Tuesday, March 11, 2008

2000 Man: Keith Richards for Louis Vuitton


Keith Richards aged overnight. Unlike the rest of us, who must sit helplessly by and watch as a barely discernible line turns into a crow's foot and slight shadows become permanent baggage, Richards rusted in 1978 and has stayed that way. At 65, he looks only marginally craggier than he did at 45. Long the subject of unflattering visual lampoon, the only significant difference between the Richards of today and the Richards of 20 years ago is the color of his hair.

For years an anticipated morality tale of the type parents like to use to caution teenagers against drugs and debauchery, Richards has persevered through addiction, Altamont, and Anita Pallenberg to become a New Millennium poster boy for Louis Vuitton, not "Just Say No."

The Vuitton ad finds Richards, the eternal nomad, in a luxury hotel room. In this anthem to life on the road, five-star style, the room is decorated with heavy, bland decor. Richards strums his guitar while taking a break from a novel that requires a magnifying glass to read (oh, those stylists); a cup of tea recklessly sits sans doily on top of a custom-made Vuitton guitar case. Ever mindful of rock-and-roll quirk, the stylist has thrown Richards' trademark scarves over the lamps and placed a scabbard on an end table. A lens filter makes the guitarist's hair appear blue; the video made to accompany the shoot proves that Richards in his dotage has not resorted to an old woman's colorful rinse.

As Leibovitz welcomes him to the set, Richards asks where he should "park the carcass," and in that wheezy moment he calls to mind not just his own archetype but that of Bill Nighy's marvelously decaying musician in 1998's Still Crazy.

"Some journeys cannot be put into words" reads the text of the ad. Indeed, if one were to consider the whole of Richards' public life, from 1964 onwards, that would be almost half a century of rootless, indestructible survival. Richards is life itself, bruised and abused, but he is not a lifestyle. Rock and roll used to be, before it went corporate (at the hands of Jovan and the Stones, no less). Jagger stopped being hip around the same time he started wearing kneepads on stage, but Richards has been chugging along for five decades as the undisputed king of all things reckless and therefore recklessly cool.

Richards' journey of je m'en foutisme can be traced back farther than his first rotting tooth. You first see it in his shaggy hair as he frolics about a beach in Santa Monica, circa 1965. By 1966 he'd found his inner dandy, and in 1967 he'd grown the hairstyle that has provided forty years of bad imitation among would-be guitar gods. If some little Strat-wielding punk says he's going to get his hair cut like Keef, you immediately apprehend the man and the era.

By the late 1970s, Richards had built himself into a Roman ruin, with all the glories of antiquity attached. Living history? Sure, he's writing a book, but try science instead: Where else could you see an ongoing experiment in pushing the human body to its limits?

Richards, as biology will attest, is no ordinary human. He singlehandedly invented heroin chic, 20 years before magazine editors realized it had editorial appeal. He's nodded off looking as if he smelled like a skunk and has been photographed that way, glamorously. He wandered around for fifteen years without a front tooth. He doesn't appear to eat, and yet you hear he makes one hell of a fry-up. He was not born in a cross-fire hurricane, he was born sucking the teat of Jack Daniels, with a Telecaster instead of hips. He's one of very few celebrities who've transcended decades--five of them-- without falling into, as the French say, "les oubliettes." He gets away with calling women "bitches."

The Vuitton ads are reminiscent of the Blackglama "What Becomes a Legend Most?" campaign. In Vuitton's case, they've been designed to appeal to an older consumer now that Vuitton's customer base has skewed younger. The idea was to take random legends--Richards, Deneuve, Gorbachev--who'd have some face value among the senior set. Richards has been entitled to his pension for five years now and he's ten years past eligibility for Denny's senior special.

Still, he strums.

The Leibovitz video shows Richards at first pretending to play, without an ounce of attitude to his skeletal frame. You get the feeling that Richards motors through life at a very comfortable 33 1/3 rpm, always. Time waits for him. One wonders if his lack of urgency is the key to his longevity. Blues play in the background, low key. He mimes a strum, catching his hand in the air, and then repeats. At one point, this resembles nothing so much as Bill Murray's impersonations of the Rat Pack in Lost in Translation. Leibovitz encourages: That's great...so great...when you play...don't even need to play...

