Let Louis Vuitton and Hermès Tell You a Fairy-Tale

In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.

Charles Dickens, Frauds on the Fairies, October 1st, 1853

Charles Dickens wrote Frauds on the Fairies to protest against the (former) colleague and friend George Cruikshank’s re-writing traditional fairy tales in a moral manner. Dickens thought fairy tales should be respected and not sanitized, foreseeing a sort of fanaticism in this attitude, which turned them into didactical tales at all costs. I totally agree with the Victorian novelist, adding that fairy tales are extremely powerful and meaningful universal life-telling narrations, which cover all aspects of human life and the complete range of feelings and emotions. I am strongly convinced they must be part of every childhood, because they can teach but – most of all – they can nurture the belief in the beauty and the magic of life. My two-year-old daughter loves fairy tales and I love reading fairy-tale books, because watching astonished/scared/afraid/surprised/happy expressions on her face is one of the most emotional and exciting things I’ve ever experienced.

At the moment, her favourite fairy tale is Cinderella: she loves the story and the Disney movie, especially the sequence of the magic transformation, when the Fairy Godmother turns the pumpkin into a carriage (she loves pumpkins!) and Cinderella’s torn dress into a beautiful glittering dress with glass pumps. I tell her the story almost every day, so I’ve been thinking about some old fashion images related to fairy tales.

Louis Vuitton s/s 2002 advertising campaign is one of my favourite ever, because it featured amazing leather goods and clothing in a fairy tale setting. I loved the fact that each pic paid homage to a famous fairy tale. Tasha Tilberg, for example, is Snow White, who falls in a death-like sleep after biting a poisoned apple. The contrast between the milky white skin of the model, the dress and the apple’s flesh, and the blood-red apples and bucket bag in Epi leather is sublime.

Snow White and the seven dwarves (here they are children dressed in black) carry some red luggage in Epi leather across a wood. Isn’t the hatbox carried by Tasha amazing? Not to mention her romantic dress.

Natalia Vodianova is the spoiled princess who eventually falls in love with the Prince Frog, in the fairy tale by the Grimm brothers. I’ve never liked this tale about shapeshifting much, but it is surely charming. Natalia is portrayed before kissing a frog-shaped bag in Monogram Vernis.

Here is Cinderella! The pic portrays a moment of utmost importance in the narration: it’s midnight, and Cinderella has to leave the royal court, because everything (her chariot, her dress, the horses and the coachman) is about to lose its magic. One of her shoes is left on the stairs of the royal palace, a subtle proof which will help the prince in tracing her back.

The pic I have always loved most of the whole campaign is this one, based on Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The mirror, divided in three panels, is the mysterious medium through which Alice can step into an unknown world (a part of it is visible in the picture: a hedge labyrinth). I love the dream-like quality of light, but I also love the messenger bag on the model, the result of a collaboration between Marc Jacobs and the English artist Julie Verhoeven.

This campaign was only the first step of Vuitton into the world of fairy tales. The Holiday 2009 catalogue (Les contes de Louis Vuitton), shot by Vincent Gapaillard, is based on traditional fairy tales, too.

The poisoned apple in Snow White is the source of inspiration of this pic, where candy apples are the background for a bag and wallet in red Monogram Vernis.

The mirror is one of the most important symbols in Lewis Carroll’s novels, but I think this oval mirror (reflecting a Lockit bag and wallet in red) refers to Snow White again, probably because of its shape, resembling the shape of the Queen’s Magic Mirror in the 1937 Disney movie.

Two pics are based on Cinderella: this one portrays the pumpkin and the white mice (well, they are white wallets here) after midnight, when the magical effect of the Fairy Godmother’s spell vanishes.

This beautiful platform stiletto pump, made of satin with a rosette and tulle decorations, is Vuitton’s modern version of the glass pump slipping off Cinderella’s foot. I honestly prefer the traditional glass slipper or a glittering clear plastic version, at least.

