Oh, Gucci, what would Gianni Versace have have said? Or, similarly, Richard Avedon?
Left: Gucci fall/winter 2019 ad shot by Glen Luchford. Photo: Gucci. Right: Gianni Versace’s ad campaign of 1980, shot by Richard Avedon. Photo: Gianni Versace
Fashion does go back in time, the past can’t stay out of the present. Often, in other circumstances, this could be considered a haunting. Just like the past that has been possessing Gucci, scarily or not. After 2015, the brand has built their entire aesthetic on looks that appear to have been seen before. That goes for their advertising too: often set in gaudy surroundings and with offbeat characters, including aliens reminiscent of B-grade sci-fi movies of the ’50s/’60s. They frequently border on the obiang, or what A Dictionary of Singlish calls “a bad or dubious style or taste, esp. ostentatiously so”.
But how much borrowing from the past can one do without the present looking eerily like its done before? This Gucci ad (top left) appeared as an Instagram ad and was spotted by SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang on her IG page. When she showed it to us, we thought she had seen a pontianak. Quickly, the horror is apparent and understandable. Was this the haunting of Gianni Versace?
The man may have died 22 years ago, but some of us remember the Gianni Versace ad campaigns—then marketed under the designer’s full name—very well. If you thought the images of Beyoncé in whatever she does are ‘fierce’, you are unacquainted with these advertisements shot by the late Richard Avedon. Models then could model; they were able to move—literally—and bend(!), and form shapes with their bodies that could rival any gymnast’s. More significantly, perhaps, they weren’t opposed to lying on the ground, with faces near feet or between them, a pose likely still frown upon in Asia today.
More ground-level action: Jerry Hall astride a pile of guys in a 1980 Gianni Versace ad. Photo: Gianni Versace
But back then, in the early ’80s, when those ads that Gucci seems to have modeled theirs after appeared, what Gianni Versace did was considered not only eye-catching (the visual impact only repeated in the Dior by John Galliano/Nick Knight ads of the ’90s), they were sexually powerful, not just sexy (the similar, but more erotic message later communicated by Tom Ford’s Gucci). These were photos of compositional panache and effortless dash, employing both models and clothes to dynamic effects.
If Peter Lindbergh, who passed away this week, “played a key role in inaugurating the supermodel era”, as New York Times said, then perhaps Richard Avedon paved the way for the emergence of the supermodel who became referred to as “glamazons”. And if Mr Lindbergh was known for his “cinematic and naturalistic portraits” of the girls, then Mr Avedon will always be remembered for his dramatic, kinetic, and exaggerated depictions of them. Or, as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Glenda Bailey said, “an absolute surrender to glamour”.
What Gucci has done this season is, according to media reports, “tap” from the advertising of the past and pay “tribute”. Given how Gucci is easily inspired by others, which, to them, is “creative exchange… using graphics and words that have been ‘Guccified’”, as told to WWD, following two charges of plagiarism that came after the Dapper Dan hoo-ha of 2017, is it enough—or satisfactory—today that this is “homage” to the past? The Gianni Versace ads in question appeared in the 1980s: thirty nine years or close to four decades is a rather long time ago. Gucci must have assumed people have forgotten. Not all of us have. Go back to the past for all you want, just bring back something different to the present for some of us.