According to the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, the ideal eternal history is the perfect course through which all nations pass: history is presented as a cycle of rise and fall, and every nation endlessly courses and recourses through this cycle. As a fashion nerd, as a teacher and as a careful observer of the world, I think this theory can be applied to the world of fashion iconography as well. Trends and images from the past are constantly brought to the present, where they’re given new life and thus made eternal. This interesting cycle has got its downside, of course: I totally understand the charm of everything coming from the past, because I’m a total nostalgic myself, but the thin line between homage and copy nearly disappears.
This is the case of Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2010 campaign, shot by Steven Meisel and starring three lovely top models – Christy Turlington, Natalia Vodianova and Karen Elson. I knew about this campaign via Tavi’s Twitter and I really got excited when I first saw it. The three beautiful women are sporting an irresistible 50s look – ponytails, full-skirted dresses and all – while sitting in front of mirrors, surrounded by Vuitton boxes and shoes.
I must admit excitement was soon followed by a sort of bitterness, because I had just had one of my ‘image short-circuits’, which usually mean ‘deja-vu’ in my mind. Not exciting at all. Last night I found the time to flip through one of my favourite fashion coffee books – Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniéle Bott – and here it is, the guilty photo.
Sorry for the quality of the picture I took, but my scan is not properly working. This photo was taken by the one and only Helmut Newton for a Vogue Paris photoshoot, in 1964, that means forty-six years old. The word genius (from the Latin genere, that is to create) is often misused, but I must use it whenever I’m writing about Newton. He was a genius, and this is clear from the absolute and modern creativity emerging from his works. It’s clear Meisel took inspiration from this picture, because its composition is the same as Vuitton’s. Mirrors with lightbulbs on the frame, old-fashioned chairs, shoes on the floor, boxes and bags on the counters, are all elements taken from Newton’s picture.
I know my opinion has no importance, but this clear rip-off of such a source has kind of let me down. I don’t think Vuitton and Chanel aesthetics could be ever compared (in my mind, Chanel will always win, no doubt about it); at the same time, I think one can try to look like Newton, but he is destined to fail, because Newton’s mastery and vision of life were pretty unique.
All the fashion websites are ranting and raving about this campaign. It’s brilliant, because it brings 50 glamour back, but knowing this is just one of Vico’s “courses and recourses” in the history of fashion photography puts its originality in perspective. It’s true post-modern society and culture are based on the gentle art of quoting (or copying, it depends on how you see it; maybe we should ask Lady GaGa and Christina Aguilera, who both “took inspiration” from Madonna for their latest videos) someone else’s work, but this time I cannot see it as a quote/homage: it only looks like a rip-off, period.
Fortunately, the dresses and accessories seen in the pictures are so beautiful, and this somehow makes my disappointment milder. Full skirts, corsets and opera gloves come from the past, yet still retain a unique charm.
The most interesting thing of the campaign (you can see it here as a whole) is the choice of the models. They are different in many ways, but are all famous for their classic and versatile beauty. Moreover, they can be considered symbols of their generations. Christy Turlington’s career started in the 80s and immediately became huge (just remember she was one of Gianni Versace‘s favourite models, and was part of the infamous Triad, which also included Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell). Karen Elson became successful in the 90s: she posed for Versace, too, sporting a blonde short bob. Last but not least, Natalia Vodianova, the Russian-born Cinderella, reached a huge success in the 2000s. I also like the fact that they’re all mothers, and that they all have careers other than modelling.
When I first saw the styling of the campaign, my attention was immediately focused by Karen Elson’s fiery hair, with bangs and ponytail. The same hairstyle is sported by Christy and Natalia, but Karen’s is the only one which made my fashion nerd’s twisted mind – always looking for references – run once again. If you were a child in the late 70s, you’ll probably remind this Mattel boardgame, Barbie Queen of the Prom.
I’ve never owned it, but the daughter of one of my mother’s colleagues at school did, and I really loved playing it. As you probably know, in Italy we’ve never had the tradition of the prom, so the game had a very special (and exotic) meaning to me at the time .
The 60s-style Barbie on the cover of the game – with her crown, bangs and ponytail, plus the prim and proper pearl necklace – was used by Tarina Tarantino for a line of the Barbie-inspired jewelry collection she launched in 2006.
The collection included a line with Barbie’s black silhouette – again with bangs and ponytail – on a pink background.
The same decorative motif has been used by Patricia Field for these ghetto-fabulous hoop earrings. A stylized version of the same silhouette – minus the bangs – appeared on the items of the Barbie Loves MAC collection, launched in 2007.
What are your opinions about this campaign? Is it a homage to Newton, or rather a plain rip-off?
 You won if you were the first player to be crowned Queen of the Prom. In order to win you had to have a boyfriend, a prom dress and to be elected president of a school club.