Friday, November 19, 2010

Be Childish

Tomorrow it’s the Universal Children's Day and to support it, on Facebook everybody is changing their profile picture into what used to be their favorite cartoon growing up.

What started as a link of an obscure Facebook page went hugely viral in just a few days and some estimate that around 500 000 people have changed their profile pictures into Disney princesses, Looney Toons and manga heroes. I personally am Bugs Bunny. The “I’ve just eaten/scratched my head/look at my vacation pictures” usual mind-numbing boring Facebook updates have now a common topic that is both nostalgic and escapist.

The immediate and enthusiastic way people have responded by changing their profile picture has made me think of the Hermès’s 2010 ad campaign "Life as a Tale", shot by the Italian photographer Paolo Roversi which has many references to fairy tales and popular films.

In Hermès’s spring/summer ads with a background of infinite sky above a tranquil deep blue sea, model Karlie Kloss calls to mind Cinderella whilst she is losing her sandal on the whitewashed steps of a Greek Island, sits on a rock watching the sea like Andersen’s Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, or has a silk scarf braided in her hair that hangs down like Rapunzel’s.





The tree house recalls Alice in Wonderland and a gorgeous orange scarf comes out of Alladin’s lamp with Kloss as the genie. The photo of Kloss with flowers in her hair has made me think of Michael Whelan’s Summer Queen.





Summer Queen by Michael Whelan.

For the autumn/winter campaign Roversi shot models Constance Jablonski and Jonas Mason in dark, misty, moonlit streets with references to Zorro’s adventures and Sherlock Holmes’s mysteries. Anticipating Christmas, a carriage full of orange packages mysteriously escapes without a driver.

The use of well-known fairy tale motifs and films that the viewer can immediately identify makes the campaign very effective. Due to the limited time a viewer spends on a magazine page or the few-minutes length of a tv-spot, the faster an advertising message is understood the better. So by tapping from folklore and fairy tale themes, the foundation onto which the advertising message is built is already there in the viewer's imagination and memory.

In Hermès’s campaign, Paolo Roversi’s imagery is so pervasive that the viewer is able to ignore the scarves’ hundreds of dollars price and just be enchanted by the photographs and dream for a moment of a happy ending fairy tale or feel the thrill of a midnight mystery.

So even if our childhood symbols are used for commercial purposes, sometimes the results are great and some commercials provoke an emotional response even if you know they are there just to sell you stuff. Sometimes advertising is art DESPITE itself.

Photographs by Paolo Roversi. Hermès 2010 print ad campaign.

Summer Queen by Michel Whelan.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Women of Talent

One month ago, at the end of the Fashion week at Milan’s City Hall, Palazzo Marino, Elle Italy hosted 100 Donne di Talento (100 Women of Talent) event that talked about women of excellence working in design, fashion, and architecture.

It was open to the public, so I grabbed my camera and went inside, feeling excited for a brush with the glossy magazine world.
The first speaker was the Mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, who talked about the woman’s position in the Italian society, and supporting initiatives like one year of maternity leave fully paid. This is a thorny and controversial issue, because in the current economic climate, the possibility that a woman employee goes on maternity leave for one year, could be a risk that the businesses aren’t probably willing to take and although it is illegal, they could discriminate against a woman of reproductive age.

Mayor of Milan Letizia Moratti in red.

Moratti’s presence and elegant speech, proved how one can be a woman politician and still have a stylish and feminine appearance. For men in professional positions, including politicians, it is a much easier task: wear a well tailored suit and be done with it. But women in high positions are more judged on their appearance and dress sense and therefore are faced with the dilemma: uber-power-dressing or should one dress more femininely and be considered too "girly" or even a fashion victim? Sometimes the tendency is to eliminate anything that could remind the audience that you are in fact a woman. However, it could be argued that if dressing femininely is considered weak then it would follow that there is something wrong with being a woman to begin with. Of course that a woman politician's wardrobe should not be the only thing that is talked about and not distract from her political message. In this case, Coco Chanel's quote that if you dress "impeccably they remember the woman", could be to dress impeccably so that people would remember both the woman and the woman's political message. Letizia Moratti’s case is a perfect example of understated style and fashion advisers of high flying women everywhere should have an eye on her for inspiration.

After the Mayor’s departure, there was another key speaker—Mr. Roger Abravanel, ex director of McKinsey & Company and the author of the book Meritocrazia (Meritocracy) who is currently involved in a project to reform the Italian school system based on merit and competence. During his speech Mr. Abravanel underlined the need for more women in leadership positions. That is surely an ambitious goal as Italy’s society is based on the transmission of the family business from father to son and it has a guild-like organization. Mr. Roger Abravanel on the left.

As further proof, I could not help noticing how many of the women, shown as example of (Italian) excellence, presented on the big screen were clearly the heiresses of brands started by their fathers, uncles etc.

Mr. Abravanel has also suggested the necessity of women’s working comes from the fact that in the past, the life expectancy was much lower and now with people living up to 80 women should get out of the house more to avoid boring their husbands. At that moment I felt particularly empowered.

At the end of the discussions there were a couple of questions from the audience. An interesting question came from a lady who asked if there could be more women in leading positions in ambits of business that are not considered “feminine”. 

Overall, the event looked less like a discussion about merit and excellence and more like a private party. Why did I think that a discussion organized by a glossy magazine would feel all democratic and friendly? Should we really believe what Wintour says—Vogue is like “your stylish older sister”? Or is it that the glossies are more like well put-together press releases for the big brands that advertise in their pages than filled with sisterly desinterested advice for their respected readers?

© Snappy Style 2010.