Spokesperson

Celebrity Image Rehab with Alessandro Michele

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Tom Hiddleston is covering major ground on the road to an image makeover after a humiliating summer.

Well, well, well, look who it is showing his sheepish and handsome face in the fall Gucci ads.

None other than Mr. Thomas William Hiddleston, actor, Shakespearean, and international punchline on a level of schadenfreude never before witnessed by human eyes.

After a summer of being a gossip site punching bag, human Muppet, and court jester to Satan, and along with losing the Emmy for The Night Manager and any shred of hope of landing the role of 007, Tommy is in need of a serious image overhaul. And what better than posing for the hottest luxury label in the world to regain one’s shredded dignity?

Tommy is a good fit for Gucci because of the new aesthetic direction Alessandro Michele has taken with the brand in the last year and a half. Gucci now codes for quirky, oddball glamour, with its Wes Anderson color palettes, zany accessories, and an overall aesthetic of weirdo chic. Tom is both classically handsome and very normal whilst being a pale, weirdo icon because of his roles in Marvel films and cult-y flicks like Only Lovers Left Alive. It has been sneeringly (and accurately) speculated that Tom wanted to shed his comic-con fanbase and become more of a mainstream movie star, presumably using a high-profile “relationship” with a singer as a spingboard (said singer who is “as big of a danger to the world as ISIS,” as my mother has put it.) But fronting a quirky brand like Gucci, instead of something like an ultra-boring but alpha male suit brand, is a gesture of atonement to disgruntled Dragonflies – I’m still in here, says Tommy. Forgive my desperation and moment of true, fever-dream, out-of-my-mind, insanity. Remember how good I was in Deep Blue Sea?

Tom’s also good for Gucci because of the label’s quest to embody the spirit of bohemian, English eccentricity. Michele, having worked for Gucci in London when under Tom Ford, is my peer in Anglomania, and has implemented a number of initiatives to imbue the Italian label with a British sensibility over the past few seasons, including holding a show at Westminster Abbey, forging a long-term partnership with Chatsworth House, where the Cruise 2017 campaign was shot, and appointing scions of offbeat, British glamour to be brand ambassadors, including Alexa Chung, Florence Welch, and, in a stroke of genius so sublime it makes me want to cry, Vanessa Redgrave. Tom’s a good celebrity to add to this stable, because he’s so very English – he literally looks like he could be an English gentleman from any of the last ten centuries – and yet current, handsome, and a little bit quirky.

This partnership happens to occur precisely when said gentleman is in need of some good press. No other brand is on Gucci’s level in terms of Instagram-mania, excitement, critical acclaim, and just really really cool clothes – exactly the kind of associations Tom needs after his summer of PR thirst exploded in his face over and over again like trick birthday candle. I’m convinced that Gucci is the only label that could rehab Tommy’s image in the public eye just at this moment, and I grudgingly admit that I feel relieved that Michele extended his hand to Tom in a gesture that marks Tom as pathetic no more, but actually cooler, and certainly more fashion-forward, than he was before his bummer summer.

The ads are great, too – saturated confections of satin and velvet dandyism, complete with  Judith Light dogs and feelings of isolation and anxiety that’s all both beautiful and slightly repulsive to look at. I applaud the execution and I think Tom bring something patrician yet geeky to the mix that makes him pitch-perfect embodiment of the Gucci look today.

I think young Tom has a ways to go on his path to media redemption and restoration to the title of the Thinking Woman’s Internet Boyfriend, but I can’t think of a better way to start than by starring in an ad like this for a brand like Gucci. Alessandro Michele might also want to consider a second career in celebrity image rehab. Move over Dr. Drew.

 

 

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The Dos and Don’ts of Branding with a Deceased Celebrity

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The recently-launched Natalie Wood fragrance

 

Celebrity fragrances are an incredibly weird concept in the first place. Of all the things for a famous person to sell to fans, why  a fragrance? Everyone can wear a t-shirt or use accessories like a phone case or a wristband, but scent preferences are extremely personal – not everyone is going to like the scent you’re shilling.

I suppose it’s a more upmarket, “sophisticated” product, and even intimate way for plebs, especially young ones, to connect to their favorite celebrity. I get it for pop stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Satan, and One Direction*, who have very specific personal brands and hoards of young followers who want a piece of their favorite singer (*might I request a 1D fragrance this upcoming holiday season?). But why do B-ish list actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Hallie Berry have fragrances? My research even confirms that Bruce Willis has a fragrance. These actors probably have a handful of super fans, but besides those weirdos, who buys these fragrances? It is so comically weird and superbly absurd it truly puts me at a loss for words.

