Marc Jacobs Ads: Brilliant or Just Bizarre?

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

The newly released ads for Marc Jacobs’s F/W 11 collection are more outlandish than ever. 15 images feature the quirky, anti-glamour actress Helena Bonham Carter in a series of unflattering poses: begging like a dog, sticking out her tongue while holding her prosthetically enlarged belly, and contorting her lower body to resemble a form similar to a crustacean’s limbs. The images collectively create another glimpse into the cryptic, zany world of Marc Jacobs.

Marc Jacobs F/W 11 (via NYMag)

Unlike most fashion brands whose ads create an allure of unobtainable luxury and aesthetic perfection, Marc Jacobs ads project a wholly unintimidating, accessible public image. The backgrounds are plain (this season they resemble a barren hallway), and the subjects, though famous, lack the glamour and polish exuded by celebrities in most other portraits. Even the quality of the photography, shot by German photographer Juergen Teller, seems lackluster: the images are overexposed, the composition is off, and the flash sometimes wipes out parts of the scene with its intensity. I’ve read that Teller uses a Contax G2 camera with onboard flash – nothing too fancy – but one might think they were taken with an old Polaroid.

But the richness in Marc Jacobs ads doesn’t come from the technical quality of the photography; rather, it’s in their liberating spirit. Teller casts some of the entertainment world’s most treasured talents (Helena Bonham Carter, Elle Fanning, and Charlotte Rampling, to name a few) in a humanizing light by having them pose in seemingly mundane or wacky ways. In ad campaigns or magazine spreads for other brands, these figures are hired to create images of opulence or success. By contrast, in the Jacobs ads they’re free do look unglamorous or silly, and in doing so, they create and/or reinforce a multidimensional public persona that other media images of them disallow.

Paradis XVIII, 2009 (via

The practice of freeing photographic subjects is a standard theme in Teller’s photography even when it’s not for Marc Jacobs. For example, in a series commissioned by the French publication Paradis Magazine in 2009, Teller shot Brazilian model Raquel Zimmerman and French actress Charlotte Rampling posing nude at various sites in the Louvre. One image from this series exhibits Zimmerman and Rampling nonchalantly leaning against a guardrail protecting the Mona Lisa. Here, the subjects were free from clothing and from conventional modeling expectations. Furthermore, they had the freedom to behave in a manner outisde the guidelines normally imposed on museum patrons.

Although Juergen Teller’s ads for Marc Jacobs have a spirit of liberation, it is a limited one. The subjects, though free to lounge or misbehave on set, are still modeling for Teller who stands behind the camera. They are under his gaze, and more expansively under ours. Nevertheless, in the context of fashion photography and advertising today, we can celebrate Teller and Jacobs’ ability to create images that, in their raw and strange character, are some of the most human.


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