Berlei's amazingly crafted 2017 ad for its "Womankind" line of bras just won gold in the Clio Fashion & Beauty awards. Created by the Monkeys and produced by Revolver/Will O’Rourke and Somesuch with director Kim Gehrig, the work received little press outside Australia—which is a shame, because it's among the rare pieces of work that manages to walk the line between uncomfortable and delightful to watch.
To understand what we mean, here's the unvarnished copy, interspersed over the length of the ad:
We've been suppressed, bound, hidden away, put on show, lumped together, forced apart, prodded, poked, pressured, pushed, oppressed, restricted, exposed. No more. It's time to be kind. Womankind: Made by Berlei, shaped by you.
On the surface, the copy is talking about breasts. But it's also talking about women.
It's about the paradoxical demands we're asked to satisfy, and the odd contortions we thus subject ourselves to—sometimes over generations (I mean, nobody really wears pointy bras anymore), sometimes in the same day (wired bras for work, sports bras for the gym, pasties for … clubbing? Sometimes at day's end our torsos look—and feel—like a PETA video).
"Womankind is about women finally doing what is right for them and their bodies," Gehrig tells Muse. "Not just accepting what has gone before, often for the male gaze, but thinking about what is right for them now. It is about being kind to their bodies, particularly their boobs. Treating them with respect rather than shoving them into positions that are unnatural. It is about comfort as well as beauty. It is about women doing it their way."
Gehrig also shares some background on how the project came to life.
"The original Monkeys brief was actually very similar in spirit to the final film," she says. "They had found some fantastic images of all the crazy things women have put their boobs through. I found these images so refreshing to see, and built the campaign out from there."
The strength in "Womankind" lies in how well the creative expresses the tension in its core narrative. There is pain but also beauty; it's almost a celebration of different body types, even as we're watching the litany of ways we've worked to conceal or express them just so.
But it also doesn't fetishize its subject. What leaps out is the universal discomfort a bra often lends to the wearer, expressed by that sigh of satisfaction associated with ripping all artifice off.
We asked Gehrig what production techniques she effected to convey these feelings.
"I wanted to really capture an insight into all the things we as women have done to their boobs throughout history. We used mixed formats to convey this," she explains. "The casting was very important, to straddle different ages and body types as well as the universal discomfort of wearing a bra."
Of course, it helps to get a real-time reaction that isn't in the target market.
"I'll never forget the male electrician just being so, so shocked that we were shooting boobs," Gehrig says. "He didn't know where to look or what to do with himself. That discomfort was quite interesting."
Like any production effort close to one's heart, one of the greatest challenges is in knowing when the job is done. "For me, it is all about the edit," Gehrig says. "I watch and rewatch every frame endlessly until there is nothing more I want to try. Particularly with this edit, as it is such a collage."
And what does she seek in client feedback?
"I like tears! Tears of joy, ideally," she says. "I do like honest feedback from clients … but hopefully by the time we are in the edit we are entirely on the same page, so the edit process is usually quite smooth."
If there were any doubt, the results validated Gehrig's instincts—in Australia, at least, since the ad didn't get much play elsewhere. "I don't know the results… but was a hit apparently," says Gehrig.
"Womankind" marks a unique win in Fashion & Beauty, because it celebrates the conventions of the category while highlighting its frustrations. Asked how she feels about winning a gold Clio, Gehrig muses: "I feel that as I female director I have a responsibility to make work that directly speaks to women, is honest about being a woman, and let's us laugh at ourselves. This piece of work was all of those things."
See all of the 2018 Clio Fashion & Beauty winners here.