Fashion Photography Says “Motherhood”: Harry Winston and Gucci Campaigns

Before the birth of my daughter, during the pregnancy, I started being particularly interested in a specific theme of fashion photography, which is motherhood, the perception of the maternal status and the presence of children. I’ve always wanted to focus on the production of Miles Aldridge, a British photographer who often reflects on the role of mothers in contemporary society, the social pressure on them, the relationship to their children, but I still haven’t found time enough to do it. In any case, my interest has been recently sparked by a picture of a strangely smiling Freja Beha Erichsen, posing for Patrick Demarchelier in Harry Winston 2010 advertising campaign.

I usually don’t like children to appear in advertising campaigns. This makes me feel uneasy, because someone has taken the decision to make them model. I don’t know if I consider it exploitation or what, but I don’t like it. Despite my opinion, children don’t only appear in campaigns advertising products for children, but in those dealing with luxury brands, too,  and Freja’s picture is an example.

Clearly, the reason why they included such a shot in the campaign is to introduce the concepts of warm-heartedness, family and mother love, thus appealing to the lucky mothers who can afford a Harry Winston piece. Moreover, the ideas of cuteness, instinct and naturalness are introduced through the nakedness of the baby, a symbol of his/her defencelessness and of the maternal need to protect him/her. Despite my disapproval of the use of children in such contexts, I must admit the picture is sweet (and this proves the campaign has reached its goal).

Being a fashion (photography) nerd, after seeing Winston’s picture, my mind immediately went back to 2003, to the Gucci fall campaign of that year. At the time, the luxury brand was in the Midas hands of Tom Ford and it was an epitome of boldness, sexiness and refinement: everything I could have dreamt about, Tom Ford turned it into a dress or an accessory.

Nadine Willis and Dewi Driegen were the female protagonists of the campaign, which included the male model David Smith, too. The photographer in charge was Mario Testino, who shot most of Tom Ford for Gucci campaigns. The models, wearing clothes from one of the best collections by Ford, held naked, chubby babies in their arms, but the final result is very different from Winston’s campaign.

In this case, the models, though smiling in most shots, are not reassuring or fresh-faced fictional mothers, but powerful women, self-confident enough to wear skin-tight pencil skirts and corset-belts, plus lots of leather, furs and over-the-knee boots. Tom Ford has never wanted his woman to be reassuring or tamed, so the presence of children must have another reason. Before going on, please focus on the picture above: the model is not smiling but the baby is. I love this contrast.

Here, the opposition is between the smiling, shirtless model and the naked, perplexed baby. In my opinion, the styling in this picture is overloaded: she’s holding the baby AND a chain bag in her hands. Really? There’s too much going on.

This is probably my favourite shot of the campaign, all based on straight lines and curves. Nadine’s squared haircut à la Grace Jones and the straight line of the long zip on the boots balance the curves of her shoulders and the baby’s legs. Moreover, the colour combinations of cool tones and warm neutral shades is perfect.

The idea of the powerful woman is greatly emphasized by the stunning white coat worn by Nadine, and the black leather opera gloves further underline the fact that she’s in charge. The baby and the model’s smiles redirect the viewer’s attention from the coat to them. After analyzing this picture, I wonder – again – which could have been the concept behind this campaign and the message it wanted to convey: is it something as banal as “modern mothers are superwomen” or something subtler?

This last picture doesn’t help me to make things clearer, but probably the following shots do.

I’ve never cared much for menswear advertising campaigns, but this time I made an exception, because I think the part of the campaign featuring a male model can be useful to venture a guess.

I don’t know why, but this picture instantly turns the campaign into something different. It’s quite ordinary to see a female model and a baby in an advert, but it’s definitely unusual to see a male model in the same situation. It would be interesting to investigate the theme I was referring to at the beginning of the post from a father’s point of view, but here I’ll only try to make some hypotheses. The baby is so out of place in this context, that he really looks like an accessory or a prop; yet, this contrast is extremely appealing and surreal.

David Smith is dressed like a stereotypical Russian spy, fur hat included, and he’s holding a baby in his arms, as if he were the Virgin Mary? Again, it’s surreal and fascinating at the same time. Just a few words about the baby’s position, which is different from all the other shots: in this case, the baby is lying in his arms, while he’s usually standing or sitting in the model’s arms. If I think of the traditional art iconography dealing with the Virgin and Child, the lying baby is quite unusual (when he’s lying, the Child is sleeping, like in Madonna con bambino che dorme by Andrea Appiani or in the amazing Adorazione del bambino by Alvise Vivarini and in a painting of the same title by Sandro Botticelli).

In this shot, the position of the baby is – again – different, because he’s facing backwards. I love the pinstriped suit seen on the model, styled with such an effortless elegance, with a tee, a silk scarf and a statement belt.

The last part of this short journey through (fictional) mothers and children takes us to a contemporary Gucci campaign, which deals with the same topic. A mere seven years have passed since the campaign above, but much has changed at the Italian maison: the talentless (sorry, my opinion!) and business-driven Frida Giannini has been creative director since 2005 and has produced collections whose only goal is to be as marketable as possible. The dream Ford gave me through Gucci is gone, and the children’s collection spring 2011 campaign, starring Jennifer Lopez and her twin children, Max and Emme, proves it.

In this case, the presence of the children is quite obvious, because they’re advertising children’s clothes, but there are so many wrong things. The styling, for example: why is Max, in particular, wearing those white-rimmed aviator shades (ridiculous on such a young person) and a military-inspired outfit? And what about Jennifer? She’s giving her trademark sexy-pouty pose to the camera of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott,which is so out-of-place.

Things are even worse here: it is as if she were on the set of her Love Don’t Cost a Thing video…with her children. I don’t agree with the way the campaign presents the children: they should be the center of the pictures, but they end up being the cute backdrop of their mother’s huge ego.

What do you think of the mother-child theme presented in advertising campaigns? Do you like it or do you think it’s just a publicity gimmick to boost the sales?

Source, source and source.




  1. Anche io ho apprezzato molto la campagna di Harry Winston. Tra l’altro trovo che la Erichsen sia ancora più bella in questa versione “solare”: il sorriso che ha nelle foto la illumina più di un qualsiasi gioiello 🙂

    Nella campagna di Gucci trovo anche io che i bimbi siano usati come degli accessori e il messaggio trasmesso non mi piace. L’unica foto che salvo e che trovo molto tenera è quella in cui Nadine è piegata verso il bambino. Very cute!

    Per quanto riguarda la campagna di J.Lo, anche qui non vedo un’interazione con i bambini, che dovrebbe invece esserci in dosi massicce visto che si tratta dei suoi pargoli. I Carerra sul maschietto poi sono la ciliegina sulla torta =_=’

    Ma domani giorno di vigilia ci sarà lo stesso il Friday guessing game?


    1. Sono d’accordo con te su tutto. Penso, però, che la campagna di Gucci d’epoca Tom Ford abbia una raffinatezza che quella con JLo non ha affatto. Posto che entrambe propongono un’idea che non condivido dei bambini, nel primo caso, i bambini sono presentati come tali, non come piccoli adulti.

      Per quanto riguarda il FGG, domani ci sarà, come sempre! Un’anticipazione: non avrà un tema natalizio.

  2. oh no!! lol this photoshoot does not work at all. it feels very out of place. The models don’t even look ‘motherly’ and it looks like they’re using the babies as an accessory. If this had been done in a nice tasteful way then its not such a bad idea.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s