Peter York on Ads: High-fashion ads don't make jokes - and YSL is no exception

Yves Saint Laurent
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the amount of designer-name scent advertised and sold as Christmas presents was actually worn, we would live in a positive vapour trail. No lady wears a strong scent before 5pm on a Friday of course - Brits used to have very funny ideas about this sort of thing - but those 15-year-old girls who go out in gangs to clubs and theme pubs in Nottingham, and then crouch and pee on the pavement, can't share those ladylike inhibitions. Perhaps the women of Britain could donate their unused scent to charity - like the IRA giving up its weapons.

The scent commercials are usually done by the in-house design teams - it's not the sort of thing they are going to trust to the Shoreditch-living creative lads of British ad' agencies. What you need is a proper New York or Paris art-director queen who takes these things really seriously and understands about iconography, production values and high camp, not low. It means you get essays in crazed fabulosity that are utterly unlike the rest of the year's TV commercials. High-fashion brand advertising doesn't make jokes, doesn't make copy points, doesn't use SFX or do anything. It's a visual language all fashionistas will recognise.

The Chanel No 5 commercial with Nicole Kidman was this season's big number and it's somewhere between Moulin Rouge and Last Year in Marienbad - that is, glamorous and nutty. But the launch commercial for Yves Saint Laurent's new "Cinema" is more typical. It's like an early Seventies commercial done in high-end Deco-revival style, just around the time of Cabaret and Divine Decadence and Visconti's The Damned and all that; it's very, very camp. The name for a start; old cinema is camp. The lighting-up of a film set with those klieg lights that come on with a bang is camp. And a darkened set with three arch-headed French windows and no views is ultra-camp. A chaise longue is camp as is a languorous girl swooning on it in white YSL. But campest of all are her six black-tie suitors who walk in from the wings and kneel around her and stare at the camera as if it was a mirror. These boys are as Euro-olive as the girl's powdery pale, and they look astonishingly alike. And, like most high-fashion ads where there are six boys to every girl, they're not looking at her.