Boden shoppers, we need to have a talk. This week, some of you have had a bee in your collective bonnet because your beloved brand hired Helena Christensen to model for their website. This is bad, you have argued, because Christensen — who is 43 years old and happens to be the mother of a 12-year-old son — doesn’t look like a real person. Or at least not like a real mom. “We’re not all slim and good looking,” wrote one disgruntled (and now oft quoted) customer, “rather interesting and designed for the job in hand — motherhood.”
I’m not even sure what that means. Christensen isn’t interesting? She’s not designed to be a mom? Whaa???
Ok, so Christensen doesn’t look like you. You know, because she’s a supermodel and the average Boden customer is … not. “I don’t want to look overtly sexy and have had to work hard to imagine myself wearing any of the clothes she has modelled [sic],” wrote another upset Bodenista. Well, yes, Christensen is pretty damn hott, but it’s not like the rest of the Boden models are Plain Janes. In fact, Christensen at least has some curves, which is unusual for catalog models in general. If anything, she’s built more like the rest of us than those anonymous (and, let’s face it, skinny) girls who typically model for Boden and its counterparts. So why is it easier to imagine yourself in something worn by a 20-year-old size 0 than by a 40-something with hips and boobs?
But the backlash isn’t just aimed at Christensen or her curves; some consumers argued that having her on the website totally changes the brand. “Initially we were given unknown models with a little sentence on their likes and dislikes all geared to aspirational lifestyle living,” griped one consumer. “Seems rather odd to now give us a famous model who we all know has no concept of the lives we lead and makes us well aware that wearing all the Boden clothes in the world ain’t going to give us hers.” Oh, Boden customers, you are precious! Because while you are inspired by those anonymous models and their lifestyle aspirations, you are depressed by Helena Christensen and her supermodel life. Which has nothing to do with this photo shoot. Or with Boden’s clothes.
I’m not a huge Boden fan; while I will occasionally see something truly lovely on the website (like this amazing cocktail dress, left, which I totally fell in love with when I was researching this story), I find most of the pieces frumpy and mumsy and unexciting. Christensen’s curvy shape gives these clothes a completely different look from what typically appears in Boden’s catalogs and makes them look less bleah and more interesting — which I assume, at some level, was the whole goal of this campaign.
The simple truth is that the lovely young lady modeling the cocktail dress isn’t built anything like Helena Christensen. Not at all. And neither of them, I will guess, is built anything like the majority of Boden customers. Or moms. Or women over 40. Or …
You get my point.
While a vocal group of Boden consumers are annoyed by this campaign, not all think it’s a bad thing. “Let’s face it,” wrote Mumsnet poster ujjayi, “irrespective of whether it is Helena or some other gorgeous model, most of us do not resemble the preening loveliness of the average catalogue model so what does it matter who it is?” Good point — catalogs, like fashion magazines, are aspirational, not inspirational. The models are chosen because they fit some idealized notion of what is beautiful, not because they look like you or your friends (unless your friends are all supermodels, in which case, my mistake.) And as smart consumers, we learn to look past the pretty girl and see the clothes, and to choose the pieces that will fit our real-life, real-mom bodies. When we do this, we wind up looking pretty darn good, if I do say so.
But we don’t wind up looking like the girls in the catalogs. At least I don’t.
For some customers, hiring Christensen wasn’t a mistake but a success, at least according to posters on Mumsnet. “Actually, I think ‘sexing up’ Boden (can hardly believe I’ve just typed that) is a good thing – I feel incredibly patronised looking through their past marketing as it seems to suggest that having children leaves you a ‘sexless but happy, jolly and fun mummy who loves dressing like a little girl’. Boden has always had good quality clothing which, when styled right and not worn head to toe, can look a damn sight better than they usually portray it.”
Adds another poster, “If using Helena is a sign of more stylish times I’m all for it. And it’s certainly not irritating in the way the previous smiling ‘girl women’ with their likes and dislikes were.”
What’s your take on this kerfluffle: Are customers overreacting to this ad campaign, or is Helena Christensen too sexy for Boden? How would you react if your favorite brand suddenly sexed it up — or toned it way, way down?
Photos via BodenUSA
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