By Rachel Matthews-Frederick
I remember when I first saw Angelina Jolie’s campaign photo for Louis Vuitton in 2011. I was sitting in my local hairdressers, head full of foils, flipping through some cheap magazines trying to block out a pair of elderly women gossiping about daughter-in-laws while their silver hair was tightly permed. Now, how is it that I remember this scenario so clearly? As it so happened, just as the knitting circle started talking about various grandsons gone off the rails, I turned the page onto Angie. The droning of the grandmas was silenced by the visual in front of me. But it was not because I was immediately transported to the wilds of Cambodia, where the photograph was shot, nor was I entranced by Jolie’s beauty, though I do not deny her captivating quality. What held me was the question of who in their right mind takes a $10,700 luxury handbag onto a boat that looks like it is about to collapse into a swamp?
This broke the facade of the photograph and soon I saw it for what it was: a blatant use of celebrity to promote luxury goods. First we are presented with Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood’s elite, who is no stranger to the wilds of Cambodia, having adopted her son, Maddox, and filming both Tomb Raider movies in the country. The place setting reminds us both of her career as an actress, and her humanitarian efforts. She is the ‘star image’, offering goodwill, sex appeal, popularity and wealth. Her endorsement humanizes the product and evokes emotional appeal (Berry 2014). Interestingly Angelina Jolie is styled in her own clothes and her own monogrammed bag. A choice which promotes her as a symbol of luxurious lifestyle and consumption, and status as a consumer.
In wearing her own clothes and personal hand-bag, spectators are offered a more private and personal view of Jolie, one opposed to her usual star image. “People are not used to seeing Angelina in this situation,” said Pietro Beccari, Vuitton’s executive vice president, when unveiling the photograph. “I like the fact that it’s a real moment.” (Socha 2011) This private moment creates a greater relationship between the spectator, the celebrity and the product. To quote Graeme Turner in Understanding Celebrity (2004):
Spectators’ memories of stars suggest an increasingly interactive relationship between self image and star ideals with the opening up of multiple possibilities of becoming more like the screen ideal through the purchase of commodities associated with particular stars. Mimetic self-transformations become an imaginable possibility through consumption… These masquerades of stardom femininity are embodiments of desirable qualities which bring the desirable object closer to the self (p.120).
In what is an interesting example of celebrity advertising, Angelina Jolie flaunts a $10,000 bag in a Cambodian swamp. While the mystery remains of why she would bring such a luxury handbag into a place that would easily see it ruined, the photograph creates a personal, relatable and achievable relationship between the viewer and the product. It also offers to be a great photo to meditate on while trying to drown out hairdresser gossip.
Berry, J 2014, Week 7 Fashion and Celebrity Culture, 2432QCA Contemporary Fashion, Griffith University, Queensland College of Art, <https://bblearn.griffith.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-1010415-dt-content-rid-2625172_1/courses/2432QCA_3145_SB/Course%20Content/Week%208%20Fashion%20and%20Celebrity%20Culture/Fashion%20%26%20Celebrity.pdf>
Socha, M 2011, ‘Jolie’s Core Values for Vuitton’, WWD, vol. 201, iss. 120, viewed 10 September 2014, via ProQuest Central Database.
Turner, G 2004, Understanding Celebrity, Sage, viewed 12 September 2014, via EBL.