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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

People Brand Failures: Fashion Café

From catwalk to catfights

Although it eventually proved to be a flop, Planet Hollywood spawned a number of imitators. David Hasselhoff tried to launch a Baywatch Café chain complete with waitresses in red swimsuits. Magician David Copperfield reportedly ploughed millions into a magic-themed restaurant chain which later vanished in a puff of smoke. Steven Spielberg invested in Dive, a submarine-shaped restaurant in Los Angeles with a giant cinema screen, taking diners on undersea voyages. It sank without trace.

One of the most spectacular of these Planet Hollywood-inspired failures was the Fashion Café, launched in 1995 by supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer and Elle MacPherson. However, the chain, with its main branches in London and New York, struggled from the start. The connection between models and food was not an obvious one, and ‘fashion’ was not a theme that made people feel hungry.

As soon as the disappointing figures were in, the drama really started. Elle MacPherson and Naomi Campbell publicly accused founder Tomasso Buti of encouraging them to invest in the chain only to see US $25 million ‘vanish’ from the account books. Then Claudia Schiffer walked out of the venture, blaming ‘old problems’ with Naomi. ‘Instead of promoting our cafés Naomi only thinks about collecting lovers,’ Claudia told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero. ‘We agreed to make more presentations for our group, but Naomi is always on a yacht with some boyfriend.’ Naomi wasn’t slow to respond in an interview with The Sun. ‘Greed is a bad adviser,’ she remarked. ‘Claudia is wrong to leave the business.

And it’s not true that I have abandoned the promotional side.’ The infighting may have helped to sell newspapers but it did nothing for the brand. Although some branches turned an operating profit most failed to cover all their start-up costs. In 1998, three years after opening, it was time to call in the receivers.

Lessons from Fashion Café
  • Don’t follow a failing formula. Planet Hollywood was already struggling in 1995 when the Fashion Café was launched.
  • Have a logical brand association. Models and food didn’t really gel together.
  • Don’t bitch about your colleagues. It will only make the wrong sort of press headlines.

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