Sheibu Ad Campaign

December 8, 2014

Short essay by Chip Lord.


Mas issue tokyo sheibu ad campaign 01

Seibu Ad Campaign, Tokyo, 1991. © Chip Lord.

In 1991 I lived in Tokyo for six months on a US–Japan Friendship Fellowship. At the time, Japan had a booming economy and the bubble had not yet burst. US companies were sending their executives over to study the “Japanese way.” I lived in a neighborhood two stops outside the metro loop and my transfer station was Ikebukuro. There, above the subway station, was a Seibu Department Store. In early 1991 they mounted an ad campaign, “The Fashion Zone,” to announce that fashion had come to Ikebukuro, an apparently bland neighborhood. The ad featured a western model, probably European, but possibly American, who was wearing a chic business suit. There was a TV spot which showed her strolling into an architectural model of the public space in front of the Seibu store, and she stood about nine stories tall in relation to the façade of Seibu. Godzilla seemed to be the primary reference, though her walk was definitely from the runway. On the actual façade of Seibu was posted a close-up shot of her face, about fifty feet tall, so that she stared out at passersby, a haute couture version of Big Brother. The campaign continued in the subway below Seibu, where a poster version showed a video still image. No one could miss this Fashion Zone statement.

I had a friend in Tokyo who was able to arrange a meeting with the creative director of the ad agency that had produced this campaign. It turned out to be a “lost in translation” meeting. He didn’t understand why I was interested to see the architectural model, and besides it was in storage and not available. And he couldn’t explain the creative source of this image or why a western model was chosen as the face of fashion. When I returned to the US, I built my own version of the architectural model, as an interactive video installation that viewers could enter and experience themselves at the size of Godzilla. This piece was shown at the Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco in 1992 and also at the New Museum, New York later that same year.