Hailee Steinfeld and Elle Fanning are Definitely Too Cool for School
July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
Fashion’s darlings of the moment are very darling indeed. 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar nominee and Queen Bee of the child stars, is now the face of Miu Miu. Joining Steinfeld at the cool kids’ table is Elle Fanning the 13-year-old face of Marc by Marc Jacobs. Steinfeld and Fanning have been the envy of the fashion world recently. Fashion critics, including Vogue’s André Leon Talley cooed over Steinfeld’s black, pink, and tangerine striped Prada dress at the 2011 SAG awards, which she followed with a custom Marchesa at the Oscars. Elle has also become something of a fashion muse in her own right – wearing Marc Jacobs off the runway and starring in a video short for Rodarte.
Both of their ad campaigns are fairly straightforward and demure. Critics and fashion bloggers are quick to approve of how “age appropriate” they are. In the Marc by Marc Jacobs ad, Fanning wears a mid-length red leopard print dress, oxblood librarian shoes, and a red bag. Her youth gives the slightly dowdy look the spritz it needs. Steinfeld’s Miu Miu photos are a more complicated play on a similar theme. There is an incongruity between her youth and the clothes – skirts and dresses with long hem lines in a sedate color palate of navy, tan, and brown. The clothes and styling, a reference to the 40s, look as though Steinfeld pilfered her very fashionable grandmother’s closet. It is a play on child’s play.
But when Hailee and Elle were merely non-famous elementary schoolchildren, there was the original child muse: Elle’s older sister, Dakota, who is currently fronting for Jacobs’ fragrance, Oh, Lola! Unlike Hailee and Elle’s ad campaigns, Dakota’s ad looks to provoke. Juergen Teller, a mainstay at Marc Jacobs, shot the ad (as well as the one of Elle). The flower-shaped bottle in between her legs, the seductive gaze, and the saturated red tones indicates a very heavy hand. She is Lolita! There is a fire in her loins!
But Dakota’s first ad campaign for Marc Jacobs was even more provocative. Teller shot the ad when Dakota was 12-years old and still looking very much like a child. In the above photo, she wears sheer, white fabrics while standing bare foot in the corner of a bare room with a dirty concrete floor. The expression on her face is both fearful and creepy. All of the campaign images reflect a similar sensibility, dressing her in white lace and other virginal dresses as she poses, either mouth agape or with deeply vacant eyes. The photos are deeply unsettling.*
I think Dakota’s first ads for Marc Jacobs are interesting. They problematize our gaze. When I look at the photos, I get the sense that my presence is unwelcome, and more unnervingly, that I am a predator. She seems to ask, why are you here? In contrast, the ads with Elle Fanning and Hailee Steinfeld function on how chic and precocious they look. They have been lauded as style icons and as examples of how adult women should look.
I, for one, don’t want a 13-year-old fashion icon. I find the project of turning little girls into red carpet fodder or examples to emulate extremely pernicious, and frankly, kind of creepy.
*As a sidenote, I would like to point out that at 12 years of age, Dakota Fanning was an exceptionally mature child and no stranger to being a provocateur. In the controversial film, Hounddog (known pre-release as “Dakota Fanning’s rape movie”) she played a 12-year-old girl who is abandoned and raped. In response to accusations that the film amounted to child pornography, Dakota herself was characteristically thoughtful about it. She told the Times: “Because that has happened to her [her character, Lewellen], that doesn’t define her. Because of this thing that has happened — that she did not ask for — she is labeled that, and it’s her story to overcome that and to be a whole person again.” She then added, “There are so many children that this happens to, every second. That’s the sad part. If anyone’s talking about anything, that’s what they should be talking about.” Dakota is very self-aware, and her continuing work with Jacobs and Teller suggests that she has a good relationship with them.