So imagine my out of body disbelief when I discovered this week that Natalie Wood’s daughter is launching a fragrance inspired by the late actress.

Sure, I like Natalie Wood as a consumer of mid-century Hollywood glamour and as someone unhealthily interested in true crime. I don’t however, think of her as a beauty or cosmetics icon, but maybe could be persuaded to make that leap with a strategically-marketed product. But that’s not the case with her fragrance, and there’s a larger problem at hand: she’s, well, dead, and under suspicious circumstances. I don’t want something as intimate and personal as a perfume to be a blend of a watery grave with hints of Christopher Walken, and framed by some rich top notes of Du Maurier. And it’s not as if Wood lovingly created the fragrance herself whilst alive – it’s simply “inspired” by her favorite fragrance with her name and image licensed to it. It’s supposed to be glamorous and slightly maudlin and the next White Diamonds, but I just find it creepy and inauthentic. Let’s take it a step further: would you buy a Sharon Tate brand fragrance? I didn’t think so – the negative connotations are too strong.

Now, if Luca Dotti licensed his mother, Audrey Hepburn’s, image to a fragrance, it would be less odd because Hepburn was more of a mainstream celebrity upon whom so much aspirational projection is made, and whose death was only the most minor footnote to her legacy. It would still seem a little garish and profit-driven, but not cloaked in the macabre. Dotti, smartly, has released a cookbook of Hepburn’s favorite recipes and a photography book of rare photos of his mother during the years she lived in Rome, both of which, incidentally, are on my Amazon wish list. This is the way to honor a deceased celebrity parent – it is tasteful, personal, and restrained. Wagner girls, take note.

But there are other ways to successfully market a deceased celebrity – even one who met an untimely end – without any elements of eeriness.

MAC is launching a highly-anticipated limited edition Selena Quintanilla cosmetics line in October 2016, in collaboration with the late singer’s sister. Superstar Texan-born singer Quintanilla, as you will know, was murdered in 1995, but remains one of the foremost Latin music and beauty icons. People are going berserk over this cosmetics line and desperately trying to preorder any pieces they can, presaging what is sure to be a sell-out debut.

The Selena range, which is tightly comprised of three lipsticks, a handful of eye shadows, a liner, a mascara, and a blush-bronzer duo, isn’t weird at all. It’s an exciting, well-deserved mainstream celebration of her legacy. This is because of the authoritative partnership with MAC and the exclusive feel of the limited-edition run. Having an established beauty brand back a celebrity product gives the entire venture a feeling of expertise and legitimacy – it’s not just a famous name flapping in the breeze by itself. The presentation of the products also helps banish any feeling of creepiness. No soft-edged black and white photos here – the range is photographed and packaged in glorious technicolor with a slick logo and bright purple casings. It’s fun, youthful, and celebratory in a way that only makes a consumer think of the singer’s life and art, and not her tragic demise.

If the Natalie Wood perfume had been presented as a special collaboration with a cosmetics brand like Estée Lauder, it would loose all connotations of creepiness, and instead take on a must-have, glamorous quality (and likely be resold for three digit figures on Ebay.) The importance of a legitimating partnership with a global beauty brand is absolutely paramount to the success of such a product, and scarcity the best way to create a fan frenzy. Perhaps the Misses Aniston and Berry should note this in the event they try to launch follow-up fragrances. Mr. Willis, however, might want to just cease and desist.

Now that we know the rules, here are a few dream collaborations:
— Nars x Marlene Dietrich
— Nars x David Bowie
— Nars x Hitchcock Heroines
— Anistasia x Vivien Liegh
— Estée Lauder x Princess Diana
— Estée Lauder x Grace Kelly

Celeb Spawn: The New Ultimate Aspiration?

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Last week’s Met Gala was swarming with ultra-young second-gen celebrities: Jaden and Willow Smith, (17 and 15, respectively), Hailey Baldwin (ugh; 19), Lily-Rose Depp (16), and Sofia Ritchie (16), just to name a few.

