NEW YORK, SEPT. 9 -- She would not say whether she had watched Gary Hart on "Nightline" the evening before. She would not say how much a licensing and marketing firm had paid her to appear in two television commercials, about to be previewed, for No Excuses jeans. She would not answer any questions at all.
All Donna Rice would say, giggling several times during her minute-and-a-half statement today to a snickering press corps at the Water Club, was "You're probably wondering -- no, I know you're wondering -- about how I feel about being involved with a product called No Excuses." She had been "a bit skeptical" herself when a New York ad agency first contacted her about the campaign, Rice allowed.
But she had concluded that "the No Excuses concept" represented "an honest, responsible and self-confident approach to life," an insight that now allowed her to feel "very comfortable" with the name and the deal. And with the jeans, which are of the streaky, acid-washed variety and which Rice wore with a matching jacket, apricot T-shirt and No Excuses sneakers, unlaced.
The president of the marketing and licensing company behind the sportswear line was more blunt. The object of the campaign, said Neil Cole, president of New Retail Concepts Inc., was brand awareness among consumers. Rice, the aspiring model whose association with presidential candidate Hart helped torpedo his campaign last spring, had "a very high profile, one that would create the attention that we desired.
"It looks like we have achieved our goals," Cole added, looking around the room at 12 camera crews (including all three networks), a score of photographers (including both major wire services) and a flock of reporters both local and national. Hart's "Nightline" appearance, another spokesman swore, was "very coincidental timing."
The 15-second commercials -- first shown on MTV, the rock cable network, and on several local TV stations (none in Washington) last night -- are the work of a British director. (The president of the ad agency likes English directors because they have "a high taste level.")
In one ad, following a brief, saxophone-accompanied pan up her famous torso, Rice remarks, "I make no excuses -- I only wear them." In the second, after another video journey from thigh to face, Rice laughs a lot and says approximately what she told the marketing and ad people when they first met in a New York hotel room and she was asked what she'd like to say to the public: "I have a lot to say. But 15 seconds? Not enough time."
"A spontaneous outburst in the creative process," Cole called the exchange, a few minutes after the commercials had been shown today. By that time, Rice had left by a side exit, three large bodyguards swatting away photographers as she sprinted toward a waiting Saab. Most of the press had vanished, muttering, when she did; several reporters headed for the World Trade Center to see if they could find Gary Hart, said to be lunching there with Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Among those who stayed was veteran political columnist Murray Kempton. "The woman's had more effect on the primaries than any of the candidates," he explained.
This particular chapter in The Selling of Donna Rice began last month when two executives of New Retail Concepts (which introduced No Excuses merchandise in 1986 and plans to ship $35 million worth of it this year) and Richard Kirshenbaum and Jonathan Bond (partners in the year-old advertising agency Kirshenbaum & Bond) met to discuss No Excuses' first television ads.
The ad people came prepared with a list of women thought "so newsworthy that their participation alone would make a commercial an event," as Kirshenbaum put it. Nominees included Fawn Hall (but she was testifying at the Iran-contra hearings at the time and was thought to be unavailable), Madonna, Tina Turner and television actresses Heather Locklear and Catherine Oxenberg.
(Former PTL follower Jessica Hahn was unaccountably omitted; Kirshenbaum would not say whether this reflected unfavorably on her appearance in acid-washed jeans or whether some other factor was involved.)
Rice's name got the biggest chuckle, Cole recalled, and although feelers were sent to several prospects, Rice was the group's first choice. He said he was untroubled by Rice's alleged affair or reported eagerness to build a career by dating celebrities. "Donna's past ... is not going to make the sale or lose the sale, but it will make people remember the name No Excuses," he said.
Besides, Cole commented, "I think America will get to know her and understand her. I personally believe she'll be a star."
If his prediction proves correct, the company may move on to Donna Rice tags on its apparel and to personal appearances at retail outlets. Magazine ads featuring Rice will begin appearing next month. In case he's wrong, however, New Retail Concepts has only a one-year contract with Rice and can thereafter replace her with next year's rumor-ridden blond.
Kirshenbaum & Bond, which likes to describe its advertising as "gutsy," also created the print ads for Kenneth Cole Shoes that featured pictures of Oliver North and asked, "Isn't it time America focused less on arms and more on feet?" Another print campaign, for Personal Brand Condoms from Italy, will be launched in December's Playboy with photographs of Michelangelo's nude sculpture "David" and the rhetorical question "Who's better equipped than the Italians to make the world's best condoms?"