Thursday, 31 December 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 6: Readers' Daughters: Marc Jacobs' Oh, Lola!

Continuing with the theme of banned perfume advertisements, in 2011 Marc Jacobs (Coty UK Ltd.) fell foul of the Advertising Standards Authority with their ad for Oh, Lola! featuring the then 17 year old Dakota Fanning. The ASA judged the image ‘irresponsible’ for ‘sexualis[ing] a child’. The authority explained that, in their view Fanning ‘looked under the age of 16’ and that ‘the length of her dress, her leg and the position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality’. On this basis, it was ruled the advert must not appear again in its current form.
Although the ASA only received four complaints in respect to the image (a far cry from the 900 complaints received in connection with YSL’s infamous Opium ad), its publication effectively coincided with the Bailey Review’s – a report commissioned by the government that sought to address the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. A key recommendation of the review - and one that conceivably had a direct bearing on the ASA’s ruling - was that in all types of advertising regulation, a person under the age of 16 be defined as a child. That the ASA has shown itself less concerned with models’ actual ages than whether they appear to be under 16 displays a commitment to holding advertisers to the spirit of the code rather than the mere letter.
Addressing the ASA’s criticisms, Coty UK apparently conceded the placement of the oversized flacon between the model’s thighs was provoking. They did not however, believe the styling of the ad suggested the model was underage nor that it was inappropriately sexualising.
Coty, of course, needed only to respond to the points raised by the advertising authority and their account holds no surprises. What is unexpected however, is that in summing their case the ASA made no reference to the perfume’s name nor the advert’s overall aesthetic:
Oh, Lola! is, on the one hand a play on words, simultaneously punning eau and oh la la! On the other hand, it carries strong associations with Nabokov’s tale of Dolores Haze, AKA Lo, Lola, Lolita. Unlike Penhaligon’s who put themselves in the uncomfortable position of denying their perfume Tralala bore any connection with the identically named character in Hubert Selby Jr.’s controversial novel Last Exit to Brooklyn (thereby contradicting earlier claims made by Meadham Kirchhoff), Marc Jacobs was unambiguous on the literary inspiration for Oh, Lola! Speaking to the latter’s connection with its predecessor, Lola (Marc Jacobs, 2009), the designer explained ‘This Lola is more of a Lolita than a Lola, but we weren’t going to call the fragrance Lolita. Lola is more seductive; Oh, Lola is sensual, but she’s sweeter’ (Jacobs, quoted in WWD June 2011). In a discussion centered on the sexualisation of a minor in a perfume advert, it is surely germane that the perfume’s namegiver is virtually synonymous with paedophilia.
But beyond the model’s apparent age, her attire, the way she holds the bottle or even the fragrance’s name, it is the advert’s retro aesthetic that holds the real key to its unsettling power. Much like American Apparel’s 2012 ad that was banned on identical grounds, the image coopts the faux-laroid trend popularised on social media with its grainy texture, saturated colours, heavy shadow and solid white frame.

(Read the ASA's ruling here)

A good deal has been written about the popularity of vintage-style filters and we needn’t try too hard to guess what this desire to impose a false sense of history on photos through analogue simulation says about our relation to digital technology. The effect though of these temporally dislocated images is haunting; haunting in the Derridean sense that the ontology of the hic et nunc is challenged by the presence/absence of spectral figures that are out of time and out of place.
We’re invited to view the photo of Fanning as an authentic object, an objet trouvé even, such as might have lain undisturbed for decades in some dusty shoebox. Striving for candor, Juergen Teller’s photograph rejects the sort of amnesic nostalgia invoked by most faux-vintage snaps. Its problematic however, inheres in the fact that it uses this as a cover for sentimentality towards abuses of the worst kind.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 5: The Third Opium War