Fashion naturally idealizes and fetishizes youth, and young models are absolutely nothing new: Kate Moss was discovered at 14, and Brooke Shields was also 14 when she shot her infamous Calvin Klein ad. However, the young faces of campaigns today seem to be uniformly, and unprecedentedly, celebrity offspring. This is an easy move for labels to make, as these kids come pre-coded in pop culture, but are they accurately representing their audience’s aspirations? How much advertising power can a teenager with no résumé have? Fashion houses are betting on a lot, judging by the insanely long list of recent appointments.

Willow Smith has recently been named a Chanel ambassador, and Jaden fronted this season’s Louis Vuitton campaign; Kaia Gerber, 14, just landed her first Vogue Paris cover, alongside her mother, Cindy Crawford; Lily-Rose Depp has been a Chanel ambassador for over a year; Lourdes Leon, 19, is the face of Stella McCartney’s new fragrance “Pop;” Romeo Beckham, 13, has modeled in several Burberry campaigns and his brother Brooklyn, 17, has shot them. Sophia Ritchie, Iris Law, 15, and Anaïs Gallagher, 16, and Lottie Moss, 18 are all modeling, the latter to more legitimate success than the others. These teens have nothing aspirational to their resumes like work or personal style, and some of them are only somewhat modelesque in their looks. Their aspirational coding comes exclusively from their last names, which is irritating but not illegitimate: they are able to borrow and transmute codings from their parents, and, since they are so young, fashion labels are able to mold them to fit the labels’ needs. The Beckham boys, for example, have their parents’ pop cultural relevancy and ties to 2000s British nostalgia, while Lily-Rose Depp (and probably soon Jack) can borrow from her parents’ sensibilities for French cool and American eccentricity. It’s easy. Their codes are already in place.

The highest aspiration, then, according to fashion advertisers, is neither youth nor beauty; it is cool parentage, and a built-in cultural coding. Using these kids in ads is both lazy and genius. Celebrity children appeal to several audiences: the older guard who are fans of the parents (although, is anyone actually a fan Will and Jada?), teenagers who follow the kids on social media, and millennials in between who have seen both generations in the tabloids. Situating celebrity heritage as the highest aspiration is also deeply, maniacally brilliant on behalf of brands – you can change your makeup and your clothes, but you can’t change who your parents are. This equals perpetual, unacheivable striving on behalf of their customers trying to actualize the brand’s values. Evil and elegant.

It’s important for old, storied fashion houses to stay relevant, so choosing young faces with social media presences to represent their brands isn’t surprising. But the audience to whom these young celebrity kids most appeal, 13 to 16 year olds, have zero purchasing power. Even if they did, would they buy Chanel products because Willow Smith is the face of the company? My guess is a laughable no – Karl and Teen Vogue are trying overly hard to make Willow happen. Perhaps these labels are playing the very long game? Courting ultra-young teens for a period of 10-15 years by pretending to understand their dreams and aspirations until this group does have spending power to use on these labels? If so, this is also wicked and exploitative and brilliant and I love it. My guess, however, is that it’s just a ploy for immediate relevancy with the social media set, and an opportunity to create cheap, easily disseminated assets.

Using these second-generation celebrities in ads makes total sense for labels – they’re prepackaged, recognizable to multiple audiences, and create media buzz. But I don’t think any of these kids are particularly compelling, with the exception of Romeo Beckham, who has charisma for miles. I think fashion houses would be better off scouting new, cool, young talent – look at Lucky Blue Smith and family! They are so much cooler than the other Smith siblings, and better um, adjusted. Using genetics as the highest aspiration, although brilliant marketing, is also slightly unsettling. If labels are going to use nepotism cases in advertising, they ought to wait until the kids are older teenagers and have something to their résumés, both to send a better message to their younger audiences, and to avoid a slight Eugenics-y undertone.

Me? I deeply, desperately want to be a part of the Lucky Blue Smith family and hourly sigh with relief that Will and Jada are not my parents. Also, if I were a Gallagher or a Law, I would have a deep Electra complex, so dodged a bullet there! I think brands might want to carefully consider the middle millennial band before slapping a teen with famous genes in an ad campaign – this is the audience with upcoming purchasing power who will be turned off by falsely precocious rich kids who know nothing about fashion or culture and are trying to capitalize on their parents’ social codings. There are exceptions, naturally, like Kendall Jenner and Georgia May Jagger, who have become extremely successful in their own right. But for the rest of them? Give me a break, and give me someone actually aspirational, in my own age bracket, like Alexa Chung or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, or in the next, like Isabella Rossellini (famous parents, extraordinary résumé), Linda Rodin, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Coddington, or Catherine Denuve – women I can actually look up to, and not teens I sneer at. Except for Romeo Beckham. I would literally buy anything he advertises.

