The Art of Perfume Ads: Moschino Toy 2 Bubble Gum (2021)

I know I can be very serious about perfume, but I’m not always serious about it. Perfume can be fun. Maybe perfume should be fun sometimes. I appreciate some well-placed humor in a perfume description or promotion. For example, I really enjoyed the packaging and visuals for Moschino’s Fresh Couture (2015, Alberto Morillas): they were very nouveau-Pop, plus — Linda Evangelista!

I recently sniffed a scent strip for Moschino Toy 2 Bubble Gum in a magazine I’d bought and I smiled, because who doesn’t love the smell of pink bubble gum? And Toy 2 Bubble Yum is sold in a hot-pink version of Moschino’s signature teddy bear bottle, why not?

Even the puffy lettering for the accompanying ad page brought back memories of grade school and the cool kids who always seemed to have a pack of Bubble Yum in their pencil case or desk, ready to share (or not). But the photograph of model Stella Maxwell in astronaut gear also seemed familiar…

Here’s what Moschino designer and creative director Jeremy Scott told Women’s Wear Daily about the Toy 2 Bubble Gum campaign: “I had a vision of the bottle flying through outer space like a rocket and from there I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to turn Stella into an astronaut, having her grab the bottle and spritzing herself in zero gravity?’”

WWD also notes, “The designer photographed and directed the campaign himself.”

I wish Scott or WWD had bothered to name-check the actual source of inspiration for the print ads, something known to even casual fans of fashion photography…

In 1965, photographer Richard Avedon collaborated with Harper’s Bazaar’s art directors, Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler, to co-edit a special issue that looked ahead to the future—fashion and beauty, yes, but also the cutting edge in music, literature, visual art, technology, and more. Sixties supermodel Jean Shrimpton was featured on the front cover and appeared again in several other Avedon shots, wearing a silvery NASA suit with a full face of Ultima II cosmetics.

(This issue also included Avedon’s shoot on Op Art fashion, his photos of the emerging Black supermodel Donyale Luna in designs by Bill Blass and Pauline Trigère, features on The Beatles and Bob Dylan, poems by Lane Dunlop and prose by Tom Wolfe and Renata Adler, art by Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns and George Segal, and a page of recipes contributed by everyone from Mike Nichols to Susan Sontag. I kid you not.)

Looking back to images of real-life astronauts from the early- to mid-1960s, we can see that Harper’s had either borrowed an actual NASA suit similar to the one worn by astronauts like John Glenn or created a costume inspired by NASA uniforms. (I don’t know the technical term for this kind of suit, sorry!) In another photo, the magazine also seemed to play on a gesture sometimes assumed by astronauts for formal portraits, like this painting of Alan Shepard.

In this shot by Avedon, the model (does anyone know her name?!) cradles her helmet under one arm while striking a more casual (yet confident) pose. And, just a reminder: there were no women astronauts in NASA in 1965. This was still just a goal and a vision at the time. Sally Ride would become the first American woman in space in 1983.

So, back to Moschino, we get a similar silver suit, with the diagonal zipper and a Toy 2 patch replacing the NASA logo; the helmet under the arm; 1960s-inspired hair and makeup (dense lashes, pastel lips). It’s retro. It’s fun. But that’s pretty much all it is: kitsch without context or resonance.

When the Harper’s Bazaar team assembled and edited the content for the April 1965 magazine, they defined this issue as “a partial passport to the off-beat side of Now.” As writer Stephan Mooallem summarized that cultural moment in a retrospective column for Harper’s (June-July 2017):

“The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the expanding Cold War, and the escalating conflict in Vietnam left many Americans with a profound sense of uncertainty. The Civil Rights Movement and second-wave feminism were beginning to gain traction. It was also a time of great cultural upheaval, as the anarchic vibrations of the rising New Wave cinema and rock ’n’ roll rumbled underfoot and the high-art world embarked on a romance with pop — tectonic shifts.”

Without all those cross-currents of design and the arts and current events, without even a brief comment acknowledging that Moschino is looking back to that moment of optimism and turmoil and creative ferment and social revolution, what do we have in the ads for Toy 2 Bubble Gum? Escapism, I guess. Which is, you know, fun…but that’s about it.

Now I’ve contradicted my opening statement: fun isn’t always enough for me, at least in perfume ads, when an image is stripped of its original meaning. Maybe I have a hard time enjoying something solely for its shiny surface without looking to see what’s present — or absent — behind it. Maybe I need more than eye candy.

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