Icon of Australian advertising Cesare Leonardi (right) passed away at home last Friday. Leonardi was celebrated for his work at a range of agencies across Australia but was best known for his work at Leonardi & Curtis (left) in the 1980s. B&T spoke to his former business partner, Rod Curtis, to remember the man, his work and his impact on the industry.
“He was Italian to his bootstraps,” said Curtis. “Cesare liked the finer things in life. He would not say he was born in Italy, he would say that he was born in Florence, if you understand the distinction”.
Cesare was educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and co-founded the eponymous agency with Curtis in 1982 in Melbourne.
“He introduced to me the combination of creative with a strategic mind. He was a person who could rationalise strategically his own creative work. Nothing was presented to a client as if it were an idea out of the blue. It had a reason for its existence and a fundamental support for how you should go about it,” said Curtis.
Together, the pair would work on some incredible campaigns including the renowned and recently digitised “For All Creatures Great and Small” for the RSPCA in 1987, the same year that Leonardi & Curtis was crowned B&T‘s Agency of the Year.
The pair also ran the first campaigns for Lacoste and IKEA in Australia. Curtis remembered their work on Sportsgirl fondly.
“Clients now are very used to receiving a concept and the copy’s all done and the layout’s in place and the headlines are done and imagery is done. But before all of this technology, Cesare would hand draw a broadsheet Sportsgirl ad and he had the greatest hand for Trade Gothic Condensed of anyone I’ve met,” he explained.
“Clients loved him because he was a man who accepted creative challenges and always brought something beautiful to the table in terms of a creative solution. Neither he nor I had a background in fashion advertising at all. But we had the Sportsgirl account in the early days and I was looking at some of the work recently and it stands up today. You might look at the fonts and say they need something more contemporary. But they are beautiful layouts”.
DDB acquired a “small percentage” of Leonardi & Curtis, before selling the rest of the company to DDB in 1991, with Leonardi moving as well. However, during its short time as Australia’s hottest agency, Leonardi & Curtis became a hotbed of talent — with Curtis putting much of that down to Leonardi’s approach to creative problem-solving.
“Leonardi and Curtis was an incubator for wonderful talent. Creative people wanted to work with Cesare. I remember one young bloke who turned up and said ‘I’ll work here for nothing, I just want to be in the building, in this environment,” he said.
The agency’s alumni include the likes of Sean Cummins, Kaye Schirmann and Simon Reynolds.
“Leonardi and Curtis lived like a rocket for nine years and then it disappeared. But everything that happened in that era was creative, whether it was a media idea, a strategy idea or a production idea. Even the way you serviced a client. Creativity wasn’t a department at Leonardi and Curtis, it permeated the place,” said Curtis.
“Cesare was bigger than a lot of people in advertising. Not so much in stature but in presence,” Curtis added.
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