Benetton says ciao to Toscani

The Italian fashion company outgrows its longtime creative genius.

Published May 2, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Benetton SPA announced that it has severed an 18-year relationship with advertising guru and photographer Oliviero Toscani. "It was by mutual agreement," said Mark Major, the company's U.S. spokesman.

In a statement issued last Saturday -- muted in its praise -- the Treviso, Italy, clothing company saluted Toscani "for his fundamental contribution to a new advertising concept." It also stated that Fabrica, the creative think tank once headed by Toscani and affiliated with Benetton, would take over as the company's main communications arm. Fabrica produces Benetton's in-house magazine, Colors, and has produced many of Benetton's most controversial campaigns, including the recent anti-death penalty series, "We, On Death Row."

Benetton and Toscani, who is creative director at Talk magazine, have picked an indelicate time to announce the departure. The $20 million campaign, which ended in March, depicted convicted killers in their prison garb without mentioning their victims. The ads precipitated a civil suit from the state of Missouri and the loss of a major client, Sears, Roebuck and Co. The California State Assembly called for a boycott of Benetton products.

Despite the contentious campaign, Benetton denies that Toscani's departure is related to the "Death Row" ads. "We've known that Mr. Toscani was looking for an opportunity to do something different," Major said. Indeed, a friend said that Toscani has been discussing a move and wants his teenage children to grow up in the United States. The source also observed that Toscani would have had a difficult time with Fabrica in its revamped role. "Toscani is his own person and anyone will recognize that he walks to his own drum."

Toscani could not be reached for comment, although he said in the Benetton announcement, "[I]t's good to have the courage to end something that has been fantastic and still have the enthusiasm to take on new projects."

Earlier this year, Toscani described his relationship to founder Luciano Benetton in papal proportions. "Can you imagine Michelangelo doing a church without the pope? Doing a painting in the Sistine Chapel without putting in Christ."

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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