LONDON, United Kingdom — Although genuine innovation in fashion advertising remains rare, the need to attract the wandering eyes of today’s distracted, media-saturated consumers prompted some bold moves this season as brands sought to cut through the noise and differentiate themselves with unexpected, high-impact visual messaging.
From Louis Vuitton’s casting of the bubblegum-pink-haired protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII, cannily co-opting her multi-million-strong fanbase, to J.W. Anderson’s use of a photograph that was literally postage stamp-sized, brands challenged convention with their approaches.
The most successful campaigns acted as springboards for digital conversations. At Gucci, Glen Luchford shot another fashion film to accompany his offbeat tableaux shot in Berlin, while Marc Jacobs waded into the hot topic of gender politics by casting Lana Wachowski and a contestant from RuPaul’s drag race in his campaign. The message was abundantly clear: print campaigns may live in magazines, but the digital buzz they create is the real currency.
Without further ado, please enjoy our top 10 campaigns of the season and let us know which ones you like most in the comments section below.
1. Marc Jacobs — Starring Lana Wachowski, Sandra Bernhard, Bette Midler, Kiki Willems, Veronika Vilim, Dan Donigan, Joan Smalls, Adriana Lima, the Cleveland family, Emmanuelle Seigner Morgane Polanski, Oli Burgslem Lili Sumner, Vinny Michaud, Tracy Antonopoulos, Mari Agory and Sam York by David Sims
Marc Jacobs broke new ground by taking a campaign and turning it into online content with the engagement factor of editorial. As he posted each shot on Instagram, to a combined audience of 4.3 million across his personal and the brand’s accounts, he paid tribute to his stars— a handpicked mix of celebrities and models who have inspired him and opened his mind over a 30-year-long career. He described the overarching narrative of the campaign as “My America”, and it provides an eye-opening insight into the designer’s artistic development via memories and anecdotes about his subjects, including the transgender film director Lana Wachowski and actress and original gay icon Bette Midler. The campaign features a range of age groups, genders and backgrounds, and a couple of supermodels in Adriana Lima and Joan Smalls. Shot by his long-term collaborator David Sims and styled by Katie Grand, the campaign stands out from the crowd for its story-telling, not just in magazines and on billboards, but crucially, on the all-important social media channels.
2. Valentino — Starring Alice Metza, Cameron Traiber, Greta Varlese, Kirin Dejonckheere and Tami Williams by Steve McCurry
The East African savanna forms the backdrop for Valentino’s latest collection. Creative directors Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri asked National Geographic legend Steve McCurry — known for his world-famous portrait “The Afghan Girl” — to turn his lens on Kenya’s Amboseli National Park as models wearing tribal inflected ready-to-wear posed under acacias and stood sentinel among leaping Masai tribespeople. The collection had sparked controversy in October after the designers were accused of cultural appropriation through the use of predominantly white models sporting cornrows and tribal-inspired garments. Simultaneously, however, it reminds us of the long-standing dialogue between fashion and the continent, which goes back as far as Saint Laurent’s animal prints in the 1960s, Iman’s arrival on the catwalk in the 1980s and Demi Moore standing next to a giraffe on the cover of the April 2010 issue of US Harper’s Bazaar.
3. Balmain — Starring Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell by Steven Klein
Creative director Olivier Rousteing has bolstered the ranks of his Balmain army, recruiting three original supers who don’t need a surname. Dismissing the Kardashian clan but none of the trademark gloss, Claudia, Cindy and Naomi are captured in monochrome by Steven Klein with creative direction from Pascal Dangin. Rousteing released the images through his personal Instagram consisting of 2.2 million followers with the hashtag #thisisHISTORY, making a point that the campaign would be the first chapter in the brands’ efforts to go back to its roots.
4. Gucci — Starring Polina Oganicheva, Peyton Knight, Elizabeth Moore, Nicole Atieno, Mia Gruenwald, Anka Kurydina, Viola Podkopaeva, Jacob Hugo Goldhoorn, Timothy Dibble, Arnis Cievala and Anton Tofgart by Glen Luchford
How do you top a campaign that was heralded as last season’s very best? Do it again in Berlin was creative director Alessandro Michele’s answer as he faces the pressure to build on the momentum he gained by reviving the brand last year. Shot once again by Glen Luchford, the most alluring scene from the series is a party on a Berlin rooftop, suffused in langour and glamour. As the sun sets and the eccentric characters sashay about, the spectator is sucked into a 1970s fantasy world, desperate for an invite. Elsewhere in the campaign, night owls take the subway and hang out in club toilets; one even goes skateboarding with a peacock under her arm. Sumptuous, surreal and effortlessly cool, it’s another winner from the Italian house whose star is very much in the ascendant.
