The opening paragraphs of Eugenie Shinkle’s book ‘Fashion as Photograph’ assert that ‘photographic images play a key role in defining global fashion culture and in charting its discursive space. They are seen by many as the driving force behind the fashion system, with cultural pundits and industry creatives heralding the photograph as fashion’s ‘ultimate signifier’ (Shinkle, p.1). In this short note I will try to decode the messages projected by two very different images found in the current issue of the Vogue.
One, shot by the Morelli brothers for the Dolce & Gabbana campaign is found on the very first pages of the current Vogue. Three highly attractive models are wearing very colourful spring dresses with floral and patterned motives arranged in very bright primary colour. The shot is arranged on a small boat in Grand Canal in Venice with the iconic Rialto Bridge, finished in 1591 in the background. The DG bag positioned on the left of the image escapes the viewer’s gaze directed at the models until one starts looking more attentively, acting as a subliminal message projecting the fashion house logo.
Acting as the visual syntagm, this image projects a rich tapestry of meanings. Venice evokes a wealth of associations: the Carnival, the Grand Tour, the paintings by Titian (1487-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Tiepolo (1696-1770), Canaletto (1697-1768) and Guardi (1712-1793) with their distinct ‘Venetian Colour’, the subject of much art historical writing. The Venetian background also hints at the rich musical tradition often associated with the names of Monteverdi (1567-1643), Vivaldi (1678-1741), Tartini (1692-1770).
The significant details: e.g. huge earrings with pompoms worn by the model on the left depicting a simplified mustached face create an atmosphere of playful elegance. The hand bag bearing the image of the playing card queen hint towards the rich iconography of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The bright colours and clear skies create an atmosphere of happy laziness, with reflections of model’s dresses on the surface of the boat creating a visual echo. The viewer doesn’t notice the presence of the lights and reflectors that might have been used at the shoot.
The image reaches its goal of projecting the value of Dolce and Gabbana brand by whispering the cultural codes present in the constructed image. The potential audience of young, rich and successful contemplating a weekend in Venice, visiting the Biennale or just observing the Carnival will be undoubtedly captivated by the three direct gazes aimed at the viewer that add to the emotional impression of the photograph.
(c) Morelli Brothers for Dolce and Gabbana, 2018
In the second image, created for Dior by a celebrated fashion photographer Patric Demarchelier, presents an unconventional view of a young and creative lady, drawing in ink on paper. The angular pose of the model occupying the right hand side of the image creates an interesting geometrical composition in itself. The left half of the image is used to position the ‘Dior’ lable, which is also found on the hand bag, lying in the bottom right hand corner of the image.
The model, who is also an artist in real life, Sasha Pivovarova, wears a top with an inscription that adds to the visual code: ‘Why have three been no great women artists? Creating the drawings herself, the model cited the works by an artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) as her main source of inspiration in her art. The statement undoubtedly is aimed at sophisticated and creative audience who shares the model’s assertion about the importance of women artist on the world cultural scene, when critics often point out that the art history has been written by men about artists who also happened to be men themselves. Ironically, there have been great female artists in the world, including Angelica Kaufmann (1741-1807), Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967), Tamara de Lepicka (1898-1980), Geogria O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). It is true that the are not always given central place in art historical discourse and the contemporary cultural scene, thus the recent unique retrospective by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Barbara Hepworth at the Tate was placed in a cellar, instead of using two floors at Tate Modern and presenting a munch more substantial selection of the artists works.
Sasha Pivovarova staged an exhibition of her works featured in the Dior campaign in New York on 4th February 2018. The images created in a monochrome technique using paper, brushes and loose splashes of ink often feature the model’s self portraits, going back to fairy tale illustrations she used to create as a child. She expresses her views on art thus: ‘I love bright colours… In the world where I grew up… only the sky was blue and only the sun was yellow. I have always drawn. Even a child can draw. But at 5 many children start playing with toy cars and dolls, but I continued to draw… As far as I remember myself, I needed to express myself, create something and this exhibition is an embodiment of my world’.
Overall, the visual codes in this image are much different from the previous one. It is undoubtedly aimed at different audience not foreign to creative practices and artistic occupations, the audience who could associate themselves with the assertive t-shirt statement the model wears. It is quite rare, one has to admit, to see what could be judged as a political statement in the advertising campaign by a fashion label. Dior is already a world famous brand, but this particular image made by Demarchelier, a photographic icon himself, just reconfirms Dior’s reputation as the sophisticated, creative, effortlessly elegant dream which is also in tune with the times.
(c) Patric Demarchelier for Dior
For me both of these images work but in different ways, with the second, creating a meaning on a slightly more subtle level, associating Dior label with the artist and creative community I also belong to. Both are very successful images that project the ethos of their brands to a wider audience. Their placement in the Vogue is of course no coincidence, and the readers of the magazine will undoubtedly receive the intended messages contained in both campaigns either consciously or subconsciously.
Eugenie Shinkle, ed. (2008) Fashion as Photograph. Viewing and Reviewing Images of Fashion, IB Tauris
Sasha Pivovarova (2018) Life Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW67ZKVLXzs