Saturday, April 12, 2008

Anti-Anti-Aspirational Style

I do like it when I hear of a new term—or a term that’s new to me—so I lapped up Cathy Horyn’s NYT article on Juergen Teller’s ads for Marc Jacobs.

Full disclosure first: I’m not a fan of Marc Jacobs’s signature line or his diffusion label, though an occasional shoe appeals (when the heel is traditional). I do routinely love Jacobs’s collections for Louis Vuitton, however, as well as the LV advertising campaign.

But back to the term in question: in Horyn’s article Jacobs noted that his Jacobs/Teller photos are not “aspirational pictures . . . . You wouldn’t look at them and say, ‘Oh mmm, that dress is so attractive’" (my italics).

Anti-aspirational pictures. . . . Anti-aspirational style. . . . hmmm.

Sure, Jacobs may be the king of anti-aspiration, when you consider his grunge collection that got him fired from Perry Ellis way back when. Those were genuinely ugly clothes, and in the recent ads—from 2003 onward—the clothes also appear unattractive, as do the models.

Consider Winona Ryder in a hotel room, freshly postShopliftgate, holding up a Jacobs sweater with unrestrained glee. Or Teller in those too-small silver shorts, flopped over a willing Charlotte Rampling in bed. Or Kristen McMenamy, first in the grunge campaign with bleached-out brows and a red bowl cut, now with long blond locks, vacant stare, and garish long red dress. It’s always a shock when I see a photo of her looking beautiful, so hard does she work to cultivate an anti-aspirational career.

This kind of anti-aspirational style is also hard at work on television. Consider Ugly Betty, whose promotional tag from the show’s Web site is: Ugly is the New Pretty.

But does anti-aspirational style appeal to the consumer—both the visual and the financial consumer of these images? When Prada unveiled her lime greens and mushroom brown seventies patterns in the 1990s, they too were ugly, but in more of a jolie laide manner. I would have worn any of those early looks, but I wouldn’t choose Marc Jacobs.

His clothing and ads recall a garment with a large button: it’s making a statement, but the wrong one.

I don’t even look at Jacobs’ ads any more (except for researching this post, of course!); I’d rather find something to aspire toward. How about the graceful curve of a woman’s back, the nape of a gentle neck, the crocheted pouf of a sleeve?

I "get" Jacobs and Teller, but I don't like what they're doing. To rewrite Browning encore un fois, a woman’s reach must exceed her grasp, or what’s a fashion magazine for?


enc said...

I read the article, and I wonder if I'm just over-simplifying it by saying "it's just another advertising gimmick?"

Anonymous said...

Anti-aspirational - a valid term to coin and well-coined it is. 'Underachievement' doesn't seem to cover the deliberateness of anti-aspirational.

But, I think you've somewhat missed the point of Ugly Betty. If you define anti-aspirational as 'being opposed to the desire to achieve (commonly understood) greatness', well, this may have been a means to an end, but the show's not so much laboring to under achieve in external appearance, rather to render external appearance irrelevant. That is, the message is: one can achieve inner and outer success regardless of where one's exo-skeleton falls on the physical beauty continuum. Ugly Betty's not anti-aspirational, it's just changed the terms of greatness.

As to anti-aspirational style appealing to the consumer - the message does, but the physical manifestation does not. So we continue to dress well even as we let ourselves 'off the hook' in nearly every other way.

miss cavendish said...

Thanks for your good words on Ugly Betty, Anon. I do indeed agree with your assessment.

riz said...

Love this post!! (Of course.) I have to say that I think the JC + Teller pairing may have lost its lustre - well maybe it didn't really have any. But what I mean to say is, I think particularly the Victoria B ads are a little too cheeky for their own good. Aren't we over this kind of tired postmodern irony??!

And Prada's jolie laide appeal is the option I'd personally go for and am still attracted to...

ambika said...

I've always been hit & miss about Jacobs. Some of his things I like but others strike me as, as enc said so aptly, gimmicky (ballet flats with mouse faces? Didn't Irregular Choice already do that?)

Teller, on the other hand, has always gone over my head. As someone who enjoys photography on an entirely amateur level, I've never understood what the point was of his work--not just on an advertizing level but as a *photographer.* Anyone can take an overexposed, flat, vacant photo with a digital camera--what's the point of having him do it much less using that 'style' to sell something???

miss cavendish said...

I still love unironic beauty in fashion, not postmodern metaphotos.