Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

I was skimming a men’s magazine the other day when I paused, mouth agape, on the new TSE campaign.

The abstracted, angled black shadows on the white background, the strong, slanting light that hit the model just so, the black-and-white photography, and the simple lines of the featured clothes, all made one clear announcement: the cashmere brand pointed to the latest Calvin Klein campaign with Suvi Koponen, and told its creative team to copy like their lives depended on it. But then I got to thinking, haven’t I seen the architectural black and white theme elsewhere in fashion photography this season? In a business as crowd-sourced and trend-based as fashion, how can you tell the difference between recycling an aesthetic and taking inspiration from an old idea, anyway?

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

Suvi Koponen — Finland’s next top model, would you believe — has been favored for Calvin Klein Collection campaigns for the past few seasons. This fall, she was shot by Fabien Baron for a series of images that took dramatic delight in the lines of Francisco Costa’s garments, which this season were a little like 90s minimalism gone very good. Dodai is on record calling this campaign one of fall's worst ads, but I gasped when I first saw it. Working with so little — no props to create an atmosphere, no other models to generate charisma — could easily result in a tedious set of images. Sure, Suvi looks a little like a robot (an awe-inspiring fashion robot). And I don’t love the Stepford coiffure, which seems to unhelpfully contrast in era with the clothes. But I think these pictures are unmistakably beautiful. And I prefer their flirtation with high-concept self-serious absurdity to a million here’s-a-pretty-girl-now-buy-our-product luxury campaigns any day.

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

So clearly any images that distinctive were going to get knocked off. TSE photographed both its men’s and women’s lines in a style that looks like a dumbed-down retread of Baron and Koponen's Calvin Klein campaign.

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

The buttons on this coat don’t lie flat down the front, and the shadows cast by the lapels make the man’s chest look hollow. The coat hangs like it’s too big and nobody cared to pin it. Whereas in Baron's images, the bare-bones minimalism worked, here the same aesthetic looks under-thought and under-inspired. The result is boring.

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

Another fashion personage supping from the black-and-white cup this season? Patrick Demarchelier. The iconic photographer had an editorial in November’s Italian Vogue with models Mariacarla Boscono and Anja Rubik where the nearly all-black styling, plain white studio set with angled walls, and dramatic spot lighting all point to the same originating idea as the Calvin Klein campaign. But Demarchelier is enough of a creative mind to push the edges of the concept just enough to spread it over some different ground.

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

Gone is any attempt to make the models look 'natural': their poses are exaggerated, their torsos and legs twist and weave to bizarre effect. The shadows they throw are occasionally grotesque, and the weird black shapes on the walls play with the same ideas of scale as the built-up shoulders, jutting collars, and rigid teacup peplums of the clothes.

Calvin Klein, TSE, & Originality In Fashion: Not So Black & White

Hair is a frizzed bowl cut in bleach blonde (Rubik) or jet black (Boscono); makeup an ungodly pallor etched with mannequinish black lines at the jaw and lips. It all feels a little stagey, but that is the point: Demarchelier is reminding us that everything we see in the pages of a fashion magazine is artifice. Any magazine is an experience engineered by the conscious aesthetic choices of hundreds of individuals, and the same hours of of styling, hair, makeup, and post-production go into a 'natural' Steven Meisel editorial as into one where the models look like aliens experienced in posing. There is nothing natural about it. I think Demarchelier’s adjusted reflection of Fabien Baron’s campaign is a welcome contribution to the fashion discourse.

To me, this is a perfect example of fashion's hot-house idea-sharing — how an idea as old as the sun (black and white) is made to seem new again in an ad with weird styling and solid photography, inspires an old hand to take up the idea and add something new to it outside the realm of advertising, all while other brands move to piggyback and do so with less skill than the original. That's the fashion cycle, right there.