There has been much talk about how brutal the year of 2016 was, and it’s true that in terms of global events and celebrity deaths, it was a bit. But before we dismiss it entirely and run screaming into 2017, let’s take a break to review the campaigns that rocked our world in 2016. From Final Fantasy character Lightning being cast in a Louis Vuitton advert to campaigns shot with flying drones, 2016 was a year of major technical innovation in the advertising space, and with it, contemporary culture in general. High-end brands opened their borders more than ever to deliver unexpected and arresting aesthetics and images that changed the game totally, giving us new things to covet, looks to aspire to and a greater appreciation of the individual and authentic than ever before. A number of the brands on our list brought together seemingly disparate concepts to create epically innovative creative. We saw a proliferation of subversive campaigns too, from J.W. Anderson’s postcard-sized campaign to Reebok’s hilarious ad featuring well-loved comedian Jonah Hill. Yep, 2016 was a year of contrasts, seemingly impossible world events and scintillating technological developments that radically altered the way that we see and operate in the world. We loved watching Courtney Love rock Marc Jacobs, Young Thug crush it in his Calvin’s, and Ruby Rose show us how to wear makeup. Even Frank Ocean came out of hiding to play, in a celebration of public vulnerability that made it cool to be yourself. Here are the adverts that decorated, challenged and changed our world in 2016.
14. Louis Vuitton Final Fantasy
This ad for SS16 Louis Vuitton cast Final Fantasy’s Lightning as the face of the brand in a move that encapsulated the growing reality of the virtual in our lives. Creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere transported us into a sci-fi world that is uncannily like our own. 2016 saw a proliferation of cultural products that embrace the virtual, like Luc Besson’s Lucy, which reminded us of other reality-bending movies like the Matrix, Inception, and Limitless. Others included Passengers and Ghost in the Shell. Social media too has shape-shifted into an even wider variety of forms, with more memes and live streamed facebook events making our bodily and virtual lives ever more equivalent. The eye-catching use of a virtual character in this advert raises important questions about what being alive is all about today, and positions Louis Vuitton bags as an accessory that somehow elicits the answer to our existential crisis in 2016.
13. Craig Green AW16
Drones was the word on everyone’s lips in 2016, from surveillance to warfare and art shows, this new and accessible technology is quite literally changing how we see the world. No wonder then that we fell in love with this AW campaign by one of the most innovative creative teams: Craig Green. It was shot entirely by drones, which captured a quite literally unearthly perspective on the world. Drones enabled us to see the world in the advert, for the first time, with a godlike world view, taking fashion into even edgier terrain. As Gaga showed with her flying dress, technology works hand in hand with fashion, and this incredible campaign was like a vision from the future. We were mesmerized by new perspectives on our world, let alone our clothes. This 2016 fashion ad seemed to transcend (literally) our conceptions about the limits of the possible and reframe fashion in an alien-seeming universe we call our own.
12. Cara Delevigne
The thing we most liked of this fantastically composed shot of Cara Delevingne wearing ‘that’ couture heart cape (the one Riri fed pigeons in), is that her belly button is just within the shot, barely noticeable but there. As ever Cara brings together everything about our contemporary moment. A model and an actress, she bridges the worlds of the accessible and the inaccessible, the entertaining and the aloof. Here, her powerful stance is belied by a characteristic softness in her mouth and the plush furs that invites us at the same time as pulling status. Operating in black and white, when we all know the color and history of the cape, and also of Cara, from an almost endless array of different channels, the image is changed by a shifting context of perspective that seemed to evolve almost daily in 2016 as major current events rocked our world. We love it!
11. J.W. Anderson postage stamp campaign
Another stand-out advert in 2016 was the massively innovative J.W. Anderson advert, which featured a campaign the size of a postage stamp, whispering in the din and clash of symbols made by other campaigns this past year. Like the dinner guest who attracts fascinated silence and attentive listening by having the self-assurance to avoid shouting over others, JW Anderson’s was a brave tactic that risked being passed over in favor of the glossy Times Square filling campaigns we have been trained to expect and loved so dearly. Yet we loved this miniature moment of respite from all that, a quiet drop in the ocean of frenetic selling. Like a long bath after running around the New York Stock Exchange, this was an alluring advertisement for its supreme level of confidence in a miniature package. We agreed this year that bigger is definitely not always better, and the secret is far more seductive than the overt.
