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Apart from obvious striking details of the O.J. Simpson murder case, a memorable aspect of the more than year-long spectacle ending Oct. 3, 1995 that many referred to as “the most publicized criminal trial in American history” was the focus on one particular fashion brand — Bruno Magli. While very few people remember that the black leather gloves key to the football star’s defense (“if the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit”) were Aris Isitoner, a great many who followed the trial can recall the name of his Italian footwear designer.
After endless discussion of the star-worthy custom fit, the viewing of 31 photos of the shoes and the elite appeal of the fact that less that three hundred pairs of the Lorenzo lace-ups in size 12 were ever purchased, the message stuck. Despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Christina Onassis were all customers, Bruno Magli got its biggest boost from a grisly double murder.
The message is about to be brought home again next month, when FX airs its ten-episode series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, Sarah Paulson, Nathan Lane, Selma Blair, David Schwimmer and Courtney B. Vance.
“The OJ Simpson trial brought Bruno Magli, an Italian brand known primarily to the 1 percent, into the spotlight to become a household name,” says Cory M. Baker, COO of Marquee Brands, which bought the brand last January after it had been sold by two previous owners. “While certainly the association was far from positive and not one we would have wished for, the resulting interest in the brand at the time and for the decades to follow skyrocketed general public interest and intrigue.”
Gene Pressman, former CEO of Barney’s, remembers the phenomenon. “It was a brand that had limited exposure until that trial and suddenly it had a tremendous amount,” he recalls.
That exposure translated to sales. CNN reported that in 1996, following the trial, Bruno Magli sales rose 30 percent.
Bruno Magli’s “Wes” shoe selling for $415.
Peter Elliot Rabin, who opened his first New York clothing store 40 years ago and currently has four Manhattan boutiques, two of which exclusively sell menswear, remembers Bruno Magli getting one of the biggest bumps any fashion brand has ever experienced, and observes that negative incidents often drive business. He had his own unpleasant row with landlord Harry Macklowe that landed him in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the Real Deal.
“Any publicity negative or positive usually works,” he sighs. “After my dispute, people came in just to see who I was. We had about a 25 percent increase in brand recognition which was definitely reflected in sales.” Baker says the O.J. factor had legs for Bruno Magli, and that any revitalization of the story has impact. “Interestingly enough, the phenomenon continues to yield results,” he observes. “This past September, A&E and 20/20 aired TV specials on the O.J. anniversary. During each broadcast website traffic impressions to brunomagli.com dramatically increased by up to 682%, and as a result, shoes sales increased exponentially by 400% during the TV specials.”
Next month, one can only expect another surge. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jared Leto, Naomi Watts, Zoe Saldana and Hillary Clinton are already newer customers and Jesse Garza, stylist and co-author of the fashion blog Visual Therapy, says he is anticipating renewed interest. “The trial stressed how fine and luxe Bruno Magli shoes were,” he notes. “At that point, all of a sudden my clients wanted to know more about them because they were portrayed as what the Hollywood elite would wear. I think the series could spark interest with younger people who might restyle them. I can see someone hot putting the classic Bruno Magli slip-on with skinny black jeans and a turtleneck. That would be cool.”
According to Footwear Plus senior editor Ann Loynd, inadvertent product placement can outshine a carefully planned campaign. “Despite all the money footwear brands pay for product placement,” she maintains, “unplanned events or even tragedies tend to give the biggest bang for their buck.”
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