Raf Simons

Report Card: F/W ’17 Ad Campaigns

1201454.jpgRaf Simons’s first Calvin Klein ad is a perfect mission statement for a new era.

This season’s spate of advertisements is, largely, absolutely fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, I went back and forth about including an exclamation point in this paragraph, but decided not to deploy one for reasons of self respect. The quality label-ambassador pairings we see this season perhaps reflect a deep thoughtfulness about brand identity in a time of industry upheaval—communicating a brand’s meaning is more important than ever when designers are playing musical chairs and consumers are saturated with digital media. Here are some of the high achievers.

Jude Law for Prada

prada-ss17-campaign_2-2-1024x593

I love this. I love this so much that I would wallpaper my apartment with it, regardless of my deeply held opinion that Jude Law is the platonic ideal of human beauty. This minimal shoot by Willy Vanderperre nails the essence of Prada: practical, intellectual, and offbeat. Law lounges contemplatively amongst sand dunes in an array of unfussy and tailored shirts, pants, and even sandals (my rule about men in sandals—that it should never, ever occur unless one is an Olympic swimmer or any other type of water sports professional— is null and void when it comes to Prada, they of ugly-chic splendor). Law, despite actually being the most handsome man in the world, is the perfect choice for Prada, as both actor and brand are at interesting stages of their lives.

Law, now in his mid-40s, is taking a variety of unusual and supporting roles, rather than the typical leading man parts, including in Anna Karenena, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Genius. At his Times Talk last June, he spoke to this shift as being both more natural than calculated and that collaborating with interesting directors is his main criterion when considering roles. So too, is Prada at a moment of transition. No longer the ‘it’ brand of the moment, Prada is reconnoitering the rapidly-evolving fashion landscape quietly, and perhaps in a reactionary way. Miuccia is carefully observing and pointedly not participating in the conversation around the turbulence of the designer revolving door, see-now-buy-now, and co-ed clothes, which, in a way, is reflective as the label’s status as a true luxury brand — not having to cater or pander to anyone or any trend in particular. She continues to produce quiet, sophisticated, and interesting clothing, almost as if to please herself. She will make large changes to brand strategy when she’s good and ready, but not before a great deal of consideration.

This collaboration is sublime; an alignment of artistic renaissances. and making old favorites current ones.

Grade: A

Charlotte Rampling for Loewe

This is a magnificent pairing — the most unusual and enigmatic actress of the twentieth century posing for Loewe, a recently-revived Spanish luxury label helmed by wunderkind Northern Irish Jonathan Anderson, known for his interesting silhouettes, proportion play, and gender-bending designs. Anderson is himself somewhat inscrutable, and his designs mercurial — some more intellectual, others more commercial — and entirely avoidant of the celebrity PR circuit — one rarely seen his clothes on a red carpet, and when one does, they’re on fellow sublime weirdo Tilda Swinton. Rampling, exceedingly private and dismissive of Hollywood, is the perfect face for the brand; a real meeting of the minds between designer and muse. I only wish this Jamie Hawkesworth-shot series was more visually engaging, and more suggestive of a narrative — a more fleshed-out setting would do the trick. The dark palette, too, makes it easy to visually skip over if one doesn’t have Rampling radar. Perfect casting, unremarkable execution.

Grade: B+

Art for Calvin Klein

1201453.jpg

Raf Simons loves contemporary art. As demonstrated in the excellent yet ungrammatically titled documentary Dior and I, he frequently visits museums and galleries in search of inspiration, and has both collaborated with and referenced the artist Sterling Ruby while at Dior, and in his eponymous menswear line. I was curious to see what the first Calvin Klein ads would look like under Raf — he’s not one for cozying up to celebrities in his personal life or casting them in ads unless contractually obligated, yet Calvin Klein is, historically, a celebrity-driven brand, particularly in its advertising.

Instead of famous people, Simons cannily casts art by Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, and his bff Sterling Ruby in starring roles in the Willy Vandeperre-shot campaign, letting the paintings and their artists take center stage. Still, he plays with Calvin Klein tropes of denim, underwear, and young couples, giving them subtle, modern updates; the result is a little cleaner and a little more European. With the fun and accessible choices of art and the classic branding motifs, Raf acknowledges the label’s pop-cultural roots, but reframes them in a restrained way that is much more ‘him.’ This is a great first ad campaign under the new rule. I am so excited to see what’s to come, and how art will factor in in both the clothing and the advertising. Basically I hope this becomes an empire of Jil Sander.

Grade: A+

 

Advertisements

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

jennifer-lawrence-dior-600x387.jpg

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.

Raf Steps Down: What it Means for Dior, the Designer, and His Successor

Raf+Simons+Christian+Dior+Runway+Paris

Another designer leaves a major fashion house after only a short tenure. Raf Simons is unexpectedly out at Dior. I was initially astounded to hear this news, but the more I thought about it, it the more it made sense to me. He did beautiful things at Dior, but it never truly felt like he was comfortable there. You can see it in some the clothes, especially later on in his tenure – they’re ladylike, but feel cold and vaguely discomforted. Still, I’m surprised to see him leave so soon, especially after the publicity boost due to the recent release of Dior and I, the documentary charting the making of his first collection at the company.

Hopefully, this also means the end of Jennifer Lawrence as the face of the brand; a completely baffling pairing that benefits Lawrence’s personal brand, but hurts Dior’s. The house desperately needs to re-focus its brand identity, because as it is, they’re gunning to look like Giannini’s Gucci. Under Raf, Dior didn’t stand for anything – I don’t know who the customer is, or what kind of world she inhabits, because all of the advertising was restrained, empty, and faced by a bland big-time movie star — I had to get all of my information about the brand from the runway shows, which, admittedly, were stunning. The ads need to be a more sophisticated (but not boring) version of the vision so perfectly executed by their fragrance campaigns, especially Miss Dior and Dior Addict – French, ladylike, and daring.

What’s next for Raf? I wish he would go back to Jil Sander, an all-time favorite of mine that has crumbled since he left in 2012, but he won’t loop back around to the same company. He will focus on his own label, and perhaps another smaller line. I don’t ever see him returning to one of these mega-houses, even if the fashion cycle slows down to fewer collections per year.

But the even bigger question is who will replace Raf. Will Dior follow the current trend among big houses and pick an unknown? Perhaps, but that move would look trite after the recent Balenciaga appointment. I personally would love to see a woman at Dior. Cathy Horyn teased the possibility of Phoebe Philo on The Cut, which would be sublime; however I don’t think Philo would be willing to split her time between Céline and Dior, especially, as Horyn noted, because she has so much creative control over every aspect of Céline. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski at Hermès might be a good choice, as would Stella McCartney, although I think, like Philo, McCartney is more invested in her own label at the moment. Kate and Laura Mulleavy would be a unexpected choice, but I think the sisters behind Rodarte are too media-shy to want to helm a major house like Dior. If I were Mr. Arnault, however, I would be pursuing Jonathan Anderson. He’s ultra-talented, young, a media darling, and not afraid of helming a big fashion house. It may be strategically savvy for Anderson to stay at Lowe, though, and build a mega name for himself, much like Philo did at Céline.

I’m sad to see Raf go — I was looking forward to see how he evolved as a designer at Dior. But in any case, I’ll be extremely interested to see who gets the appointment, and what they do with the brand. Stay tuned.