Dolce & Gabbana: Life Is But A ScreamBy David K. / Saturday, January 14th, 2006
In the immortal words of Susan Powter: Stop The Insanity. We know it’s only an ad campaign, but who wouldn’t run for a copy of Zolar’s Dream Dictionary to make sense of Dolce & Gabbana‘s latest excursion into Consumer Mind-Fuck?
Not even Freud could decipher this hallucination.
When the D&G boys gave us pubic hair creeping above the danger line last spring, we understood that. Certainly we would never say no to seeing more torso, more pecs, or more ass on anyone named Dieter, Josh or Fabio. But this year! What’s with the Flock of Seagulls hair? Who is the bale of hay for? And why the passed-out Pieta figure (below)?
I have no choice but to dive straight into this fagtastic tableaux. Come rest your head on my surrealistic pillow Nightcharmers, and let’s dream together.
The models are typical D&G trade: edgy but not prettyboy. There is also — wait for it: A man with grey hair featured prominently. The shock of it all! The partially naked condition of some of the models is rousing and makes the fully nude, knocked-out male seem particularly surreal. As John Calendo pointed out in The Discreet Charm of Half-Dressed Men, clothing takes on a fetishistic power when a little flesh is flashed. And here’s the point — our eye is excited by this cramped juxtaposition of naked, near naked and fully dressed. Certainly, with the exorbitant price of D&G’s wardrobe we’d better feel over-stimulated and fantastically fetishy.
My first thought was that the mishmash of models was trying to evoke the atmosphere of a particularly snobby gay club. You know how it goes: moving through the crowd, you notice stud after stud on display — but only the homeliest contenders are actually staring at anything. These beautiful people wouldn’t dare acknowledge that someone might be more beautiful than they. Thus, no two men are making eye contact. In this latest ad, we’re in a sort of crazy D&G pinball machine of misdirected gazes.
But then I noticed a kind of deliberate narrative when the pictures were laid side by side. A story of sorts is unraveling, as we move from the black panel to the white, almost like the passage from midnight to morning. It reminded me of one of the great masterpieces of symbolist art, Paul Gauguin‘s dreamy canvas Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Dolce & Gabbana’s banquet of figures mirrors Gauguin’s chronological sweep. As the eye moves from left to right, we move backwards through time. At the far left, the story commences with a symbol for old age and death: Gauguin referenced a memory of a mummy he’d seen in a museum. In D&G’s homo-vision, it’s a man approaching 40 (how gay!) At the far right, the image of birth: a swaddled infant for Gauguin; a naked and stunned beauty for D&G. We are moving through the life cycle.
Are Dolce & Gabbana now going to contemplate the Mysteries of Life? Is this what male fashion has come to? Certainly that’s what this comparison would suggest.
The models in the D&G campaign seem to be quoted directly from the Gauguin painting. There is the shirtless man with the bale of hay mirroring Gauguin’s turquoise idol on the stone pedestal. Further along in the Gauguin, a large central figure of a man seems to evoke Eve pulling the apple off the tree — an image of innocence. In the D&G version, a man in white, who seems about to drop trou, dominates the center. He has no face but dressed all in white and unashamedly undressing, he too is an image of innocence.
And finally, near Gauguin’s newborn sit two golden, twin-like women, questioning us with their eyes, asking us the big questions that form the title of the painting. Similarly, Dolce & Gabbana show us two men at the extreme right studying the stunned nude in front of them:
The grey-haired man points to the naked man’s crotch as if to exclaim, “Check out those Mega-Balls!” The younger man, who opens his beefy thighs so wide the fabric seems about to burst, is equally fixated. While the women grapple with the questions of life — Who are we? Where are we going? — the D&G couple conspire with one another as if they’ve already found the answer — and that answer lies between the legs of the fallen man. As much as new life springs from the vagina it also springs from the genitals of the virile male.
The more time I spent looking at the comparison above, the more I was persuaded that D&G’s art director really was inspired by Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Perhaps Dolce & Gabbana’s questions, though, would read:
How Do We Show More Ass? How Do We Show More Cock? How Do We Make It Sell?
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