Such was the moral panic that surrounded YSL’s 2000 campaign for Opium featuring Sophie Dahl, the image – which ultimately attracted more than 900 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, was ordered to be removed from billboards on the grounds that it was ‘sexually suggestive’ and ‘likely to cause widespread offence’. The ASA however, did not uphold the three complaints made against the same advert as appearing in magazines.
According to Tom Ford, the then newly appointed Creative Director at YSL, Steven Meisel's shot was conceived as a ‘tasteful nude in the tradition of high art’ (The Age, Dec. 2000). In particular, Ford is said to have drawn inspiration from Delacroix’s painting La Femme aux Bas Blancs (1825). The established codes of western Art are represented in Dahl’s reclining, glabrous, alabaster figure and the jewels that adorn her body serve to emphasise her nakedness. In this way, Ford’s image does recall several of Delacroix’s works, including La Femme Caressant un Perroquet (1827). Interestingly, this same group of paintings also provided the likely foundation for Baudelaire’s Les Bijoux (1857), which poem was similarly banned for being an outrage to public morality:

La très chère était nue, et, connaissant mon coeur,
Elle n'avait gardé que ses bijoux sonores…

My adored was nude and, knowing my heart,
Wore only her sonorous jewels…

Yet, it is important to note that Dahl is no passive Odalisque and much of the visual language of the advert can be traced more immediately to the 1977 publicity for Opium that featured Jerry Hall. From the flaming red accents suggestive of poppies to the ‘hungrily parted legs’ (quoting Libby Brooks in The Guardian, Dec., 2000; note also the 'Y' shape), these juxtaposed symbols of death and sex have become recurrent in the perfume’s campaigns.

(Jerry Hall for Opium)

Like Hall, Dahl’s significance was as a model and the advert further draws on the codes of fashion (YSL is, after all, a fashion house). When sandwiched between the glossy covers of Vogue, much of the effort required to situate the text was removed and the ASA was confident this would reduce potential anxiety. Still, Dahl’s singular version of heroin-chic was highly subversive and the image made strange bedfellows with the drawn, waif-like, androgynous figures that surrounded it. Indeed, as a woman intended to look like she had had ‘too much of everything; too much food, too much sex, too much love’ (again quoting Ford in The Observer, Dec., 2000), Dahl’s body has instead been read as ‘porn-chic’.
Apprehensions around the reframing of sexual representations in popular culture are, of course, nothing new; for President Nixon, pornography was an anarchic force, a threat to social order and liberty that must be contained. While there was never any suggestion YSL’s advert breached UK obscenity laws (archaic as they are), the iterating image of a woman apparently caught in a moment of exquisite self-pleasure was taken as evidence of a creeping permissiveness and prompted many to invoke Lovejoy’s Law by pleading ‘won’t someone think of the children?’.
It would seem then that the locus of the text’s disruptive power was its trivial (in the Latin sense) situation, existing at the intersection of Art, Fashion and Pornography. When we consider that the image emerged at a time when millennial anxieties had resulted in increased concern for the maintenance of boundaries, we can better understand how the conditions were set just so for the advert’s ban.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Pretty in Pink Review

Eschewing the modern trend for lighting up rose notes like neon signs against dark, woody backgrounds, Pretty in Pink offers a fresh, feminine take on the most classical of themes.
My personal benchmark for pink rose soliflores has long been Serge Lutens’ Sa Majesté la Rose (Christopher Sheldrake, 2000) whose unapologetic opening strongly recalls waxy citronella candles. By comparison, Pretty in Pink’s hesperidic head notes feel restrained and balanced, but there’s an appreciable citric tartness all the same, as well as a toppy musk that lends the composition a slightly retrospective vibe. Running through the entire perfume is a pronounced, Floralozone like ozonic note: initially, this carries the rose aloft with its breezy freshness, but come the deep dry down phase when the rose has faded, I find it has a bit of a bleaching effect on the pale woods and musks. Proof nonetheless that there’s always room for a good rose scent.

Nose: Chris Bartlett
House: Pell Wall Perfumes
Release date: 2011
Notes (per Fragrantica): bergamot, mint, neroli, rose, lily, violet leaf, lily of the valley, jasmine, vanilla, sandalwood, musks, spices.