Beyond the Valley of the Sex Kittens: Miu Miu Campaigns

Some aspects of contemporary society are pretty confusing, and one of these is age. Boundaries between ages have already been taken down: a longer life expectancy seems to tell us that we can do whatever we want, at any age we want. Media say being 40 is the new being 30 and they keep on bombing the reader with ideas, tips and suggestions on how to make beauty last longer, usually thanks to the help of cosmetics or toxins. Society tells women that they must always be young and beautiful, otherwise you’re nothing, less than zero, and the latest news from my country are brutally clear on this point.

I don’t even want to start mentioning clothes and style: if a woman feels she must be desiderable, no matter what, she dresses accordingly. According to the wise Carrie Bradshaw,  “it’s time for ladies my age to cover it up. We can’t get away with the same stuff we used to,” but it’s clear most women don’t agree with her. The result? 50-year-old women who dress like 20-year-old girls and 8-year-old girls who dress like 20-year-old girls, probably supported by mothers who think this adultization must be welcomed and not rejected. This (creepy) process can be seen, for example, in the recent loungerie campaign by the French brand Jours Apres Lune, in the obsession the fashion industry seems to have for the 10-year-old French model Thylane Blondeau and in tv shows like Toddlers & Tiaras. “The world is a vampire”, sang Billy Corgan some years ago, and this is surely true for the world of fashion. Youth, more than beauty, is the supreme value to treasure and to pursue – an idea which is extremely disturbing because it goes against the natural process of growing old; you can do whatever you want to stop time on your face, but time flies anyway and you can’t do nothing to actually stop it.

For all these reasons, I’ve welcomed with enthusiasm the Miu Miu fall/winter 2011 campaign, shot by Bruce Weber and starring the 15-year-old American actress Hailee Steinfeld. When I first heard she had been chosen as testimonial, I had some doubts: how could a teenager interpret a very grown-up collection? I was afraid she would be turned into a 30-something and luckily I was wrong.

Maybe the pose could remind us of pensive Old Hollywood divas, but Hailee hasn’t been disfigured into a woman. Her make-up is light and natural, her hair is combed in a 40s-inspired hairstyle: you can say she’s a teenager wearing gorgeous clothes, without pretending to be who she’s not.

The campaign has a 40s vibe, which mirrors the mood of the collection. I’m glad Bruce Weber has been chosen to shoot these pictures, because his youthful and dynamic style has always paid homage to the past. The atmosphere here is not forced – the girl who plays the role of a country girl who leaves her town… or something like this – but just evocative.

Evocative atmosphere matched to spontaneous (or at least spontaneous-looking) poses, which is one of the reasons why I like this campaign so much. Fed up with models posing in improbable settings, her limbs set in improbable angles, I think seeing a girl sitting on rails  and scratching her eye is unusual and fresh. This is surely one of the pros of the campaign: turning something absolutely ordinary and simple into a glamourous – but not fake – image.

This is what I’m talking about! A girl eating a slice of pizza, without pretending she’s eating caviar, but just enjoying her meal. This won’t change the attitude of fashion photography towards food – rarely portrayed and always in connection to to the weight issue – but, again, is so ordinary to result unusual.

Hailee sports the most coveted shoes of the season and a beautiful blue dress with floral embroideries simply while sitting on the grass, a hint of pout on her lips. No luxurious settings, no vampy attitudes: just a lawn.

I love this shot! Everybody knows shoes are a girl’s best friends, and this is so much true for Miu Miu glittering shoes. This fall/winter 2012 collection includes some gorgeous models with the trademark arched heel – from gold pumps to shiny peep-toe booties with suede details – so it’s no wonder they’re featured in more than one picture. In the one above, for example, Hailee is going down the stairs and it is as if many shoes are following her.

Such a happy shot! Hailee is living the dream of many women: being surrounded by Miu Miu glittering pumps. I like this picture for its positive vibe and for the pose itself: the actress is lying on a velvet bed with her hair spread, the shoes on her hair.

Accessories are an important element in Miu Miu collections, so many shots are focused on bags and sunglasses. In the one above, Hailee’s baby face beautifully stands out: her features are enhanced by the light make-up, not hidden.

Probably this is one of the less impressive shots: the dress is characterized by heavy embellishments and fur sleeves, a bit too overwhelming on the young girl. The squared frame bag she’s holding emphasizes the idea of heaviness, and the result is a bit unnatural.

I love this picture, where the focus in on the white-rimmed sunglasses worn by the actress. She’s lying on a velvet forest green armchair, which contrasts with the old rose printed dress. Hailee is looking at the camera, but she’s not winking at the viewer; she’s not portrayed as a prey or as a young lady in dismay, waiting for a man to rescue or to conquer her.