When I was a child, a fairy tale I loved was The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault. The protagonist is not an action heroine, because she sleeps for most of the time, but the impending doom on her life and the poisoned needle of the spindle causing her death-like sleep were so mysteriously appealing to me. In this pic, the Sleeping Beauty is a lovely clutch bag, resting on a satin pillow in a wood.

Vuitton is not the only brand which has recently turned to fairy tales as sources of inspiration. If you take a look at the lovely Hermes s/s 2010 advertising campaign (La vie comme un conte), shot by Paolo Roversi somewhere in the Mediterranean or Aegean sea, starring Karlie Kloss, you’ll understand why. Each pic is a reference to a fairy tale from the European and Middle-Eastern traditions. What I love of this campaign is the contrast between the summery setting/light and the mystery which is part of any fairy tale.

I wish I could rest my tired limbs on pillows covered by Hermès silk twill scarves, like the model is doing in the shot above! The fairy tale the pic refers to is The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen. The tale tells the story of a princess, whose royal identity is put to the test with a pea placed under twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds (only a true princess could not sleep because of a pea under all those mattresses). The picture is lovely, with all those different prints. I also love Karlie’s braid, so 80s (when I was a child, my mother often put a ribbon in my braid, I loved it).

Cinderella is featured in two pics: the one above portrays the moment in which Cinderella’s true identity (she is the one whom the prince fell in love with at the ball, not the girl reduced in slavery by the wicked stepmother) is revealed. The glass slipper fits only her feet, and so she is the one destined to become the prince’s wife. I like Hermès’ modern version of the glass shoe – a gorgeous leather-trimmed suede sandal.

This shot sees Karlie-Cinderella running down a white staircase and dropping one of her sandals on a step. The background of the picture is breathless and the contrast with the dramatic moment of the fairy tale is interesting. Cinderella is supposed to leave the ball at midnight, while the sun is still shining in the pic above, but I don’t care about the inconsistency. Cinderella’s ball gown is turned into a short pleated skirt and a polo shirt, while the glass slippers are high-heeled lizard and python sandals.

This picture is so romantic! It refers to another fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, one of his most famous stories. Karlie is sitting on a rock, in the middle of the sea, thus re-enacting the infamous Little Mermaid statue in the harbour in Copenhagen. I must admit I’ve never liked this tale much, but I probably appreciate it more now that I’m an adult: this heart-breaking story of self-sacrifice and love can be hardly be understood by a child. The model’s legs are covered in printed silk, and she’s carrying an amazing coral Jypsière bag in Clémence tourillon leather.

This is one of the shots I like most: Karlie is the genie of Aladdin’s lamp, coming out of a small silver vase with a Brides de Gala silk twill scarf. Aladdin is a tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, based on the Middle-Eastern folk tale about a poor young boy who becomes rich thanks to the djinns coming out of a magic lamp he got for a sorcerer.

I’m probably wrong to assume this pic refers to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the china set in the wood doll-house made me think of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare’s endless tea party. The shot is wonderful, because the model and the doll-house are perched on a tree branch, surrounded by a breathless sea view. Karlie is dressed in white, wearing another polo shirt and pleated skirt, lace-up shoes and a Cape Cod white watch. The china set is Les Maisons Enchantées: I am in love with the teapot and the soup tureen.

I really couldn’t identify the fairy tale which this picture refers to, but I’ve decided to post it anyway, because it’s so beautiful. Karlie is crowned with white flowers and is wearing a silver bracelet and a necklace as headpiece.

The Vuitton campaign is my favourite, because it retains an atmosphere of mystery which is so typical of fairy tales. This mood is completely missing in Roversi’s shots for Hermès, but the summer setting is so refreshing. Which one is your favourite?

Moreover: what do you think of fairy tales used with a commercial intent? Are they still appealing or do they lose part of their charm?

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16 comments

  1. The last pic makes me think about Thumbelina, or maybe a fairry tale i heard when i was a child about a princess and 12 swans. The princess lived in the swamp together with her brother that had been transformed into swans by the usual witch stepmother. A prince finds her and falls in love with her, but a jealous councellor makes him believe she’s a witch because she weaves tunics with nettles and never talks. When she’s about to be put at the stake the brothers come to rescue her, she throws the tunics at them and they take back their human forms.