10. Frank Ocean for Calvin Klein
Naturally, when we saw Frank come out of hiding, (as you’ll remember he bravely came out of the closet too some time back), to work a very real-feeling Calvin Klein campaign, we freaked. The shots are about as basic as they come, but somehow emanate an ethereal David Lynch-like netherworld of a mood. Frank O’s gaze is totally mesmerizing because it’s impossible to figure whether it’s confident or nervous, vacant or ponderous, intense or diffuse. The implacable stare rebounds on the viewer, who somehow has room to project their own fantasies onto it and to interpret the situation in which Frank finds himself. And this also felt ‘very 2016’. There was something about the tunnel vision view of the world that the digital age provides us with that creates something of a hall of mirrors. Frank’s gaze felt so now because we’re all so in our own heads that the face of contemporary culture in 2016 looked pretty illegible too.
9. Ruby Rose for Urban Decay
We loved Ruby Rose in Orange is the New Black, and her amazing short film ˆ, which pushed the boundaries of gender stereotypes. The gorgeous presenter, actress, and model transforms herself from a traditionally feminine, long-haired blonde into a tattooed, boyish-faced man during the course of the film. Gender stereotypes aside, Ruby Rose is stunning and has been the face of Maybelline since 2011. But 2016 was the year when the edgier line Urban Decay also adopted this rising star as the face of their brand. Long a favorite for their dramatic looks and palettes, this was the perfect collaboration. Ruby Rose fuses lashes of attitude with tons of authenticity, making her the ideal brand ambassador for the makeup line. We loved the way that the advert incorporated Ruby’s androgynous look and tattoos, opening the door to a new kind way of wearing makeup, as a way of expressing rather than hiding our real selves.
8. Lucky Blue Smith for Tom Ford
We love a little Lucky Blue Smith in our lives, and this advert for Tom Ford seemed the ultimate collaboration, utilizing the model’s unique look to create an edginess that offset the campaign’s sharp, sleek aesthetic perfectly. All we knew was that this was the coolest look, building on Lucky Blue’s features with acres of style, and we NEEDED this line. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him, Lucky Blue’s shoot for Tom Ford brought a very different kind of masculinity from the traditionally macho beefcakes that the brand usually celebrates. Tom Ford is generally associated with ripped models with come-hither stares, and we’re not criticizing that AT ALL. But the Lucky Blue campaign was something we didn’t expect and it was for this reason that it grabbed and held onto our attention in 2016, a year when androgyny became even more embedded in contemporary culture.
7. Young Thug for Calvin Klein
Young Thug and Tyrone Lebon for Calvin Klein was a pretty scorching combination. Plus these gold leather Calvin Kleins against the banged up trunk of this car said something we were all thinking in 2016. As boundaries are crossed in terms of gender fluidity, human rights, and the worldwide migration crisis, it felt very ‘now’ to be repping contrasts in 2016. The rap world has long enjoyed the contrast inherent in marginalized African-Americans rising to the top of the status charts and showing it off with extrovert displays of wealth and social standing. This has become part of the fabric of Calvin Klein, which took this new normal and used to re-work its perpetual message about the seductiveness of the American lifestyle. Calvin Klein is always a clean brand with a twist of dirty running through it and has had a number of banned adverts throughout the years that ruffled feathers for mixing innocence so directly with knowledge. We loved their latest incarnation.
6. Courtney Love for Marc Jacobs
Come on, any campaign featuring Courtney Love was going to be an attention grabber. She has been called the goddess of grunge and featured in the impactful shoot alongside Marilyn Manson, Missy Eliot, Cara Delevigne and Sissy Spacek. A quirky line-up of the who’s-who of A-list, DGAF stars we know and (Courtney) love. Jacobs included captions describing how he met the stars, and their route into the collection. Of Love, he said: “I remember being quite taken by her deep, thorough knowledge of and voracious appetite for fashion and music”. He also describes her as “the ultimate divine mess”. And there is something so extreme and mesmerizing about Love. Something so not pulled-together that she’s exquisite, such a train wreck that you think she might be the most real one in the room. And that seemed pretty relevant in 2016, a year of unthinkable occurrences that rocked our world the same way Kurt did back in the day.