Women are bombed with images suggesting their roles in contemporary society – sex kittens/milfs or sexless mothers, focused on their childrens only; harmless housewives or sex baits; adultized children and carefree grandmothers. There’s no space for complexity or for alternative, true-to-life role models: women should be put into categories, so that advertising and selling products becomes easier, almost automatic. This Miu Miu campaign is not revolutionary, but it should be credited for presenting a teenager as a teenager, without additional labels on her. It’s true the maison founded by Miuccia Prada has a passion for it girls, emerging actresses who have often been chosen to embody the nostalgic, apparently naive and romantic mood of its collections: in most cases, the results havebeen interesting, not predictable or stereotypical.

The first celebrity who posed as the face of Miu Miu was Drew Barrymore in mid Nineties – she covered the spring 1995 and the fall 1995 campaigns. In both cases, Ellen Von Unwerth was behind the camera lenses. The first campaign emphasized the pin-up look of the actress, while the second featured a simpler image. A minimal approach was used by Juergen Teller, the photographer of the spring 1996 campaign, starring another emerging actress: the super-hip and short-haired Chloe Sevigny, who had just made her acting debut in Kids by Larry Clark.

After some years, Miuccia Prada went back to emerging actresses for her campaigns: Maggie Gyllenhaal posed for Terry Richardson as the protagonist of the fall 2004 campaign, a sexy bohemian queen. At the time, she was famous for the success of Secretary by Steven Shainberg, but she had acted in other famous movies, too, such as Donnie Darko by Richard Kelly and Mona Lisa Smile by Mike Newell. The campaign of the following season (spring 2005) was shot by Richardson again: the testimonial was the French actress Ludivine Sagnier, famous for her roles in 8 Femmes and Swimming Pool by François Ozon. She’s one of my favourite Miu Miu faces ever.

The fall 2006 campaign featured three young celebrities, most of them very famous as It Girls – Lou Doillon (daughter to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, half-sister to Charlotte Gainsbourg), Evan Rachel Wood and Selma Blair. In this case, the campaign was shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. This campaign has never convinced me much, because the three protagonists and their personalities seem to stand apart one from the other: in this way, the focus is distracted. The spring 2007 campaign is probably my favourite of all the Miu Miu campaigns: shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin again, it featured Kim Basinger (not exactly the typical Miu Miu girl, but still incredibly fascinating) and a very young Camilla Belle. The collection was amazing and so was the setting, the charming Art Deco Mistinguett room in the famous L’Hotel in Paris.

A clear Far East mood characterized the fall 2006 collection, and the same influence can be seen in that season’s campaign, starring Zhou Xun (a Chinese actress and singer), Dong Jie (a Chinese actress and dancer) and Lina Ohta (a Japanese model and actress). The pictures, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, were set in a fascinating and mysterious red-lit room, with mirrors and wooden panels on the wall. The spring 2007 collection was one of the last important jobs done by Lindsay Lohan: she posed for Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott in a bland campaign, where she wore a curly red wig and was hardly recognizable. I think she had an impressive potentiality as Miu Miu girl, but her troubled personal situation took over and she still hasn’t found her way out.

I’ve never liked the ill-fitted mood of the fall 2007 and its campaign has always left me quite cold: shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, it featured Laeticia Casta. I don’t like the overall result but some details of the pictures – such as the stylized fan wallpaper or the contrast of pink and neutral tones, not to mention the pumps worn by Laeticia in the picture above (oh, those glittering heels!) – are very interesting. I love love love the circus-inspired spring 2008 campaign, whose protagonist is one of the best Miu Miu testimonials ever: Kirsten Dunst. In my mind, she’s a Rodarte and Chanel girl, but she perfectly embodied the girly/naughty/mysterious vibe of this collection.

The fall 2008 campaign, shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, is well executed (the sporty vibe of the collection is beautifully highlighted), but the choice of Vanessa Paradis as testimonial is beyond my comprehension. She’s been a Chanel face in many different occasions, so this short-lived (thank God) passage to another brand is just disappointing and distracting. Disappointing was the spring 2009 campaign, too, though I liked the post-atomic atmosphere with references to Ancient Rome. Katie Holmes as testimonial is totally lifeless and boring: she may be famous for other reasons, but I hope this campaign will soon be forgotten.

What are your opinions on these campaigns? Do you think they have really tried to present different sides of the feminine world, by respecting the personalities and ages of the testimonials? Or are they the same old campaigns featuring celebrities and a one-dimensional vision of women?

Source and source.



  1. I agree with you, of course. This fight against the time is pathetic, but this is a sympthom of the decadent period we are living.
    About Miu Miu Collection, I noticed a strong ’80 influence. It’s true, everything remind the ’40 but in my opinion the early ’80 fashion was inspired to that decade too.

    1. Yes, it’s true, and you realize it when you see that cosmetic surgery is appealing to young girls, too (see the example of Ali, Lindsay Lohan’s sister).

      I totally agree with you when it comes to the collection by Miu Miu: it has a 40s vibe, the same vibe which influenced part of 80s fashion. Excellent remark 🙂

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