c.2014 New York Times News Service
c.2014 New York Times News Service
For an industry that pays a lot of lip service to originality and unique points of view, fashion can seem surprisingly lemminglike at times.
Flip through a glossy magazine this month, for example, almost any glossy magazine, take a gander at the just-breaking autumn-winter ad campaigns (yes, it’s still high summer, but in these pages the fashion calendar rules — by, well, its own rules) and tell me you don’t experience an eerie feeling of déjà vu.
Wait: Didn’t you just see that model? Are we looking at a gaggle of girls again? More architecture to echo the clothes? And so on.
There are trends in advertising just as there are trends on the runway, and when they first appear is when they are easiest to identify. Like comfort clothing, which is about to be everywhere for fall, be it wide trousers or swaddling sheepskin; jumpsuits (strapless, lace or denim); or statement sleeves, the details may differ, but the basic building blocks are the same.
Consider the theme of a picture, for example, which this season generally falls into one of the following three categories: edgy, aggressive power woman (Versace’s campaign is entitled “Power and Freedom”; Alexander Wang’s is shot in what looks like a reform school, albeit one where the women are notably well dressed); insider affection (see: Lanvin’s Campbell-Hicks family affair and Stella McCartney’s Kate Moss zipped and unzipped); and constructivist cool (Fendi, Prada, Proenza Schouler).
Or consider the choice of models, which also seems to obey the rule of three.
Edie Campbell, the “quirky” English mannequin who became famous when she chopped her hair into a mullet and dyed it black, for example, shows up in the campaigns of four brands: Bottega Veneta, dressed in graphic prints with a matching geometric bob; Alexander McQueen, where she is splayed languidly across a baroque set in lavish dresses; Hugo Boss, where she is photographed midstride in a long coat; and Lanvin, where she was shot with various generations of family members, from her grandmother to her parents to her siblings, in various states of dress-up.
Gisele Bündchen, meanwhile, who appears to be in the midst of an extreme high-low comeback, pops up in the campaigns of Emilio Pucci (dancing in spangly print mini); Balenciaga, where she was given a computer-generated buzz cut and looks suitably gritty; Isabel Marant (funky); Sonia Rykiel (sweater clad and almost makeup free); and the shoe supremo Stuart Weitzman (topless and lying on a ... shelf?).
And as for Cara Delevingne, she graces the moors for Mulberry in country knits and knee socks, smolders in dark eyeliner and tuxedo for Topshop, haunts a boxing gym in boucle for Chanel and reappears in her role as part of the Burberry gang, along with Suki Waterhouse and assorted other British models. She also appears as part of the Balmain troop, along with Binx Walton (who is also with her in the Chanel ads) and four others.
Indeed, the more-models-the-better approach appears to be increasingly favored as an expression both of brand power strategy (look how many famous faces we can gather in one place) and seduction (don’t you wish you could be in this cool clique?).
Or so it would seem, anyway, judging by Christian Dior Couture (four models, lounging insouciantly around a New York apartment); Givenchy (seven models, including Kendall Jenner, though Isabelle Huppert also gets a solo page); Tom Ford (10, including Ella Richards, daughter of Keith, and Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold); and Gucci (11).
And then there is DKNY, which trumps them all with 14 “real people” from the streets of New York as well as Rita Ora, who also happens to be the star of the Roberto Cavalli campaign (though celebrities seem to be less prevalent on the ground this season than in years past, with Winona Ryder for Rag & Bone and Amy Adams for MaxMara among the few cinematic names).
Still, when it comes to muscle flexing via marketing imagery, perhaps nothing beats Nicolas Ghesquière’s first campaign at Louis Vuitton, which offers up a triptych of big-name photographers (Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz, Juergen Teller), each telling a story with one of four models (including the actress Charlotte Gainsborough) that runs as a gallery of images — not just an ad, but an exhibit unto itself.
Plus a video, of course, which has become the must-have accessory to every fashion campaign; simply see almost all of the above brands, which are showcasing the action on their websites. Chloé even began its pictorial “road trip” starring Sasha Pivovarova via video, while Stella McCartney’s mini-film “Kate Dreams” comes complete with “original music composition by Fred Gibson.”
As to why this sort of mind-melding happens, I think it has to do with a strategy I first heard articulated by Tina Brown back in her Vanity Fair days when it came to cover personalities and the most successful results. To be specific: that it was best, if counterintuitive, for a brand not to be a first mover in celebrity-model terms; there is a risk you will end up so far ahead of the curve that you are pretty much out of sight.
Instead, the theory went, the optimum time to feature a subject in order to tread that fine line between recognizability and oversaturation was just after peak: just after that person became famous enough to be immediately recognizable by the general audience (which is to say, the time when people like me start rolling their eyes and saying, “but she is everywhere”).
At the same time, however, the ad campaign groupthink also has to do with another reality of fashion, which is that despite the industry’s edgy image, in many ways it is extremely conservative. Fashion likes to do what it knows works, which is to say: sells. Or at least what has been proven to work before, and that goes for clothes (and explains in part the endless recycling of styles) and for models.
This is why so many famous older models are also on display in this season’s campaigns, be it Moss in her seventh outing for Stella McCartney or Stella Tennant at Versace and Moschino, where she is joined by fellow old-timers (relatively speaking, anyway) Linda Evangelista, Karen Elson and Carolyn Murphy.
As an approach, this is not that different from the current state of the film world, with its endless sequels and reliance on the same crop of “openers.”
Is it bad? On one hand, it exposes brands to legitimate charges of lack of originality, but on the other hand, originality may not necessarily be the point. In fact, too much originality may actually defeat the point.
Rather, being just original enough to be recognizably different from the ad next door, but just familiar enough to be accessible thanks to the ad next door — that’s the consumer sweet spot. That’s the point at which a garment reaches the tipping point, and a viewer goes from thinking, “Gosh, why would I ever want that distressed motorcycle jacket?” to having seen so many distressed motorcycle jackets that — all of a sudden — a page, instead of being turned, gets earmarked as part of a fall shopping list.
And that, of course, is exactly the point.