Media Monday: Jean Paul Gaultier’s Designs at Target

We’re trying something new at Hathor starting this week: having a short post on Mondays with some kind of media, a transcript of it, and an invitation to discuss. Conveniently enough for me, reader ACW sent us a link to a video promoting Target’s upcoming Jean Paul Gaultier clothing line just in time for me to watch it over and over and over for transcription purposes. The video is on the Target website, and can be reached by following this link and clicking the text that says “looks >”.

For those who can not or prefer not to view the video, a fairly comprehensive transcript/summary follows:

The video begins with some upbeat music in a sort of mainstream techno style. Over a black screen, white letters appear spelling out “Which Muse Are You?”

The screen fills with small black-and-white snapshots of models wearing the clothing being advertised. One image moves toward the viewer and expands. Text appears to the side saying “[muse #1] / Punk / [you are] / provocative / feisty / impulsive”.

The image shifts to a color view of the model in the photo in a white room as lyrics are sung over the music. A female voice sings the words “don’t need a dance floor” and the model begins to dance. She is a young, slender, white woman with short, blonde hair. She is dressed in patterned tights, black boots, a black miniskirt and top, and a leather jacket. She is smiling and posing for the camera. She continues to dance, moving to the music and kicking her feet. The lyrics are “I’m gonna dance.”

The camera closes in on the model’s face briefly, and there are some transition effects before she walks off screen in the first outfit and back on in a second. Now she wears gray tights, black boots, a black miniskirt and vest, and a white t-shirt with a screen-printed design of a stylized woman’s face. The lips are red sequins. She dances and poses again as the camera focuses alternately on her entire body, her face, and specific details of the outfit.

The video returns to the screen full of black-and-white snapshots, and another is pulled out of the group and enlarged. The text this time reads “[muse #2] / Holly / wood / Glam / [you are] / glamorous / sophisticated / breathtaking”.

Now the screen shows a young, slender woman with light brown skin and long, loose dark hair (I didn’t read her as white, but I think it wouldn’t be difficult to do so) wearing a yellow sundress and black, high-heeled sandals. The lyrics “I’m gonna dance” play again as this model begins to move to the music. Her dancing style is less aggressive than the first model’s. She soon walks off screen and then back on, now wearing a fitted black dress with a blue bodice and another pair of high-heeled sandals. The singer’s voice says “dance” as the model poses in this second outfit.

The video goes back to the black-and-white photos. The highlighted photo this time is accompanied by text reading “[muse #3] / Ingénue / [you are] / innocent / coy / charming”. Once again the camera shows a young, slender white woman. Her light brown, long hair is pulled back. She wears a black miniskirt and pinstriped blazer, a white blouse, white knee-socks, and black and white sneakers.

The lyrics “I’m gonna dance” play as she starts to move. Transition effects show multiple versions of the same young woman as the camera changes focus. She chews bubble gum, twirls her hair, and blows a bubble. She walks off screen and then on in a new outfit, this time a black skirt, white spaghetti-strap top, and dark, multi-colored cardigan which a white stripe. Her hair is braided. She wears the same shoes and socks.

The camera pans back and we can see the model’s entire body. What appear to be white pocket liners, or perhaps the tails of her shirt, are just visible beneath the edge of her miniskirt. Her dancing is accompanied by indistinct lyrics. (I thought I heard “give me the what / give me the you”.)

The screen returns to the black-and-white portraits. The text accompanying a portrait now is “[muse #4] / Hip / Hop / [you are] / confident / artistic / lyrical”. The singer repeats the word “you” in different tones as a young, slender, Black woman appears in the white room. She wears a tan trench-coat, black leggings, black boots, and a black leather ball-cap. She dances, showing the camera the jewelry around her neck, to the lyrics “don’t need a dance floor”.

The lyrics “I’m gonna dance” play, and the model moves toward the camera out of view, then reappears in a different outfit. Now she wears colored tights, brown boots, a black miniskirt, a short-sleeved brown leather jacket with patterned long sleeves underneath, and a gray cap. The lyric “dance” is repeated several times as she moves.

Again, the screen returns to the black-and-white portraits. The text beside the enlarged portrait this time is “[muse #5] / Rock / ‘n’ Roll / [you are] / rebellious / electric / thrill-seeking”. The model is a slender, young, white woman with blonde hair pulled into a french twist. She wears black, high-heeled ankle boots, semi-sheer calf-length leggings, a black miniskirt, and a black-and-white striped tank top. The lyric “you” is repeated several times as she dances and poses for the camera. This model does not have a second outfit.

The screen returns to the black-and-white portraits, but this time the large portrait is of a man, identified by text nearby as Jean Paul Gaultier. He is shown in black-and-white behind a camera, filming the first model and giving instruction. He approaches her and adjusts her hairstyle. She embraces him and he lifts her off the ground as they turn in a circle. The indistinct lyrics from before repeat. (Give me the something give me the something else? I am still clueless.) The ad closes with a final image of the black-and-white photos.