"Like a Rembrandt," Richards says about the photos, as the crew applauds. The final photo catches him looking off into the corner, a deep grove running down his his cheek like a tear.

Vuitton's in a bit of tough spot. They make luggage and handbags that are copied everywhere; one can hardly set foot into an international tourist area without seeing hundreds of them, many made better than the originals. They never had the type of hipness one associates with popular culture; they aren't Burberry. For the cynical, the Richards ad fails as propaganda; this is a guy who sleeps--when he sleeps--in his clothes. He's crusty. It's hard to imagine him couching himself in terms of material possessions. He's never been a studied wastrel, which is why all of his countless imitators are just that, cheap knock offs. One can see him using the custom case, but not buying one. That doesn't mean that there aren't any potential customers. Anyone who's been to Stones concert since 1995 has seen them, pulling up in their SUVs, firing up their portable barbecue grills, loosening their ties, watch the tail lights fading...time not so much on their side.

12 comments:

WendyB said...

That's not a pretty photo. But I love your point about Keef getting old early and then never progressing further!

Hailey said...

I loved that ad, he is such a "handsome devil". Have missed your comments on my site, I hope you are still reading :-) Any suggestions I'm all ears http://www.eslkidstuff.com/images/ears.gif

Suzanna Mars said...

WB, he did, didn't he, around 1978, at around the time he met Patti Hansen (not that she had anything to do with it). I saw the Stones in 1975 (there, I admitted to that, the last good tour) and he was certainly not decayed then--something about that drugs trial in Toronto, around that time, he caved in.

Sm. said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never seen a picture of Keith Richards pre-rusting (your first paragraph is crafted brilliantly).

THAT'S what he looked like?!!!!!

I'm also intrigued by the marketing trend of late to release videos of campaigns. I just watched the one for Lane Crawford's Transitions campaign, and I remember the behind-the-scenes video Topshop did for Kate Moss. Makes me think of all the undergrad lectures on semiotics and authenticity and voyeurism theory I sat through.

Suzanna Mars said...

Sm. that is simply fascinating! Go over to Blue Lena's Web site and check him out in his prime.

To not have any idea what Richards looked like in his prime really reinforces the length of his career and the fact that the 1960s are coming up on half a century ago.

I do think that video trend is voyeuristic. It has to do with the Internet also; the immediate availability of information makes people want more accessibility.

And I remember when we stayed up to watch Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and that was the only glimpse you got of some of your greater celebs.

susie_bubble said...

I agree with the failure of this campaign and the overall oddness of the intentions in using Keith Richards...the Deneuve campaign worked much better though in terms of going with the 'Journey' theme...

Thomas said...

This is what happens when you let your son handle your marketing. Gorbachev raised an eyebrow for me - Richards just made me confused. He looks, in a word, terrible.

But a trip to the LV store in New York will remove any doubt that the brand is in decline - people want it the same way they want to drink Courvoisier.

K.Line said...

Suzanna: I couldn't put my finger on it but you are entirely right. This ad is totally reminiscent of Blackgama's campaign. I have to say, it doesn't do a thing for me. But you tell a compelling story about Keith Richards. I don't think I've ever given him that much thought. K

enc said...

He's the personification of Survival, as you point out. I think he must be completely embalmed by now. So crisp.

hoyan said...

this idea (especially the last paragraph) reminds me of joyce carol oate's "broke heart blues".

Suzanna Mars said...

Hoyan, never read it, but will ad it to the list!

Iheartfashion said...

I agree with you about Richards "rusting" around 1978, and I think a lot of the admiration for Keith comes from the mere fact of his survival. How many other icons of indulgence are still around? Hunter S. Thompson blew his brains out; Jerry Garcia succombed to addition-related disease; Janis and Jimi checked out early. The LV campaign appeals to me, even though I wasn't around in the 60's, maybe just because it's such an incongruous image for a luxury brand. Keith Richards is a sort of last-man-standing for a generation's indulgence.