'Looks like jeans are on their last legs': CDP & Pretty Polly

2019 marks the centenary of Pretty Polly. The business originated in 1919 when technicians Harry Hibbert and Oswald Buckland formed a hosiery company at Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire which manufactured and sold ladies’ silk, rayon and lisle stockings. In the mid-1920s Hibbert & Buckland acquired a hosiery wholesaling business from the daughter of a bookmaker who had named the firm after ‘Pretty Polly’, a highly successful racehorse from the early part of the century. After World War Two the company switched to nylon production and the business rapidly expanded. Pretty Polly were the first to introduce non-run seam free stockings in 1959 and the revolutionary ‘Hold-Ups’ (tights that didn’t require suspenders) in 1967. By 1974 Pretty Polly was the leading UK national brand name but at this time the hosiery business as a whole faced a number of threats on the horizon including the contemporary fashion for jeans/trousers which heralded a ‘cover up’ for women’s legs and an excessively fragmented industry.

At this date the Pretty Polly advertising account was held by the award winning London agency Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP), whose creative team commissioned some of the leading photographers in the business to create beautiful elegant images to enhance the desirability of the product. The resulting ‘Pretty Polly Brings Back Lovely Legs’ campaign was launched in 1975 and pushed back against the contemporary dominance of jeans with provocative slogans such as, ‘When was the last time a man said you had a great pair of jeans’, ‘For girls who don’t want to wear the trousers’ and ‘They beat the pants off trousers’. The award winning imagery (seen both as press ads and in the newly rejuvenated 48-sheet poster format) tapped into the dawning of a female rebellion against the universal jeans revolution and a desire for a return to glamour in the late ‘70s. It demanded the active participation of the viewer by encouraging them to adapt their own fashion habits in tune with the new movement. To further increase public awareness of the product, the company sponsored two major national women’s sporting events, the British Ladies’ Open Golf and the British Women’s Open Squash Championships. 

The CDP agency summarised their objectives as follows: ‘Our [five-year] advertising strategy was to utilise high-impact media to create a continuous prestige presence for the Pretty Polly name’. The impact was such that by the end of the decade Pretty Polly was among the top four producers of tights and stockings in the world. It also became the first hosiery brand to commission television commercials in 1980. The campaign was awarded a certificate of commendation in the 1981 IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards for which the Chief Executive of Pretty Polly provided a ringing endorsement: ‘I am totally convinced that our advertising funds have more than justified their expenditure and are effective. The figures prove it’ (from 1981 IPA Effectiveness Awards case study).

The eye-catching ‘Looks like jeans’ advertisement from 1978 was produced by the CDP creative team of Alan Waldie (art director), Graham Watson (designer), John O’Donnell (copywriter), John Swannell (photographer) and Nigel Dawson (typographer). It is sourced from the CDP archive which was donated to HAT in 2002. The 1976 ‘We don’t do nasty things behind your back’ ad is for Pretty Polly’s one piece seam-free tights. Alan Waldie and John Swannell were also the art director and photographer respectively for this ad alongside copywriter Paul Weiland. The ad is from the Alan Waldie collection at HAT which contains story boards, sketches, award certificates, proofs, show reels and photographs documenting the career of one of the UK’s all-time greatest art directors.

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