10 Fashion Campaigns We're Still Trying To Figure Out

If fashion ads were about selling clothes, they would look like catalogues. After all, you can charge $200 for a dress, but a dream can cost, like, at least 10 times that much. And while we’re used to advertisements selling some of our most frequently had fantasies — think Karlie Kloss as a paparazzi-besieged starlet for Diane von Furstenberg, or the Hadid, Jenner, and Smalls sisters cuddled up for Balmain — recently, designers seem to be taking steps further into the subconscious.

I used to write the contributor’s page for a fashion magazine, and part of this involved asking photographers about the broader theme or deeper meaning behind a shoot. The most evocative answer I usually got was, “The girl was beautiful. It was spring,” which was always said in the same tone you might use to tell a child to go to their room. The point is, there either was no hidden significance, or they didn't want to divulge it — and my money’s on the former.

The industry's more recent campaigns, though, suggest that designers and photographers are getting a bit more cerebral. Anyone can use a beautiful woman to sell a beautiful dress, but if you can sell a beautiful dress using a hedgehog, an overturned table, or an oversized marionette, you are basically a board-certified psychiatrist. Unfortunately, these ads are so rife with twisted symbolism — why is there a concrete median smashed atop a Porsche? — that they can be a little difficult to understand. Thankfully, as someone who very nearly got an "A" in Psych 101, I am uniquely qualified to analyze hidden meanings. Click ahead, we've diagnosed the truth behind 10 of the most out-there fashion ads.
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Photo: Courtesy of Moncler.
Text: A woman wearing an incredibly luxe sleeping bag as a skirt stands under heavy clouds. Around her, birds swarm the sky, and heartthrob Lucky Blue Smith starts running for cover.

Subtext: Even if you are wearing the most expensive down item ever known, you still can’t arm yourself against life. Embrace the chaos, get a pet owl, and follow the world's biggest male model into the unknown.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fendi.
Text: A woman stands cheek to cheek with a large wooden puppet that resembles a bird. They are wearing the same outfit.

Subtext: The image illustrates the tension between human tenderness toward the machines we’ve created, and the simultaneous fear that they will eventually supersede us. The pairing of a wooden puppet next to a beautiful model suggests that although robots may try to act and dress like us, no machine (or bird-like marionette) will ever have cheekbones like Kendall Jenner.
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Photo: Courtesy of Prada.
Text: Several women in pastel stand staggered, while vaguely staring into the distance.

Subtext: To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson: It’s not enough to buy the ticket, you also have to take the ride. Just because you purchase an amazing pale pink suit doesn’t mean anyone’s going to hire you to run a company. Stand up straight; grab hold of both handles of your bag (lady in blue, we're talking to you); and get a marketable skill. Just be sure to not skimp on the suit, though, because it's awesome.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mansur Gavriel.
Mansur Gavriel
Text: A group of women wearing identical dresses and bucket bags stand huddled together with their backs to the camera. In the accompanying frame, a hedgehog crawls out of a red tote.

Subtext: Don’t be an anonymous fashion sheep. Instead, be a fashion hedgehog. A hedgehog is like a sheep, but smaller (which is very fashion), and with sharper edges (also very fashion).
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Photo: Courtesy of Marni.
Text: A woman leans against an upturned table in a domestic setting, with her arms thrown up, obscuring her face.

Subtext: The image plays with the psychic schism created by the contemporary woman’s duality as both caretaker and breadwinner. Instead of sitting at a traditional dinner table, she flips it on its side, much as she is trying to do with the patriarchy.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vivienne Westwood.
Vivienne Westwood
Text: Brienne of Tarth lies next to a heavy-lidded youth on a pile of empty garment bags.

Subtext: The empty garment bags symbolize the vast number of designs that are discarded in the making of one perfect dress. The image both memorializes the pieces that gave their lives for this off-the-shoulder, black-and-blue number, and asks the viewer to confront the notion that it’s okay for many dresses to die, in order for this one to live.
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Photo: Courtesy of Gucci.
Text: A young woman kneels on the floor tying a young man’s shoe. He watches her hands, while she looks pensively back over her shoulder at something out of frame.

Subtext: If your whole relationship relies on '70s role-playing, someone’s eventually going to want out. But, if you build your relationship on a solid foundation of mutual respect and understanding, you’ll never have to worry that your girlfriend is going to leave you for the first guy she sees not wearing floral short shorts.
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Photo: Courtesy of rag & bone.
Rag & Bone
Text: A black Porsche that has been bisected by a section of concrete median in a white room. A very sleepy model sits atop said median.

Subtext: Here, we see what happens when a thing that is meant to keep you safe (a median) becomes dangerous (a.k.a. thing that totals your car). The cognitive dissonance created by such an event may lead to feelings of helplessness, which is illustrated by the model’s positioning. Instead of actively trying to get the damn median off her fancy car, she’s just sitting there, not doing anything. In fact, she’s making the problem worse, but can’t see that, because her eyes are closed. Rag & Bone wants us to open our eyes.
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Photo: Courtesy of Public School.
Public School
Text: A woman stands in a deserted office wearing an oversized parka, while glaring hopelessly into the distance.

Subtext: Sometimes, all attempts to make the best out of a bad situation will be punished. This woman clearly thought she had finally figured out a way to beat the overactive in-office AC — until she showed up for work, and realized it was a Saturday. Every now and then, life will give you lemons and you make lemonade, only to realize that those lemons must have been rotten, because this lemonade sucks. Throw it away, and don’t take citrus from a stranger again.
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Photo: Courtesy of Blumarine.
Text: A woman stands in a black box in the sky. She opens a mirrored door to a vast whiteness, punctuated only by a large floral arrangement.

Subtext: Three words: Buy. This. Dress.