In the mid 90s the arrival of Tom Ford at Gucci and his complex process of renewal of the Italian brand hit the world of fashion (and my imagination) like a bomb. At the time I loved fashion but my personal (grunge) aesthetic was diametrically opposed to the realm where Ford amazons moved, breathed and lived. Probably his campaigns left an indelible sign because they were so different from what I considered to be expression of myself. The collaboration between the Texas-born designer, Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld started in those years, destined to reap incredible success. They have never stopped working together, and the new-born CR Fashion Book, the biannual fashion magazine created by the former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief, proves it. Back in 2010, the December issue of Vogue Paris, curated by Tom Ford, sparked endless controversy which eventually led Roitfeld to leave her position; one of the most controversial editorials of that issue was distasteful and out-of-place, in my opinion, but I was sure they would soon come back with something better and less focused on the shocking factor.
When I saw Lucho & Juliet, included in the first issue of Roitfeld’s new “creature”, I was glad I was right: Tom Ford was back with something visually brilliant, not predictable, thought-provoking but not offensive. These images are completed by a short story written by Ford himself, a contemporary version of Snow White with an ironic ending. Besides the clear reference to the German fairy tale, I can see some visual connections to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, too – not the theme of the “star-cross’d lovers” but the fact that one of them chooses to follow the partner’s destiny.
Once upon a time, high above Manhattan, lived a Prince and Princess of New York, The Princess was breathtakingly beautiful, and she was adored by her handsome Prince. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was gorgeous. One day, one of the wicked queens of Park Avenue, who had been spurned by the handsome Prince while shopping at Cartier, sent the princess a shiny, perfect Poison apple in a beautiful box from Dior. The Princess was enchanted and, as she adored anything from Dior, she took a bite. Instantly, she fell into a sleep so deep and dark that even the passionate kisses of her handsome Prince could not awaken her.
Lucho Jacob and Juliet Ingleby are the protagonists of this fashion fairy tale set in Manhattan. They beautifully embody archetypal characters – prince and pricess doomed by envious enemies. The picture above opens the editorial and sets the general tone: it is taken from above and introduces a visual recurring theme, the colour red and shades of the same spectrum. Here, the lips and nails of Juliet, the poisoned apple and the ribbon of the transpared box which contained it, are red. The peach satin outfit of the princess contrasts with the cold tones of the prince’s pajamas and of the satin sheets; this chromatic contrast serves to introduce a dramatic atmosphere.
The princess is not dead, but her poison-induced sleep turns her into a dead-looking presence. As it happened in the traditional fairy tale, she’s put into a glass coffin (echoing the transparent box which contained the poisoned apple) on the marital bed. The picture above presents some touches of red-based colours (the pink satin pillowcases and sheets, the roses in the coffin and on the floor, the nails of the princess) but it’s dominated by darker shades. It’s not a coincidence that the princess is dressed in black and is wearing a burgundy lipstick; the prince is dressed in black, too, as a sign of mourning.
The Prince shopped and shopped and tried what he could, as a good Prince should. He dressed her for lunch in Dior and for dinner in Chanel, but not even a gift from Van Cleef & Arpels could rouse his Princess from the spell.
Tom Ford’s macabre irony rules the picture above, where the prince paints his wife’s toe nails, while a lab coat-clad person combs her hair. She’s dressed in purple (a colour of mourning during the Victorian age) and wears sunglasses and dark lipstick. In this picture, there’s another presence – a maid sitting next to the coffin, hiding her face, probably crying.
I know the idea behind the editorial is ironic, but I’m pretty sure it could spark controversy: if we take the images out of their context, the princess could be seen as a woman in a vegetative state, so I ask myself if someone can see them as an attempt to glamourize a very serious condition as a coma. I hope not.
They watched her favourite reality shows and, in the evenings, they always wore red. But the antics of the Kardashians nevertheless left her for dead.
Ha! The reference to Keeping Up With the Kardashians is hilarious. The picture above is one of my favourites, because its colour pattern is amazing: the princess is wearing a spectacular red dress with cape, a satin bow on her hair, red lipstick and nail polish, she’s even got a glossy red eye shadow on her eyes; red roses are arranged around her pillow. Her prince is wearing red, too, a classic Tom Ford burgundy velvet suit, completed by a posh white fringed scarf. It’s ironic to see how they’re dressed just to spend their night on the bed watching reality shows on tv, but their ordinary course of life has changed.
This is another favourite image: it introduces a turning point in the narration, because the prince has finally decided to follow his wife’s destiny. He’s lying, naked, next to her, holding a bitten red apple in one hand and a red satin ribbon in the other. I love the colour and size patterns of this picture: the recurring presence of red is connected mainly to the prince, not to the princess (who’s wearing a long dress in a pale colour, her lips are pale, too) and the “size game” between the transparent containers (coffin and apple box) adds another layer of complexity.
High in the sky, they lie together still, forever in love, forever beautiful, and visited only by their personal shoppers, who live happily ever after.
Personal shoppers are the ones who live happily ever after, while princess and prince are destined to live in their rich and motionless world. Will they awaken or not? Tom Ford leaves his story with an open ending, closing it with an impressive picture, where the protagonists lie on their bed, both asleep in their coffins, dressed in white as if they were ready to tie the knot again. We are given a glamourous version of the romantic theme of “marriage to death” (just think of Emily Dickinson’s poem 712).
The idea of the wedding in relation to death is underlined by the marriage vow “until death do us part”. Quite ironically, this makes me think of another macabre (but less glamourous) image: the wedding invitation of Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra, shot by David La Chapelle in 2003, where the soon-to-be bridegroom and bride were lying on autopsy beds, half-naked, hand in hand.
I’m glad Ford introduced his photoshoot as a fairy tale, because this tones down possible negative interpretations. As for the pictures, they’re Ford/Roitfeld at their best – refined, flawless, not simply showing clothes (this is a fashion editorial, after all), but actually “telling” a story.
What are your opinions about Lucho and Juliet? Do you agree with me or do you think it’s offensive/out-of-place?