 

Cool Teens Appreciation Gallery feat. Romeo!!! He is so impish and charming!!!!

Spin Class: Dior and J-Law in the Post-Raf Era

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I never thought this day would come. The day when I say that Jennifer Lawrence not only looks great in Dior’s new Mario Sorrenti-shot ads, but also actually looks like a fitting representative of the world’s premiere luxury fashion brand. Has hell frozen over? Apparently not — Dior’s marketing team has just finally realized they should play to JLaw’s (relative — let’s not get gushy) strengths, instead of putting her into an archetypal mold that doesn’t fit. Let’s first recap the long and tragic history that is Dior: the JLaw Years.

Jennifer Lawrence became the face of Dior in 2012, when Raf Simons took over the label. This was a terrible choice for both parties. It was a bad move for Dior because Lawrence is unsophisticated and too relatable, with her “down to earth” lifestyle choices and penchant for crude humor and childish antics — this is the woman who engages in walrus pantomimes with chopsticks and wears jackets with “perv” emblazoned on the back. Dior, as one of the most elegant and storied fashion labels, needs a spokeswoman who embodies their sophisticated values — I loved what they did last spring with Rihanna, who, while not Grace Kelly, still fits the bill because of her impeccable fashion instincts and comfortability in her own skin, and adds an appealing edge to a label that can quickly get too feminine. The Dior partnership was a terrible choice for Lawrence (aside from the 7-figure payday) because it’s locked her in to Dior for all red carpet appearances until 2017, which doesn’t suit her in the least — she hasn’t looked good since the 2011 Oscars where she wore the blood orange Calvin Klein.The contract has robbed her of the chance to form any kind of sartorial identity and confuses her cultural coding — she’s photographed cracking open beers with bottled water caps and wearing double denim one minute, and looking awful in a frilly cupcake mess on the red carpet the next. It’s a complete mismatch for both parties.

Unless you can spin it, which is what Dior has done for this season’s ad campaign, to great effect. These ads are about laid-back glamour, which is much more Lawrence’s speed. She looks chic and refined, (in a borderline Olsen way — I can’t believe I’m saying this) and finally looks comfortable as the face of the brand, bringing a warmth to the photos. This campaign capitalizes on her approachability while still situating her as aspirational, (the placement behind the bags and couch visually helps with this) instead of trying to cast her as a Hitchcockian ice queen like Raf did during his tenure, a role that didn’t fit her and made her look wan and deeply uncomfortable.  But in these new ads, Dior and Lawrence have hit a sweet spot where both of their brand codings are in synch — easygoing-ness meets Parisian chic — which makes this campaign not only work, but succeed exceptionally well.

A mismatch, especially a contractual and expensive one like this, doesn’t have to be the end of the world if both the brand and the representative can be strategic and thoughtful about where their Venn diagrams overlap. I hope Dior can keep this momentum until they can get a more natural fit for their brand, (2018, please come quickly). But in the meantime, dare I say…I look forward to see how they meet this challenge? I never thought I would be capable of uttering those words, and yet here we are. That’s the power of good marketing, I suppose.

Yeezy: A Marketing Miracle

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We all know how a great match between product and brand ambassador can result in great sales and even iconic advertisements — Kate Moss for Calvin Klein, Isabella Rossellini for Lancome Trésor, etc. But what happens when a great match is made initially, but then the ambassador’s reputation falters or becomes uncertain?

You know what I’m getting at in this case — Kanye and Yeezy resell madness. How is the popularity of Yeezy sneakers still so explosive when Kanye has committed painful schadenfreude after painful schadenfreude on social media in the last two weeks? Why do consumers want to associate themselves with someone who at best displays incredibly poor judgement when speaking, and at worse is tens of millions of dollars in debt and on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown?

I think the answer here is two-pronged —  an instance of absurd good luck that paired a good product and its narcissistic personality disorder Frankenstein with a forgiving public with an appetite for rarity and athleisure.

First, the product is remarkably good and strategically scarce. The Boost 350, which was released exactly a year ago, originally retailed for $200, but now are as much as $1,500 new for certain colors on Ebay; around 500 pair of the new Boost 750 were released to lucky fans last weekend, and have been sold for as much as $5,400 online. It’s a great looking shoe and scarce enough to stir up hype independent of Kanye: it’s a Yeezy before it’s an Adidas or Kanye West product. It appears that if the product is truly good and can create its own identity in pop culture, it doesn’t matter if the face of the brand is in a period of uncertain personal brand coding: sales will remain strong.

