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But the publicity ploy has worked with its target audience and has helped the brand's image instead of hurting it, an expert says.
Just over a month after Hallensteins announced the exclusive cocktail event to launch their summer campaign, Misses January 2012, September 2011 and July 2011 hosted the party of 150 people at a $2.5 million private home in Belmont on Auckland's North Shore last night.
The Herald was flown in by helicopter with Heather Knox, Tiffany Toth and Jessa Hinton to the 926sq m property, owned by Tony and Maria Teesdale, who own employment relations consultancy, Teesdale Associates Ltd, in central Auckland.
Senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Auckland Dr Mike Lee said Hallensteins was rebranding with a Hugh Hefner-esque image.
"They're saying it without actually saying it. They're aligning themselves with Playboy's image with the playmates - especially so because recently they've made the move away from high school mufti into suits."
Dr Lee said the fact that the campaign had offended some people for being sexist would work in its favour.
"Some men will find the fact that it's angered people, particularly feminists, appealing, and [it] will even draw them into their stores more."
Dr Lee said that while the campaign was obvious, it was effective because it appealed to red-blooded males - playmates helped men feel more comfortable about having an interest in clothes.
Lachlan McPherson, creative director at Publicis Mojo, which put last night's event together, said that after noticing a trend of young men wanting to dress more smartly, they chose a 60s glamour theme.
"We set about giving guys an occasion to dress up for and letting them know that there are options to casual jeans and a polo shirt - if you make the effort to [dress] a bit sharper, you can play in a different league."
But fashion blogger Katherine Lowe called the cocktail event a cheap publicity stunt. In a post on her website katherineisawesome.com, Ms Lowe said she expected more from a New Zealand company, especially one that also made money from selling clothes to young women through its Glassons brand - the other half of Hallenstein Glasson Holdings.
"What exactly does this say about Hallensteins' opinion of young New Zealand girls? ... In a society where there are already huge pressures on girls to look a certain way, where it's a daily battle to not base your self-worth on how thin you are, your cup size and how many boys you attract, how is it in any way productive to support a brand whose whole ethos is based around these things?" Ms Lowe said.
Dr Lee said it was yet to be seen whether the campaign hurt Glassons - women might choose to avoid the store in protest.