How Juergen Teller Rewrote the Rule Book of Fashion Advertisement

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"Like all great art, his work does not have one meaning or an easy interpretation."


Maybe like me, you have flicked through fashion magazines such Vogue in the past and come across an advertisement by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs and suddenly felt slightly ill at ease. As if you have accidently walked into someone else’s hotel room, only to find a bizarre scene taking place in front of you. There is something disturbingly intimate about these over-exposed images where you can be forgiven for wondering where the link is to fashion, let alone Marc Jacobs.

Yet how many advertising campaigns for a single brand can boast that an art catalogue has been made to celebrate ten years of their production? This is exactly what happened when Marc Jacobs Advertising 1998-2009 was released by Steidl.

In 2006, the highly respected art publisher Rizzolli released Juergen Teller Cindy Sherman Marc Jacobs, to celebrate the series of photographs produced when Teller invited Sherman to create a group of portraits together as an incongruous couple in varying social tropes. This was the first time Sherman had worked with another photographer and their unique artistic universes combine in rare and perfect alchemy.

The fact that a fashion designer should associate himself with a unique, photographic talent is not in itself original.

Indeed it can be said that the first generation of fashion photographers, such as Irving Penn and Cecil Beaton, actually contributed to the medium being considered an art and not just a infinitely reproducible tool. It was only in the 1990’s that photography, beyond vintage prints, began to be recognised as a form of art on a level with painting and sculpture.

What is extraordinary is the sheer artistic freedom that Marc Jacobs gives Juergen Teller. According to Jacobs, he is happy simply to share with Juergen with whom from his circle of friends and muses he would like Teller to work. Simply put, they are about “someone I know or someone I’m interested in seeing in my clothes.”* From then on, he let’s Teller live his own creative journey.

The campaign with Charlotte Rampling in 2004 has entered into cultural legend. In order to convince this extraordinary actress to participate in a commercial campaign, Teller promised a suitably high-brow location. Thus the Hôtel Crillon in Paris was booked. Teller was working on both the men’s and women’s wear collection - and thus in his own words decided ‘fuck, why not’ : he would take on the role of the male model. Cut to their arrival at the Crillon and Teller being too fat (again his own words) to fit into the clothes.

The only item of clothing he could fit into was a pair of silk silver shorts. Thus a campaign was born, with a fully clothed and elegant Rampling, cradling a boy-like, silk-shorts clad Teller.

Nothing in it makes sense on paper. And yet the result was extraordinary.

There advertisements go infinitely beyond a dialogue with fashion - and Marc Jacobs is fully at ease with this. Indeed often the clothes are the last thing that you notice in the images - or in some cases, are not visible at all. Such as the 1998 shoot with Victoria Beckham, in which she was reduced to a pair of disembodied legs sticking out of a shopping bag. In this Teller was playful exploring how she herself is commodified in the media.

How does the Marc Jacobs brand gain from these advertisements? Simply put : Teller has created an aspirational universe of sexy, sometimes subversive play, peopled by some of the coolest creatives and stars of this generation. From Winona Ryder to Sofia Coppola, Helena Bonham-Carter to Kirsten Dunst, they all accept willingly to be portrayed in overly intimate and sometimes downright unflattering scenarios.

Marc Jacobs is not a fashion house with the weight of history behind it. It is young, subversive, creative, sexy, elegant, fun : everything Juergen Teller encapsulates - and their customers want to be.

As Cathy Horyn writes for the New York Times, ‘buying something from Marc Jacobs is like joining a club. Of course, that can be a turnoff to some people, but that would matter only if Mr. Jacobs sought a justification for the ads, one beyond their ability to inspire and provoke.’

Aesthetically his over-exposed images (he uses a Contax G2 camera) on the pristine white double-page print format have become a form of ephemeral museum in the press. Like all great art, they do not have one meaning or one easy interpretation. They plunge us into a world of doubt and questions, uneasiness and excitement - that goes so much beyond fashion advertisement as we know it.

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Sofia Coppola for Marc Jacobs