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A D V E R T I S E M E N T V 1I S U A L A N A L Y S I S


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Choice of Advertisement Introduction Sophie Dahl and Empowerment of Women Renaissance References The Photographers View The Male ‘Gaze Conclusion

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Yves Saint Laurent Opium

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I chose the infamous Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume advert for analysis, based upon its intriguing cultural references and voluptuous nature which raised controversial responses and furore. This analysis will deconstruct the brand and imagery of the advertisement, furthermore looking into the themes (social and cultural), styling, photography and the target market of the fragrance advert.

To begin with, a theme raised by the advertisement is the social dilemma of the sexual explicitly and nudist nature of the image. The fragrance advertisement that featured a naked Sophie Dahl received 948 complaints when it was published in the year 2000 (Sowray, 2012). It was said the image was too sexually suggestive and unsuitable to be seen by children. The French fashion houses advertisements of red-headed Dahl was named as the eighth mostcomplained about in the last 50 years in a new survey released by the Advertising Standards Agency (Sowray, 2012). The result further entailed the advert being removed from billboards, but still allowed to be used in appropriate magazines.

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“I wanted someone who looks like she’s had too much of everything: too much food, too much sex, too much love. I mean, this is a woman who doesn’t deny herself anything.” 6


Nonetheless, the advertisement was also seen as promoting the Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) brand image of elegance, mystique and an indescribable power to women. Dahl who modelled the fragrance advert commented “I think the photograph is beautiful... it was seen as being antiwomen, when in fact I think it is very empowering to women.” As Dahl said, at first the image could be seen as ‘antiwomen’, through the sexual nature of the image making it seem as alluring a male audience, dehumanising and objectifying the woman. Yet, the products target market is aimed for a female audience and in further detail the ad is creating an expression of female empowerment, through wearing YSL ‘Opium’. The advert put forward social themes such as female domination. ‘The crisis of masculinity’ can also be referred to through the image putting forward the idea of females taking on masculine roles for themselves in postmodern society today. The subject (a woman - Sophie Dahl) is aware of

being seen by a spectator (Berger, 1973), thus she is in control of the spectator and the situation she constructs. The negative features of the advert undoubtedly would involve the furore from the nature of the ad, to which raised excessive complaints. The advert nonetheless shows positive features through this female liberation and empowerment. ‘Opium’ – which was first launched in 1977 - remains one of YSL’s best-known scents. The controversial technique of advertising was a success.

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Subsequently, the advertisement indefinitely puts forward other themes such as cultural influences. The styling of the ad creates Dahl to look like a pale skinned, red-headed renaissance woman. Although the red hair may have been inspired from the reddishbrown colour of the Opium drug, extracted from the opium poppy. Her pose could denote her ‘recline in ecstacy’ (Whitworth, 2011) from the drug. The 16th century Renaissance in France, a period in Europe’s cultural history yields its own distinct influences on the piece. In reference to figures 1-3, renaissance paintings and artwork, it is noticeable

that the mannerism and posturing of the women are very similarly styled in the YSL advert. The women’s hair all tend to be the same recognisable reddish colour, their skin fair and their extremely feminine, wanton, ‘plus-size’ (Whitworth, 2011) body shapes. In the renaissance pieces women wear accessories such as bracelets, headwear such as crowns or arm bracelets – the woman in ‘Opium’ similarly remains unclothed apart from some jewellery and a pair of heels, posing seductively. In renaissance paintings women and couples either wear fig-leaves or make a modest gesture with their hand, similarly with this seductive type

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gaze. Their shame is firstly described in earlier times as no so much in relation to one another as to the spectator. Later the shame becomes a kind of display (Berger, 1973), this of which can be recognised also in the YSL ‘Opium’ advertisement, the woman works upon the fact she is being spectated. The renaissance references create an interest and positive feature to the ad; it isn’t just a model seductively posing alike many other perfume advertisements. The piece has various stories and connotations which furthermore created such an impact on society with its controversial viewpoints.


The photography of the advertisement firstly reflects the intent of photographer, Stephan Meisel in 2000. He had said of his inspiration for the shoot “I wanted someone who looks like she’s had too much of everything: too much food, too much sex, too much love. I mean, this is a woman who doesn’t deny herself anything.” This quote by the photographer on its own justifies every detail of the image, Dahl encapsulates Meisel’s envision perfectly. The fine details expresses this further; from the luxurious velvet underlay and what seems like draped silk-satin backdrop, to

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the deep royal blue colour of fabrication against her fair white skin and copper hair, the angle of the shoot, nature of her pose, body positioning and angles overall create a positive and effective imagery of what the photographer desired.


The subject of target audience of which was touched upon earlier in the analysis, it can be seen that the advertisement is intended for a male audience, due to its sexual attributes and conations from the naked female body. John Berger, nonetheless talks of the ‘male gaze’ in his book ‘Ways of Seeing’. He would describe the advertisement furthermore to always be exterior to ‘the man’ and the man’s presence. The target audience of the product is in fact female, thus by contrast, a woman’s presence Berger said expresses her own attitude to herself. He simplified this by saying: men act and women appear. “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” (Berger, 1973) The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female – the ‘male gaze’. Thus this would explain why the sexualising of the female in the advertisement is in fact being advertised through a ‘male gaze’ to women, not men.

In conclusion, through looking at my visual analysis of the Yves Saint Laurent ‘Opium’ advertisement it is clear the imagery has very successful and not so successful features. The advertisement very effectively took the interest of thousands of women since its launch it hit the market in 1977. Opium was said to be more than just a fragrance. It became an identity. Just as Chanel No. 5 being famously celebrated for its elegant, timeless and iconic characteristics – a woman who wore Opium signalled that her life was ride with exoticism and secrets. (Angela, 2009) The Yves Saint Laurent marketing machine fueled this image with print advertisements of the naked Sophie Dahl which furthermore promoted the impingent, exotic, powerful and audacious brand identity of YSL.

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References 1. Published by Bibby Sowray in The Telegraph, Wed, May 30, 2012 2. Published by Bibby Sowray in The Telegraph, Wed, May 30, 2012 3. Berger, J. (1973). Ways of seeing. 1st ed. London: British Broadcasting Corp. on Renaissance paintings page 49 4. Commented by Melissa Whitworth, The Telegraph, 04 November 2011 5. . Commented by Melissa Whitworth, The Telegraph, 04 November 2011 6. Berger, J. (1973). Ways of seeing. 1st ed. London: British Broadcasting Corp. 7. Berger, J. (1973). Ways of seeing. 1st ed. London: British Broadcasting Corp. 8. Posted on a blog by Angela on 22 June 2009

Books ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger ‘Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising’ by Judith

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Visual Analysis of YSL Opium Advert