    1. I don’t think it’s Thumbelina, but probably the other fairy tale you’re referring to – The Wild Swans by H. C. Andersen. I loved this fairy tale when I was a child, even if it has lots in common with The Little Mermaid – the metamorphosis, the self-sacrifice, the innocent character wrongly accused. Thanks for having brought this memory from my past back🙂

  2. I work in a advertising agency and often creatives like me plagiarize fairy tales to tell other stories. Commercials and adv print based on fairy tales work efficiently because they represent our deepest archetypes.
    Nowadays, is not simple use a fairy tales as a starting point to tell something else, because everybody did it.

    Have you read “Il mondo incantato” by Bruno Bettelheim?
    His point of view about the instructive role of fairy tales during child’s growing is very interesting. I suggest you.

    1. No, I’ve never read that book by Bettelheim (I’ve read others), I will surely look for it, thanks!

      I totally understand the reason why creatives use fairy tale for commercial purposes. We’ve all been children in a part of our lives, and fairy tales are part of the growing process for most of us. Referring to a fairy tale in commercials or campaigns is like addressing to the child inside of us, so it’s extremely appealing and captivating. I also understand the reason why using a fairy tale for this purpose is not easy, since many have used the same source of inspiration.

  3. Concordo con Te sulla campagna Vuitton che evoca l’atmosfera fiabesca che ho sempre immaginato pensando ad alcune fiabe, anche se la foto di Hermes de La principessa sul pisello è quasi ipnotica ed induce un urgente bisogno di foulard della maison.

    Non si accorda del tutto al tema del post,
    ma ieri ho fatto una passeggiata in via della Spiga a Milano e sono rimasta catturata dalle gigantografie della Campagna di Dolce e Gabbana con testimonial Madonna che campeggiano nelle vetrine del magico duo;
    avevo già visto qualcosa sui giornali e mi aveva conquistato,
    anche perchè, su una ragazza degli anni ’80 come me, vedere Madonna ritornare ad uno dei suoi look che ho preferito è un tuffo al cuore.
    ma l’effetto delle gigantografie enfatizza la percezione come un bellissimo tuffo nel passato.
    Un abbraccio Super è sempre molto bello per me poter condividere il Tuo punto di vista leggendo i Tuoi articoli.
    PS sbaglio o nutri una passione per le teiere? Quelle della foto di Hermes sono molto belle, credo che sia stata proprio Tu a contagiarmi in questa mania.

    1. E’ vero: quella foto della campagna Hermès è magica! Mi fa quasi venire voglia di tirar fuori il mio Jardins d’Andalousie😉

      Lo ammetto: non ho ancora visto la campagna Dolce & Gabbana con protagonista Madonna, ora rimedio subito. C’è comunque da dire che, nonostante gli anni che passano, è sempre lei la Regina del Pop, non solo perchè è molto difficile non rifarsi a quello che ha proposto lei in passato (due nomi a caso: Christina Aguilera – oddio, sono arrabbiatissima con lei, il suo nuovo video è da cestinare in toto – e Lady GaGa), ma anche perchè continua a fare tendenza, no matter what.

      Sììì, io adoro le teiere e le colleziono. Ora però mi sono fermata perchè non ho più spazio dove metterle ;P

  4. Hi, I am a girl from Denmark, I love Louis Vuitton’s Snow White. I would really like to know which magazine it has been brought and shown in. I know it is quite ‘old’, but if any one knows it, please reply.
    I’m analysing the picture at school.
    Love,
    Emma

    1. Hi Emma!
      In 2002 the picture appeared on fashion magazines and glossies all around the world. Louis Vuitton campaigns have a world-wide coverage.

  5. Grazie per l’articolo, m’era sfuggita la pubblicita` di Hermes e la preferisco molto di piu` a quella di Vuitton I toni dei colori fanno piu` fiaba. Comunque penso che nel mondo della moda mantenere la magia della fiaba sia essenziale. Hai per caso altri articoli da suggerirmi sul tema? Grazie ancora dell’articolo!

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