Using locations in Africa as backdrops to sell clothes and bags is nothing new – especially bags and clothes that certain class of travellers and outdoorsy people like to call “gear”. As in “stuff necessary to show you’re ready for hardship.” Sometimes, though, the mythology that advertisers reference, re-ignite, and re-iterate in newly romaticised packaging is so…well, moronic that we have to do yet another post on the same old-same-old. And Louis Vuitton’s new campaign gets AIAC’s Out of Africa Fashion Campaign award for best mash up of Discovery Channel fodder, Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa, and the opening scenes from The English Patient.
On the campaign’s website, we’re told French fashion editor and (general Vogue empress) Catherine Roitfeld described this mélange as an evocation of “two intrepid travelers embodied by models Karen Elson and Edie Campbell,” who are “accompanied by three Louis Vuitton bags: the Speedy, the Keepall and the Neverfull.” And apparently, they worked “without any prefixed ideas.”
What do we get in the video?
A model in floppy black hat, black sleeveless sundress, prancing about on a sand dune, carrying Louis Vuitton tube bags. She is alone on the pristine, sands (ominous music rolls as the sand drifts in feathery finery), leaving only her tracks. Suddenly, for an unknown reason, she flops down on the sand. Maybe she’s dehydrated, because she omitted to pack water in those bags. The bags do look rather empty – like the ones you bring home from the Macey’s, full of tissue. (FYI, dear model! Exposed desert sand is super hot! You really shouldn’t just flop down.) These chicks are going to get serious sunburn. Isn’t there any SPF 70 sunblock in the Neverfull LV bag?
Cut to a close up of the ubiquitous LV-logo on a suitcase, a model in a black bikini top on a motorcycle. Possibly an Enfield. We also get a couple of slim, tall women, all decked out in beaded couture, walking along a savannah-like scene with giraffes in the background. And a white-shorts-wearing woman followed by a somewhat-disinterested cheetah (sister, the elephant grass will cut your legs!). Then someone leads a very tame zebra somewhere … to the cooking pot? We don’t know. The models may be hungry for protein.
There’s more: lion cubs, playfully following one of the models. The cubs are so enamoured that they chase her like African children in Facebook-posts of My-Two-Week Service-Trip-to-Africa are wont to do. Where is the cubs’ mum? Ah, of course, a cruel black poacher killed her, and this nice, willowy, white woman (having recently divorced her cheating husband) has come to rescue them. As if the entire imagebank of Africa from old film footage hadn’t been loudly pointed at, there’s some black and white film with Grant’s gazelle, a model waving about an old-timey-looking camera, and a lion cub chewing at one of the LV bags (I tell you. African babies. You try to rescue them, and they native-innocently destroy your valued things).
In case all this unsubtle mining of colonial-fantasy Africa failed to get you romanced up enough to plonk down $1,500 on some bags that you’ll just carry on the subway, we hear a mellifluous American-accented woman’s voice: “Return to a time when travel itself was a destination.” Then we hear, “There’s no such thing as a destination, because the journey never ends.” As the music rises to a crescendo, we hear some other nonsense that only those with the privilege of an EU or American passport will believe: “never ask for directions; don’t believe in borders; dare to move frontiers.” It’s the white, male fantasy, sold to women in the name of new-wave feminism.
Some obvious questions: why are we already “there” at the destination of Africa, if the travel (movement) is the goal? Aren’t we supposed to focus on the journey – both the physical and psychological journeys? Right. This is a call to “return” to a utopian moment when white people did what white people do: go to Africa. Take the Limoge and the designer bags and escape Shit-Gone-Wrong at home. Hunt stuff. Take stuff. Have an ill-advised affair. Fly a plane, crash a plane. Write about it. Act out fantasies of power. No questions asked.
Look: I’m not saying that LV or anyone else shouldn’t use African locations as backdrops – there’s some spectacular places, and even more spectacular African-born models that one could employ. But package Africa as a romance – a location empty of people, on which the Euro-American self may, uninhibitedly, further ego and subjectivity – that’s a problem for obvious reasons we’ve reiterated in post after post.
This Just In: you all didn’t “dare” to move frontiers – you created frontiers where there were none, and made it so that only a few (you) could move about freely. And now, people who can barely afford to pay rent feel they must own a piece of cheap cow skin and become human billboards for LV, without a pay cheque for doing that labor – all so that they can advertise to the world they’ve arrived at that mythical destination: capitalist fantasyland.