Thursday, August 09, 2007

Battle of the bombshells

Two rare beauties lead the big stores' fight for your fashion dollar, writes fashion editor Janice Breen Burns.

THEY scoff at the idea of rivalry, but mega-models Jennifer Hawkins and Megan Gale are as different as the warring department stores they portray.

Blonde Hawkins is a sparkling, borderline bombshell, less sexy than pretty, who fits Myer's "every woman and girl" criteria like a chic white glove. The smouldering Gale is bombshell to the bone, and elegant with it: the embodiment of David Jones' sophisticated high fashion pitch but with a very sexy twist.

In this week's back-to-back spring fashion launch shows staged in Sydney, the two beauties led 80-odd pony-stepping model troops - in spring outfits by designers exclusive to each store - into a catwalk battle for headlines. Who won? They're neck 'o neck until the cash registers ring. Like Howard and Rudd, everybody has an opinion, but when the time comes to vote - or buy - heads will rule hearts.

"It's all about the clothes," says Myer's director of merchandise-apparel, Judy Coomber. "That's why we kept it simple." She means the Myer show's staging: a dramatic arrangement of Escher-like ascending and descending stairs. It's a far cry from the store's history of catwalk antics: fire pits, casts of a hundred models, giant mirror balls, a beach recreated in the CBD, Hawkins emerging from a jet plane on stage. Perhaps the $4 million Hawkins was reportedly paid to sign up as the "face" of Myer for four years might explain why, suddenly, it's all about the clothes.

Then again. "It's all about the clothes," says David Jones' group general manager of merchandise, Colette Garnsey, following her show at Sydney's Moore Park on Tuesday. For Garnsey, recognised as the canniest of her kind in Australia, it has always been about the clothes. And about Gale. Although the 32-year-old is technically "long in the tooth" in model years, Garnsey and David Jones' CEO Mark McInnes have carefully managed her image into one of celebrity, which is virtually ageless.

Presumably, there would be an outcry if Gale were dumped, but there appears to be genuine affection and loyalty between her and David Jones' management team. Gale has been contracted until 2009 so far and has confided a stint beyond that wouldn't be out of the question if her circumstances at the time allowed it. David Jones customers have rewarded the store for its loyalty to the engaging and gracefully ageing Gale, by returning buoyant and record sales figures every quarter since her introduction five years ago. But Garnsey and McInnes have also regularly infused their shows with youthful "ambassadors", including, this week, 22-year-old international success Elyse Taylor and last season, Hollywood "It" girl Mischa Barton.

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