Atelier or agency? Inside DDB’s plan for new fashion studio DDB Fresh
DDB Prague boss Darko Silajdžić explains why the network has launched a fashion agency for unfashionable brands.
DDB has launched Fresh, a fashion design agency, based in Prague / DDB
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, Gianni Versace: names synonymous with high fashion. Could we add Doyle, Dane and Bernbach to that list? Darko Silajdžić hopes so.
The leader of DDB Prague has just launched DDB Fresh, a couture-focused design agency. Previously he helmed the launch of DDB FTW, the network’s gaming agency, also out of Prague.
Fresh is billed by DDB as a new agency that will provide ‘fashion innovation’ for non-fashion brands. In plain English, that means it will create experimental clothing for carmakers, tech companies and CPG brands, he explains. “Fresh consists of basically two key elements. The first is functionality: the item we are producing always has to have some sort of innovative, functional element to it – a headline-grabbing concept.
“Right now we are in production already for an unnamed big financial client, for a fashion collection that is created from CO2; we take CO2 out of the air, turn it into ethanol, turn ethanol into polyester, and create a runway collection from that textile.”
The second element, he says, is to bring brands’ big-name fashion collaborators to burnish their collections with a little glamour. While the agency’s new team includes designers, it can’t cater to every possible style or brand, so collaborating with ateliers will enable it to take on more work.
“A collaboration with a famous designer or famous studio obviously brings an interesting value from the cultural and PR standpoint to the brand,” he adds.
While some of the collections may go on sale, either as limited-edition collectibles or as part of an auction, they’re not destined to serve as merchandise. Instead, the idea is to use the stardust, glamour and fan culture associated with the fashion world to generate PR buzz and build brand fame. Silajdžić says that the agency already has eight client projects at the production stage, though he declines to name any of them.
“The main purpose of it is basically brand fame. We know, and we believe very firmly, that in today’s world brand fame equals business growth. These products are giving you an opportunity and a platform to create brand fame.”
There’s something to that thesis. Ikea, DHL and Deliveroo workwear became streetwear collectibles about five years ago, provoking fashion houses such as Vetements, Balenciaga and Off White to release their own versions of the gear (the latter’s Royal Mail-liveried shirt went for $349 a pop). It also inspired a mini-moral panic when the trend appeared to fetishize the aesthetic of overburdened gig workers.
“That gives them a credible cultural relevance that they would probably [have to] spend years and millions on building through traditional advertising. It’s often the brands you would least expect to step into this that get the most value from it. That’s where the magic happens.”
Those moments were essentially random accidents for each brand, but Silajdžić reckons DDB Fresh can invoke such episodes deliberately – and with a sustainable bent.
“If [a project] doesn’t adhere to sustainability principles then we won’t do it,” he says.
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Fresh is the latest new agency to be established from within DDB’s Prague office. Silajdžić helped establish DDB FTW, its gaming agency, back in 2020; it now has 20 offices globally. He says the latest push was borne from restlessness, as well as spotting an untapped market. “We felt we had more in us. We thought: what’s the next frontier we could venture into?
“While there are many agencies who have done such projects within bigger campaigns, there isn’t a single agency in the world, to our knowledge, that really focuses on this. We think we’ve found a product that is very attractive but isn’t really offered at a high level.”
Silajdžić himself will now spend most of his time establishing Fresh, having handed over the reins of FTW to Hong Kong-based Gavin Cheng.
“The majority of my resources and time are primarily invested in DDB Fresh for the foreseeable future, but going forward I’ll be building a leadership structure that doesn’t rely on myself that much.”
It’s unlikely to be the last agency concept incubated by Silajdžić out of Prague. Once Fresh finds its feet, he adds, “business development is something I will probably be looking at going forward within the group and the network, maybe with other potential concepts.”
To offer such a specialized service, DDB Prague has had to recruit 12 new staff members from the fashion world, while three others have been drafted in from elsewhere in DDB.
He suggests DDB Fresh can offer fashion professionals a chance to work on bigger projects that they’d be granted at a major design house. “In the fashion industry, a lot of the work is done around studios that already have established brands. Here, you might get to do a big fashion campaign for McDonald’s or Volkswagen or Societe Generale.
“There’s a lot of potential. It’s a completely new area, I think.”