Secondly, I think perhaps people think of the face of a brand in more of an archetypal way, taking his or her entire career into consideration when deciding what the ambassador means in the culture, rather than deploying an up-to-the-moment pop-culture analysis of his or her actions. Consumers and Yeezy fans look at Kanye as someone who has been a successful, if megalomanic, entertainer for ten years, who courts controversy as part of his personality — and this recent series of stunts will be an inconsequential blip on his oeuvre.

Another example of this long-term archetypal thinking is Johnny Depp being selected to serve as the face of Dior’s Eau Sauvage cologne this fall. Once the embodiment of a filthy strain of cool, in the last two years or so has become a punchline, a bloated caricature of himself hurtling toward a midlife crisis all pistons firing. And yet, I thought to myself, who else could be Dior’s elegant savage? Only Depp, or at least, the legacy of Depp (and the photoshopped version of Depp in the ads) fit the bill. It turns out the public agrees with me — Eau Sauvage was the number one men’s fragrance in most countries where it was distributed in 2015 after its launch in September of the same year. Even though he’s making a fool of himself in the tabloids just right now, his archetype remains intact in the public’s mind.

And the media doesn’t care as much about the embarrassing antics of West and Depp because the two are male entertainers. Although they aren’t representing the brands they are fronting well, they’ve faced no consequences from sale outcome or industry bosses. When Kate Moss was photographed doing cocaine in 2005, the speed with which the axe fell was incredible: not only did she loose nearly all of her contracts, but was blistered in the media for months. (I did benefit from this incident by writing about it in my SAT essay, which, if memory serves, garnered a perfect score,) Men certainly have it easier when representing a label — their personal brand archetypes aren’t subject to as much scrutiny as women’s are. Depp is a walking advertisement for substance abuse and overindulgence, but faces no consequences except for ridicule on gossip sites.

The success of Yeezy is a special case, a marketing miracle, because it’s a perfect storm of a great product that has taken on a life of its own beyond its creator, and a product that is fronted by a man whose long entertainement legacy can make up for his current actions. If even one of these layers were not intact, I don’t think Yeezy would see the kind of success that it currently –and will continue to–experience. I don’t recommend this combination of insane marketing elements for any other label, but for Yeezus, it’s only fitting.

Report Card: S/S ’16 Ad Campaigns

The new ads are in, and the results are not great my friends. Brands and spokespeople were mismatched, art direction was lackluster, and ads had a somber quality to them, perhaps stemming from the recent upheaval in the industry and the hit that the luxury markets have taken in China. Let’s discuss.

Ruby Rose for Ralph Lauren Denim Supply

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Oh. Oh dear. This keeps eliciting laughs from me. I know Ralph Lauren is under new management and in desperate need to project a younger, cooler image (may I remind you that Ralph Lauren is a major sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre). It’s like they watched The Grapes of Wrath  on a TV with poorly-operating antennae, put on a blindfold, and threw a dart at a young celebrity that codes for cool and edgy. This is a tragic mismatch, and the result is schadenfreudeish. The corresponding video is even worse, bringing this depression-era Madewell shopping spree to life — the only redeeming quality of the digital component is the presence of a hedgehog.

Who would be a better face of Ralph Lauren (providing there’s better art direction)? It’s tough to say, seeing how this big brand has become amorphous and bloated by offshoot lines in the past ten years. I would go for an all-American face, like none other than Lauren Bush Lauren. She’s close to the brand, yes, but she’s an accomplished social entrepreneur with ties to two American dynasties — and Ralph Lauren is all about living the American dream. And if Tom Ford can star in his own campaigns, LBL can advertise for her in-laws.

Grade: D

 

Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell for Balmain

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This is great. It’s all the glamour and drama associated with Balmain, but without the off-putting high-maintenance flashiness. The black and white is subdued, and a nice departure from the garish colors that we’ve seen from Balmain recently, but there’s so much movement that it’s still electric — Cindy’s face and body is exquisite here.

Choosing the original Supers to font this campaign was a great move, because it capitalizes on 90’s nostalgia, and restores some sophistication to the brand after last season’s Jenner sisters ad. It’s also nice in conversation with the Balmain x H&M campaign, which featured the “Supers” of today, Gigi, Kendall, and Jourdan, whose looks mirror those of Claudia, Cindy, and Naomi.

