In my previous role working as a fashion art director - much of my time was spent researching deep into the archives of fashion imagery, compiling endless folders of work that made impressions on me. Some of the most thought provoking campaigns came out of the 90s and 00s and are some of the reasons why we shoot, think and reference fashion imagery the way we do today.
These are more than just photos in fashion marketing. They were pivotal statements in politics, race, sex and gender that planted a lot of the seeds in the many ways we interact with fashion today and how we think.
I share with you the works of some of the legendary minds in the eight best ad campaigns that provoked thought, set different standards and inspired us that maybe it's okay to do things differently.
United Colors Of Benetton by Oliviero Toscani
I don't know anyone who works in the arts that didn't have their lives changed in one way or another by United Colors Of Benetton. Iconic and controversial imagery in the way of fashion campaigns, conversations were definitely stirred and rightly so.
Photographer and art director Oliviero Toscani is the one responsible for such a vision. Joining Benetton in 1982, Toscani orchestrated vivid and thought provoking imagery to make commentaries on sexuality, inequality, politics, race, aids, social rights, war and religion to name a few. To me, these campaigns were pivotal in bringing anti-fashion/fashion imagery to mainstream fashion advertising.
To use the fashion marketing space as a platform to relay such vivd messages was considered quite avant-garde for the time (with an exception of punk and the 70s). Benetton is a great case study of a fashion brand that started selling clothes without actually caring to photograph them. Benetton were more involved in selling an idea and then letting us decide if we wanted to be part of their team. Since then, we have seen many brands follow suit, taking inspiration from the anti-fashion advertising model that Toscani and Benetton became an authority for. Most certainly, a pioneer in using the popularity of the fashion industry to inject much needed social commentary. I wonder sometimes, where would we be as a creative industry if we never had these images to challenge our thinking?
Comme Des Garcons by Collier Schorr and Keizo Kitajima
Photographed and captured by some of the greats - Cindy Sherman, Collier Schorr (above), Keizo Kitajima (below) and Peter Lindbergh, Comme Des Garcons eclectic approach to fashion campaigning and communication remains unparalleled.
Whether it was for fragrance, shirt or collection, Comme Des Garcons also seemed to care less for actually shooting their clothes and instead invested more into creating timeless and compelling images. Collaborating with various artists and ad campaigns featuring dogs, birds, poetry and even elephants - I often reference Comme Des Garcons and what they achieved as I find it as boundary pushing today as it was back in their time.
Yohji Yamamoto by Ferdinando Scianna
Timeless and moving, this one almost feels more like art than fashion which is why it feels so much more endearing. This campaign captured by Ferdinando Scianna draws one to genuinely feel, appreciate and comprehend Yohji Yamamoto on a whole other intimate level because it doesn't explicitly force you too.
This campaign taught me from early in my career that a fashion image doesn't have to mark any boxes or expectations. Sometimes they say, a photo speaks a thousand words and this is one campaign I always resonate that too.
Abercrombie & Fitch
The 90s wouldn't have been the 90s without Abercrombie & Fitch. This is a controversial one because photographer Bruce Weber is at the centre of several allegations of indecent conduct and assault. And while that kind of behaviour is abhorrent, it impossible to deny the cultural impact of this campaign. I felt I couldn't do a piece about the campaigns that shaped us without including this work. Let's just hope in the future, these opportunities go to new and more diverse photographers that promote safety and inclusion.
Sometimes I wonder if there was anyone else that packaged and sold the essence of the American Dream as well as Bruce Weber did. I remember during some of my research work, I would skim through the pages of a dozen A&F Quarterly's (Abercrombie & Fitch's catalogue magazine) only to be struck by just how influential these photos were in constructing and shaping our mainstream realities.
No detail had gone unconsidered. From casting, the set, the activities and the clothing - whether you are a fan of Webers work or not, Webers photographs for Abercrombie & Fitch were the pinnacle in stapling the American lifestyle and dream. Becoming the aspirational poster child and lifestyle for every teen and young adult in the 90s and 00s, I find these campaigns worthy of note because love it or hate it, they are indeed iconic because we are still working to dismantle some of these ideals today.
Gucci by Mario Testino
Before there was Gucci by Alessandro Michele, there was the world of Gucci by Tom Ford. For those of us who grew up in the 90s and 00s, Tom Fords objective to make Gucci a house that was daring, sexy and provocative remains nothing short of a legacy.
The 90s was big on sex. It was the era of sex appeal and supermodel culture and paved a new way of power-dressing for women. In these campaigns, Tom Ford unapologetically (and quite literally) took on "sex sells", having some of his provocative campaigns even banned throughout the UK.
With The Daily Mail once dubbing this advert "no better than the pimps and those who advertise sexual services in phone boxes" - selling sex was clearly a part of Tom Fords aspirations for the brand. Maybe sexist, maybe misogynist or may be some see these as empowering? Whatever your stance, we can't detest that the marriage of Tom Ford and the work of Mario Testino remains emblematic of its time.
Calvin Klein by Richard Avedon
A little more subtle than Tom Fords Gucci but Calvin Klein were also notorious for selling sex.
Seen as one of the first predecessors in tastefully and effortlessly campaigning "sex sells", Calvin Klein paved the road for so many more. Campaigns devised off of simple black and white portraitures, I will always consider these images as ones that shaped and influenced a lot of the fashion imagery we see today.
These campaigns created superstars out of models and pushed the boundaries of what was possible and what would later be considered acceptable in fashion advertising for the times to come.
Diesel by David Lachapelle
It seems as though the 90s was big on anti-fashion advertising. Diesel took on a similar approach to the likes of United Colors of Benetton and used their ad space to enforce meaningful social commentary.
Notably, the brand collaborated with renown artist David Lachapelle in one of their early campaigns with a photo of two gay sailors kissing on a dock which later became one of the most famous fashion adverts to circuit the 90s. Provocative but playful, Diesel turned our attention to much more serious themes launching "DIESEL FOR SUCCESSFUL LIVING" in 1991 where the brand highlighted different affairs and opened up controversial conversations as a part of their campaign strategy.
GAP - Who Wore Khakis
1993 was an innovative year for fashion advertising when GAP launched their Who Wore Khakis campaign.
So clever in its execution, GAP gathered photographs of legends in music, art, film, and literature and showcasing real life moments and personal style in their khaki campaign. No production, no photoshoot, no stylist but so effective, memorable and charming.
I have always considered this GAP campaign quite monumental as I feel it inspired a lot of the profiling campaigns we see so much of today (Calvin Kleins #MyCalvins for example). I find the curation of talent so perfect and these moments quite intimate and charming. This campaign was a memorable one for me and one I like to return to time and time again.