5. Gucci S/S 17
Who knows what 2017 has in store, but we do know that the clothes you’re about to see on Gucci’s rails this coming Spring / Summer season were advertised unforgettably, in Wes Anderson style scenarios that featured a lion, a leopard, and a tiger (all real) as well as a menagerie of other beasts. Models posed in the least likely of locations; the Berlin U-Bahn, a public bathroom; and amongst the most unlikely objects. It is a campaign that seemed to valorize the misfit, taking high fashion into the lowest places and mixing the majestic with the mundane. Maddening, you might say, but the Gucci campaign evinced a kind of unseen modern, highly quirky decadence that made us wonder whether the elitist persona of high fashion was indeed being tamed and somehow democratized. The collection seemed to draw cohesion out of humor and disunity, building a fabulous, dreamlike and yet still slightly dystopian fantasy from the edgy feeling hot mess of our contemporary moment.
4. Willow Smith for Chanel
2016 was the year that saw Willow Smith model for Chanel. Perfectly embodying the brand’s classic elegance with a twist, Willow was a genius ambassador for the brand. The ever creative Karl Lagerfeld continues to brilliantly navigate fashion’s fraught waters, gracefully helming Chanel’s successful passage into the ever fleeting moment. Taking inspiration from the vastly successful Balmain army concept, enlisting Willow Smith helped swell the ranks of the classic fashion house’ s already star-studded cast of contemporary Chanelites. With a combination of cool and classy, and naturally gorgeous genes from her celeb parents, Willow brought a kind of enfant terrible vibe to a house that is engaged in an epic battle with its classicism. The brand managed to strike a balance between participating in the trend for celebrity/fashion house collaborations that has dominated the past decade, and at the same time retaining it’s aesthetic center, with the poise and grace to which it owes its ongoing success.
3. Balmain Army featuring all our favs
Olivier Rousteing had warned that he wanted to get away from the celebrity fever that has overtaken the world in the form of #BalmainArmy. This past summer, he brought back our favorite mega babes, the queens of the modeling world, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. Seemingly in keeping with the release of Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’, the three goddesses returned like the three Graces, and the entire world did indeed have to ‘bow down’ to their leggy glory. Rocking a combination of luxe ruffles and flirty cut-outs, that might have been shredded on the ladies’ razor-sharp cheekbone, the collection seemed to combine extravagance with austerity, much as 2016 did. The clothes are also hugely wearable by a range of body types and not those of just these three gazelle-like super-duper models. We loved seeing the gang back together, it took us back to a simpler time, before the internet had made quite such a Balmain-like invasion into our lives. Coming from the ever fashion futuristic, ever chiseled Rousteing, the gesture seemed to complete a creative arc for the brand.
2. Chloe Sevigny for J.W. Anderson
Once called “the coolest girl in the world”, Chloë Sevigny starred in the SS17 campaign for J.W. Anderson. About as paired back as a fashion campaign gets, this one attracted our attention through the throngs of images that beset our Instagram-weary eyes because of this refreshingly conceptually Spartan approach. In the midst of the dizzying swirl of high-velocity images, we were ready for a simple, elegant campaign shot in a traditional photographic context. Sevigny shines atop a simple stool the chic layers of her outfit framed in the wall mountings. This was a wholly different approach to the overplayed celebrity shoots that have become almost unremarkable they are so numerous. You might even have to look again to recognize the underplayed mystery of this everygirl-come-It-girl. Sevigny represents everything we want to be right now: chic and worldly, cool yet connected, we couldn’t get enough of the campaign’s classic-modern, subtle aesthetic.
1. Reebok “banter”
Finally, we loved this ad by Palace x Reebok, featuring Jonah Hill, a comedy gem from 2016. This was a stand out ad for us because it brought a smile to our faces, and highlighted all of the silliness of the commercial world we live in (while still flogging some trailers). We love the concept behind this advert, which looks like something we could have crafted ourselves in about half an hour in photoshop. What’s weird is that this advert actually makes us want to buy the trainers, because we want to be part of the crew that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, amongst all the ultra cool, diehard sneakerheads, this less pretentious take on the trainer’s pivotal role in modern life was a welcome break that we enjoyed in 2016. As the new year dawns, we stepped into it with a similarly light-hearted attitude, gleefully anticipating the fashion campaigns of 2017.