Grade: A-

 

Assorted Teens for Burberry 

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Burberry is catering to a younger crowd with this campaign, with its choice of up-and-coming young models like Ruth and May Bell and Dylan Brosnan, its debut of Snapchat (why?), and the grittier aesthetic portrayed here with a Juergen-y high-exposure flash. This makes sense, given that Burberry’s sales were down the last quarter, and Christopher Bailey has been under pressure to prove himself as CEO. Digital innovation under his guidance got the brand to where it is today, so it’s natural that he would double down on this strategy when he’s feeling the heat.

I’m not sure this is the right tack, however. It’s incredibly alienating to more sophisticated buyers and cheapens the brand’s heritage history by making it seem young and ephemeral. Although it’s important to stay relevant to a younger demographic, teenagers aren’t the group with the purchasing power Burberry needs. They need to keep their messaging consistent with what they did in their holiday campaign, and sell aspirational, inclusive, glamorous, British sophistication, which is what they do best.

Grade: C-

 

Zoë Kravitz and Anna Ewers for Balenciaga

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Finally! Someone took my advice and put Zoë Kravitz, intriguing chameleon of cool pedigree, in an ad campaign. I love the sleepy, romantic panned out shot of the two women, but the close-up shots are empty, uninteresting, and tell me nothing about the brand.

This is not a great way for Alexander Wang to end his short legacy at Balenciaga — this looks hastily done and doesn’t come across as a thoughtful farewell. If he were going to cop out, he ought to have shot Kravitz holding the Le Dix bag and called it a day. (Does anyone know if the label will continue to make these post-Wang? If not, I’ll need to acquire a loan immediately.)

Grade: C-

 

 

 

Starman, the Ad-man

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Tommy Hilfiger, 2004

Fashion publications have made much of David Bowie’s contribution to fashion and his inimitable personal style in the days since his death, and rightly so. But I’d like to talk about his unique role in fashion advertising.

Throughout the course of his decades-long career, he appeared in a handful of ads for companies ranging from Pepsi to Louis Vuitton, unlike any of his iconic contemporaries in music, who never fronted major consumer campaigns (the one exception being Keith Richards’ 2008 Louis Vuitton campaign). Why was Bowie coveted for campaigns more than any of the other rock stars?

It’s because of the duality of what he codes for in the culture. He’s simultaneously perceived as a cool, weirdo genius, and then as a complete cypher, making it easy for advertising to project whatever they want onto him while benefiting from his cool cultural cache. Additionally he, more than any other rock stars or any other cultural icons, exudes an almost otherworldly self-possession and comfort in his own skin, which is what every consumer company is trying to sell. He’s so untouchable, so icy, so alien, so intellectually weighty, and, despite his rolodex of zany characters, he always plays himself in ads, which makes them some of the most effective campaigns I’ve ever seen. Exhibit A:

Louis Vuitton, “L’Invitation Au Voyage,” 2013

In this short film and corresponding print campaign, Arizona Muse arrives (via hot air balloon) to a mysterious Venetian masquerade party straight out of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Bowie plays “I’d Rather Be High” on the harpsichord as revelers revel and Muse orients herself among the partygoers, uncertainly at first, then, after sitting on the bench with Bowie, excitedly. She opens her eyes to realize it was a dream — but then finds a note on the harpsichord, apparently an invitation. The film ends with Muse sailing solo through a Venetian canal into the sunrise. The world the film creates is sumptuous without being decadent, and Bowie is mysterious, sophisticated, and intriguing: everything the brand hopes to convey.

The print ad could be a subdued moment from the film, where Bowie is no longer at the center of the action, but in a corner, facing three masked women, which we see in a mirror behind him in a Folies-Berger trick. Both parties seem to be attracted and repulsed by one another, creating an interesting tension with the dangerous but ultimately romantic and innocuous narrative presented in the film.

Bowie is perfect in these ads, and Louis Vuitton expertly plays on his coding duality, employing the rock star coding more heavily in the film, and the cypher coding more heavily in the print ad. In the film, he is extremely commanding as the center of the party and the apparent ringleader of partygoers, while being electrically compelling in his silent communication with Muse. The print ad is mysterious and muted, and conveys his alienation from us, and ours from him, which is echoed by the sharp key in which the music in the film is played. It’s an extremely intriguing set of media that play well off of each other in creating a narrative, and in smartly framing Bowie’s intensely attractive yet frightening physicality and mood.

