The question for the future is how to understand and accept the new textile balance … Painting was declared dead the day photography was invented in 1839 — but we know now that it was not. – Louis Vuitton
The Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer campaign was released yesterday (Monday, January 4), and the Internet had a collective meltdown and not because of the clothes. Which topic received more attention probably depends on which social media feeds one follows.
On one hand, there’s the fact that Jaden Smith, who is a very interesting and trend-breaking young man in the first place, is pictured on the campaign next to models Sarah Brannon, Jean Campbell, and Rianne Van Rompaey. Jaden’s appearance alone would be noteworthy, but what has tongues wagging is that Jaden is wearing women’s clothes.
Anyone who follows Jaden at any level isn’t terribly surprised by this move. If anything, it would seem to fit his eclectic and often difficult to understand personality quite well. Jaden is, and always has been, his own person. Famous parents notwithstanding, Jaden has proven himself a deep thinker, his quotes proving challenging for even the most educated of philosophers. He rejects many of society’s limitations and definitions which makes his appearance in women’s wear rather unsurprising.
Why this matters is because it is the most obvious and influential example of gender fluidity we’ve seen from a major fashion label. Louis Vuitton is the flagship of fashion’s mega-conglomerate LVMH. Labels at this end of the spectrum rarely court controversy on any level. Most campaigns are, quite honestly, so mainstream as to be rather boring. Gender blending goes exactly the opposite direction, inviting criticism from conservative circles that doubtlessly include many Vuitton customers. The campaign champions those who dare to be different, social heros who refuse to be defined by someone else’s concept of what’s right and normal.
Of course, not everyone was enthused by the campaign.
#JadenSmith Androgynous. Breaking gender roles. All excuses to put a man in women’s clothing. Not fashion forward. I love fashion, not this.
— $napChat LordOfMercy (@Grafh) January 4, 2016
Will Smith outta be ashamed of himself for letting his kids run rampant out here….#Jadensmith
— Jared (@JaredBBC) January 5, 2016
— Tammy Pescatelli (@TammyPescatelli) January 4, 2016
While gender fluidity is one of the top advertising trends for 2016, that doesn’t mean that the resulting controversy is going to just go away quietly with time. This is, after all, an election year in the United States and many people are still wrestling with LGBT rights in general. More than a few people running for office (mostly old white men) are threatening to roll back those advances if they are elected, which is all the more reason to be voting against them.
Ads like this might inflame controversy, but ultimately they champion gender fluidity and individuality and win more customers than they lose. High-end fashion houses are more than a bit concerned about attracting millennials and embracing the issues that this important demographic hold dear is ultimately a win for the brand. This is another case where even negative comments become positive publicity for the label.
What may be slightly more disconcerting for the long-term is the second surprising aspect of this campaign: the inclusion of a video game character in lieu of a model. The label chose one of the most popular game franchises of the decade, Final Fantasy, and then tapped one of its most visible characters, Lightning, the girl with the rose-colored hair.
Once again, the Louis Vuitton brand managers are playing directly to strong trends going into the new year. Lightning is a strong female character and is especially popular with female gamers, whose ranks have grown exponentially over the past few years. Playing to this trend is likely to make the brand desirable among a group that traditionally has ignored luxury branding.
Why this particular move might be disconcerting, however, is that it uses technology to replace flesh-and-blood models. Final Fantasy is one of the most high-tech animated games on the market with its characters being extremely life-like and relatable, which is one of the reasons it has retained its popularity. Fashion watchers and more than a few designers have previously wondered out loud whether high-tech might one day replace the need for hiring models both in campaigns and on the runway. While the technology isn’t inexpensive, it would still be cheaper, and more reliable, than working with real people. Does LV’s move signal
Does LV’s move signal the end of modeling as we know it? Probably not for the immediate future; we are still too heavily invested in the personality and celebrity of models to replace them with anything digital just yet. However, as the fashion industry continues to wrestle with issues such as under-aged models and severe weight issues, be sure that every other major brand is watching to see how well the animated model does. Somewhere five or so years down the road, we may very well look back at this moment as the point at which fashion modeling with real people came to an end. All we need are avatars that can walk a runway and with the strong rush of virtual reality that technology cannot be too terribly far away.
This is, combined, a huge win not only for the Louis Vuitton label but for all the LVMH holdings. With such a tremendous response on its day of release, expect the marketing teams for other labels to follow suit. Louis Vuitton hasn’t gotten this much attention since Marc Jacobs left the house. No matter what one’s personal opinions may be, nor the long-term effect on the industry, this campaign is one that will have everyone paying attention when the fall/winter line hits the runway in Paris next month.
Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière said of this season, “We are all living with this new dimension. We are all managing how to integrate these new notions of digital, virtual, and cyber with our real life.” This campaign is obviously the manifestation of the designer’s vision. I can’t wait to see what he does next.