“The little ivory girl” of the title is one of the most vivid poetic creatures born from Oscar Wilde’s pen. She’s the protagonist of Le Panneau, a poem first published in 1887 in the magazine The Lady’s Pictorial, a homage to Japanese screens, beautifully decorated with precious materials. I don’t know why Wilde’s verses first came to my mind when I saw Mulberry fall/winter 2013 advertising campaign, starring Cara Delevingne; probably because she really seems to embody the mysterious figure of the ivory girl who pulls “the leaves of pink and pearl” of the roses “with pale green nails of polished jade”. The campaign doesn’t feature rose trees, though, but trees nonetheless, growing indoor, flower and owl-laden.
The quirky setting is not surprising if you bear in mind who’s the photographer of the campaign – the one and only Tim Walker. A tree growing inside a room is a recurring theme in his photography, but this time it takes a Gothic tinge thanks to the presence of owls. The model posed with real owls perched on her feet, arms, hands and shoulders, looking comfortable and eerie as usual. The setting of the pictures and the way in which they have been carefully arranged mustn’t divert the attention from the real focus – the winter collection by the British brand (designed by Emma Hill), whose symbol is a tree (not a coincidence!). My attention was obviously caught by bags, one of Mulberry’s strongest points. The beautiful bag above is the classic Bayswater (the colour is Emerald), paired to wide-cut trousers, a short-sleeved fur-trimmed jacket, opera gloves and sexy ostrich platform shoes. I really like this picture: Cara has become part of the tree, because birds are perched on her as if she were a set of branches.
The picture above is spectacular: Cara is wearing an all-black outfit, which includes a zipped jacket and a dress with gold bee embroideries; the Primrose bag in polished calf is the icing on the cake. How cute is the little owl sitting on the bag!
The magnetic stare of the model is the centre of this picture, where she’s wearing a white zipped jacket and matching capri pants. The bag pictured – the Del Rey, a homage to Lana – is the only contrasting element. Interesting to see how the owl on the tree, just behind Cara, has white and hazelnut plumage, reminiscent of the colours of the outfit and the hair of the model.
In this picture the pose of the model is similar to the one seen in the first picture: she’s sitting on a chair but leans towards the tree and becomes part of it. Owls are everywhere and represent the ideal backdrop. Here Cara is wearing a camel coat, aubergine cropped trousers, a white blouse and wool sweater; her bag is a Bayswater Double Zip tote in Deer Brown.
In the last picture Cara reminds me of a doll sitting on the floor, which doesn’t come as a surprise, since dolls are an important theme in Walker’s work. She’s wearing a leather outfit, which includes a capelet, opera gloves and a pleated skirt. Her bag is the Willow tote in Oxblood, made of calf with pony hair inserts. I like the way in which the model and the owl look in different directions.
Do you want to see some owl action? Take a look at this adorable video, shot while shooting the campaign.
I introduced this post explaining the relevance that trees have in Walker’s microcosm. He’s a master when it comes to inserting unexpected elements in an apparently traditional environment and trees often serves this function. The British countryside, which is usually the place where his pictures are set, is turned into a magic world. The lines dividing old and new, exotic and traditional, are blurred, so it’s possible for a tree to become other than a tree.
Inside/Outside, shot in 2002, is an excellent example: a tree is turned into an outdoor house. The trunk is the wall dividing sitting room and dining room, while the bedroom literally hangs from the branches. Furniture is brought outside and a natural element (the tree) replaces brick and mortar, so that there’s a real swap between inside and outside.
Magical Thinking, which appeared on W in March 2012, heavily pays homage to Oriental atmospheres and Japanese culture. Each picture is an incredible fairy-tale extravaganza, taking place in a vaguely decaying mansion. The shot above, for example, re-enacts the iconic woodblock print by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Branches of cherry tree emphasize each cardboard wave and the white and pink flowers amplify the idea of sea foam spraying from the waves.
This shot is part of Magical Thinking, too – there’s an explosion of cherry blossom branches in a sitting room. Musical instruments are scattered all around, and this chaotic arrangement is emphasized by the branches that seem to crowd the whole room.
The concept of the real tree sitting in a room can be found in another advertising campaign, a set of pictures Walker shot for Sofitel Hotels in 2010. Life Is Magnifique includes the image above, where desserts are hanging from the branches of a tree (is that a cherry or a peach tree?).
What is peculiar is that desserts seem to be flying around the model, an idea which Walker first introduced in 2005.
Imaginary Fantastic Bizarre is probably the first Walker photoshoot I’ve ever seen: it appeared in Vogue Italia in July 2005. The protagonist was Lily Cole, at the time one of the most famous British models, symbol (along with Gemma Ward and Jessica Stam) of the porcelain-doll aesthetic which was so much in vogue back then. The whole editorial beautifully plays with the concepts of inside/outside, over-crowding and size, but the pastry-laden tree has always had a special place in my heart.
If we go back to 2002, there’s another famous picture by Walker where a tree gets an unusual function. In The Dress Lamp Tree the process is pushed even farther: dresses are lamps; the tree can be seen as a wardrobe where the dress lamps are, or simply a tree where dress lamps are hanging from. In any case, there’s a poetic and melancholic quality in this picture, a vibe which is one of Walker’s trademarks. I can’t really feel it in the campaign for Mulberry, which lacks drama, in my opinion, but it’s good to see how an unconventional artist like Walker has able to introduce his own themes in mainstream productions, too.