 

Exhibit B: Tommy Hilfiger, 2004

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In this black-and-white print campaign, Bowie and wife Iman are photographed glamorously doing everyday things, both at home and out and about. These are beautifully shot, but what’s striking is how much genuine fun they seem to be having — I don’t think I’ve seen such easy chemistry and palpable joy in any other photoshoot, advertising or editorial, ever. This campaign relies on pure rock-star coding, and includes shots with a guitar and a photo in the car that looks like a paparazzi snap, to great effect. It’s glamorous, sexy, fun, and kinetic, and impossible to take your eyes off of, and truly one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen. This was Hilfiger at his peak — in touch with what is classic and cool, and thoughtful about the kinds of images and aspirations to which his audience responds. He needs to get back to a Bowie-Iman level with his brand, and present content like this with real cultural icons, and stop trying to shill Gigi Hadid in a rastafarian colored woven bikini top.

Starman is the ultimate ad-man, since he stands for both an iconic rock & roll star and a complete chameleonic enigma. Louis Vuitton and Tommy Hilfiger were so smart to spot this and play up one or both of these qualities in their advertising. I wish we could have had one more — Thierry Mugler’s Alien would have been too easy, and a Jurgen Teller Céline ad would have been wonderful. I’m also glad that Bowie didn’t take himself too seriously to not want to appear in ads — that speaks volumes about his cool, down-to-earth nature, even if he did fall to earth from somewhere else.

Tremendous Eye Roll: More on Tommy Hilfiger and Celebrity Collaborations

Save Tommy Hilfiger from himself.

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Tommy Hilfiger has announced a design collaboration with Gigi Hadid, a line called Tommy x Gigi, to debut in the fall of 2016.

Cue the largest eye roll physically possible.

Not that this is a terrible idea — it’s not. It’s just bad strategy for Hilfiger in the long run and a case of history repeating itself.

As I discussed in a previous article, Tommy Hilfiger needs to be playing the long game with his brand if he wants it to be an non-laughable, established lifestyle brand again — which, by all the evidence I’ve  seen, is still his goal (luggage, linens, and tablewear are all still for sale on his website, hilariously titled just ‘tommy.com’). His brand collapsed in a cloud of shadenfreude in the early 2000s because of two reasons — it was ultra-trendy, driven totally by logos and random-but-popular celebrity endorsers, and it was publicly owned, which meant it kept churning out insane quantities these truly embarrassing looks long after they were cool too keep shareholders happy. Tommy Hilfiger is now a privately owned company, but Hilfiger needs to guard himself against getting endorsements solely from the hot young stars of the moment, as well as relying too heavily on trendiness.

Which is the problem with Gigi. She is the hottest young thing in both fashion and Instagram culture at the moment, showing up in both ad campaigns and (more and more frequently) gossip columns. She embodies trendiness and mainstream youth culture, the very things Hilfiger should be handling with caution, instead of grabbing with both hands. He’s going to make the same strategic mistake again, and the man can’t help himself.

Hifiger could have made so many other choices of collaborators, ones that would appeal to an older audience with 1) more purchasing power and 2) previous experience with the brand in its pre-hot mess days. These might include Alexa Chung, Leandra Medine, or Solange. He could have still gone for a youthful collaborator, but someone less ubiquitous and bland than Gigi is — someone like Brooklyn Beckham or Tavi Gevinson. He’s a big art collector and could have done something with Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, or Yayoi Kusama (all of whom he collects) to do something more cerebral. But no. The most obvious, popular choice is always Hilfiger’s go-to.

What I would have liked to have seen him do most was to collaborate with another designer for a capsule collection. Gucci just announced a collaboration with Commes des Garçons on a small range of silk scarves — an absolutely brilliant move in line with the Michelesance. Hilfiger should do something similar to this, and specifically partner with a label that can boost his cool factor, like Hood By Air, Public School, or Rodarte.

There are just so many more interesting, smart, and nuanced collaborative options out there for Hilfiger than the model of the moment, and his obstinacy and short sightedness in the matter is off-putting. He doesn’t’ deserve to succeed in this venture, and who knows if he will? Will Gigi be as hot and relevant in a year, when the collection debuts, as she is now? It’s a question Hilfiger should be seriously asking himself. This line may need to move up its timeline.