This is an ad at my train station in Connecticut. It 's for Liz Claiborne and it features Issac Mizrahi. (Yes, that's my finger in the way. Amateurs! Anthropologists!)
Notice the man in a green scarf sitting on the bench. On closer scrutiny, this proves to be Monsieur Mizrahi himself, lost in thought, putting in this carefully managed appearance, a little in the manner of the master Alfred Hitchcock in his early days.
It's a wonderful piece of advertising. It has a certain emotional tonality that distinguishes it from most of the fashion advertising I've ever seen. It has a narrative verve, doesn't it?
But of course the semantics of the narrative have been withheld from us. So the fun of the ad is figuring out what's up. There are three dyads. The two women to the left are having a great conversation. About what? The two women in the middle: are they together? Probably not. The two women to the right: mother and child? Surely. That leaves the model who as a contemporary model is looking not quite of this world. And Mizrahi himself. Reading. What? Why? What is he doing here? It's a little like a celebrity appearance, a cameo. The ad is equal parts naturalism and evident artifice. Perhaps Mizrahi should be understood as a kind of muse: the designer who attends every public showing of his art.
Notice that on this instance of the ad there is graffiti that (probably) reads, "Paper Monster." It is so placed as to seem to refer to the designer. Wonderful.
Monster? Designers are monstrous in a way. They deform the world with their creative powers. They have no respect for conventions or some of the things we love. They pretty much do what they want. And to this extent the designer is a little like the trickster of North American aboriginal lore.
And paper. Why paper? Is this like "paper tiger?" Designers look monstrous but they are really not so dangerous after all. We mustn't take them too seriously.
In this case, graffiti makes an interesting, worthy ad still more interesting. And perhaps we could argue that good work attracts good work. This brand and this graffiti artist are collaborating. Perhaps this may be another way of saying: Ads get the graffiti artists they deserve. We can imagine the graffiti artist's moment. He can draw a mustache on that ridiculous ad that shows a pilot for American Air. Put if he is going to intervene in this Liz Claiborne ad, well, something more interesting is called for. Not just called for, but actually mandated. The graffiti artist must speak to the fashion artist, and he is obliged to bring his best game. (Actually, the conversation is with the creatives at the advertising firm, and through them the brand, and through them Mizrahi.) In this case, good drives in good.
Surely, this is a new article of faith in the marketing world. Now that we have more sophisticated consumers out there, we want to engage them by engaging their intelligence. In a newly subtle way, the brand is reaching out and leveraging the intelligence of the consumer. Here "work with this!" And the graffiti artists leverages with yet another order of indeterminacy, and this adds a layer of difficulty, and those who stop to wonder are tested to get smarter and more observant, and perhaps a virtuous cycle is set in train. Thus does the muse now participate in contemporary culture.