For Raf Simons’ first print advertisement for his own label since stepping down from Dior, the designer called on fellow Belgians, the photographer Willy Vanderperre and stylist Olivier Rizzo. The trio have created a series of coloured, and black and white, images of disturbing scenes of a relationship between a man and a hooded figure. Simons had explained to journalists at the show that he never knew his grandfathers, and got to know them through photographs in which they would always wear the same – scratchy knitwear, plaid shirts and mackintoshes — since they believed new clothes were a waste of money. With the inclusion of an anonymous, faceless friend, Simons hints at the absence of his grandfathers, whom he has got to know only known through pictures, as the campaign represents his attempt to blend the past and the present.
6. Louis Vuitton — Starring Lightening by Tetsuya Nomura with visual works by Square Enix
Louis Vuitton has taken the bold step of casting a CGI heroine in its latest campaign. By including Lightening from Final Fantasy XIII, the French brand ventures into the virtual world of anime and invites a double-take as the eye is drawn to the suspiciously unblemished, pink-haired model holding up a Petit-Malle bag. The brand worked in collaboration with character designer Tetsuya Nomura and Japanese video game developer Square Enix on the campaign, which also features Jaden Smith among other Vuitton vixens, shot by Bruce Weber.
7. J.W. Anderson — Starring Mayka Merino by Jamie Hawkesworth
In fashion’s age of more, more, more, to use a postage stamp to sell your wares is nothing short of brave. But don’t ever expect J.W. Anderson to play by the rules. Already this year he has made a name for himself as one of fashion’s foremost innovators by live-streaming a menswear collection on gay dating app Grindr, and launching his “workshops” in Shoreditch’s Ace hotel. In this image featuring Spanish model May Merino, the British designer gives a masterclass in less is more. And by turning a shot of his Keith Haring-inspired collection into a vintage postage stamp, abandoning conventional wisdom that bright colour and/or breathtaking landscapes makes a reader stop and stare, he forces you to do exactly that; asking you to take a moment to look closer and inspect the evocative image shot by Jamie Hawkesworth,.
Equipment's Spring/Summer campaign, begins where Autumn/Winter left off, with Daria Werbowy looking in the mirror. But this time Kate Moss has joined her and the pair embark on a fictional desert island romance, which makes for a compelling advertising formula. The two models flew to the West Indies where the campaign was photographed by Werbowy herself, a sometime photographer who famously spends most of the year living in Ireland away from the fashion world, indulging her hobby. Wearing nothing more than this season’s menswear-inspired shirts, the campaign is a celebration of the modern relationship and the love shared between two women.
9. Céline— Starring Vera van Erp, Regitze Christensen and Karly Loyce by Juergen Teller
Creative director Phoebe Philo once again called on Juergen Teller for the latest Céline campaign. Starring new faces Vera van Erp and Regitze Christensen along with last season’s Karly Loyce, the models were cut out and set against coloured backdrops creating a scrap-book like collage. Following on from her Spring/Summer 2016 collection, when Philo was inspired by everything the Céline woman might need for a year-long trip, the campaign underscores the evolution of who that woman is. After that show, Philo said she imagined the Céline woman leaving the city, putting her feet in the sand, being in nature. The confident, unselfconscious women of this campaign, clothed in softer, freer lines than the stark minimalism once synonymous with Céline, appear ready to do just that.
10. Dior Homme — Starring Oliver Sim, Alain-Fabien Delon, Rinus Van de Velde and Victor Nylander by Willy Vanderperre
For its latest campaign the brand’s creative director Kris Van Assche sought to embody today’s nuanced Dior Homme spirit by casting a range of young creatives across a spectrum of industries. The xx’s bass player and vocalist Oliver Sim is joined by artist Rinus Van de Velde, model Victor Nylander and actor (and son of French heart-throb Alain Delon), Alain-Fabien Delon Jr. Shot by Willy Vanderperre, the featured creatives wear dark modern suits from the Spring/Summer 2016 collection, cut with typically sharp lines and decorated with zips. The short accompanying film, entitled “Stranger in a Room,” shows intimate moments in the artists’ creative processes, Sim scribbling down lyrics to a song, Van de Velde sculpting, with Sim's band-mate Jamie xx providing the soundtrack.
Editor’s note: This article was revised on 29 January, 2016. A previous version of this article misspelled Steve McCurry’s name.