So much for the media! Now on to the discussion.

On the bright side, this ad shows these young models being happy and energetic in their clothes. They don’t look like they’re drugged, or, you know, dead. Not that I have anything against that advertising trend. *cough* And though seeing anything actually marketed as “punk” always makes me flinch, the outfits that have been put together are interesting and, for the most part, fairly different from one another even when they share certain pieces in common, allowing for some individuality.

Less positive, in my mind, is seeing that apparently no matter what “muse” you are, chances are good that you’re still going to end up wearing a black miniskirt at some point. Also, you must be young and very thin. And preferably white. And, as ACW said when she sent us the link, “will someone *please* give a black woman a spot in an ad without designating her style as ‘hip-hop’ or ‘urban’?”

Also, who is this ad aimed at? I find the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” outfit’s clear callbacks to Madonna’s early look really fun and entertainingly nostalgic (and also entertaining because Gaultier was, of course, one of the people who designed Madonna’s look), but I am preeeetty sure that people in my age group are not actually the target market for these clothes, which seem to be designed for the “juniors” department (aka, teenagers).

But there’s plenty beyond those things to discuss and unpack here. What do you think? What do you like? What do you hate? And how does this ad compare to similar media?


  1. Anemone says

    Muse? Isn’t a muse someone who inspires other people to do great things rather than someone who does great things herself? Something like “free spirit” might have worked better for me.

  2. says

    @ Dana – I’ve got no idea, sorry! Maybe someone else will recognize the sound.

    @ Anemone – You’re right, that is a weird choice of term. If you click on the text that says “inspiration >” at the Target page, there’s a little blurb about “American Muse Inspiration” and how Gaultier was inspired by “the American woman” when designing this line of clothes. Which, okay, makes sense, but then why are the finished products still for muses?

    Having inspired Gaultier to make her some new clothes, is The American Woman just going to find the next artist to inspire? I’d think she’d want to get coffee or something in her fancy new outfit, at least, before getting right back to work being an inspirational ideal.

  3. Jillian says

    Preferably white? Nearly half this woman in this commercial aren’t white. I have to say, even though I’d probably also personally prefer something like “free spirit” that confers agency, it’s rare and uncommon to refer to WOC as “muses” (even though there is clearly a long history, including in the fashion world, of white U.S. culture finding black U.S. culture inspiration). Historically, we’re only considered muse-able in very small subset of society (e.g., hip hop culture). I found it interesting that at least one of the WOC was Hollywood Glam, since that tends to be as white a construct as ingenue, punk and rock.

  4. says

    Which, okay, makes sense, but then why are the finished products still for muses?

    Hmm. A muse is a sort of mythical help-maker. She doesn’t actively participate, she stays behind the scenes, she helps someone else get his groove thang on, and then he gets the credit. Sounds like a perfect job for us gals! /sarcasm

    And LOLOL at your last paragraph there.

  5. says

    Regarding the ‘why muse’ question: I gather from various sources that fashion designers like to pick a particular live model and design all their clothes to fit her. There is a recent fad to refer to this model as a muse, on the ground that she ‘inspires’ his designs. Young women whose highest aspiration in life is to wear the very pinnacle of fashion all the time hope to be chosen as some designer’s muse.

    So the question “Which muse are you?” is aspirational. It translates as “Which ‘muse’ would you like to be? Which style of clothing do you wish you could wear all the time as your only occupation?”

  6. says

    @ Jillian – That’s a really good point. I was kind of on the fence about reading that particular model as a woman of color or white, myself (and I think arguments about presentation could go either way), but seeing her as both WOC and “Hollywood Glam” is something new and interesting, definitely.

    In terms of my “preferably white” comment, I do think there’s something to that. The very definitely Black woman who represents “Hip Hop” is the only model whose hair is covered, for example, which means that all of the visible hair in the commercial is straight and/or straightened, which is part and parcel of the tendency to default to white in our cultural constructs of beauty.

    But I’d really like to hear more about your thoughts on that, and on the Hollywood glam thing.

    @ Jenn – Well, I try. 😉

    @ Kathmandu – Oh, thanks for that! Learning something new every day, I do it. Though I’m afraid that it just transfers my “wtf, why idealized muse rather than active person?” issue to the community of fashion designers at large, rather than just the framing of this one promotional campaign.

    What are your thoughts about the term “muse” used in that way?

  7. ACW says

    I’m so happy you posted this!

    Interesting read on the whole Muse thing, which I missed. I absolutely agree.
    The clothing line is marketed to Juniors’ sizes, ages… 13-19? So… Gaultier was so inspired by the ‘American Woman’ that he honored her by creating overly mature clothing for our daughters?

    The first time I saw this ad, I was utterly confused. By the time I figured out who the line of clothing is for, I had viewed the video three times. It was kind of like a train wreck, in that I couldn’t stop watching the horror.
    …and, yes, with the third ‘muse’, those are her shirttails peeking out below her hemline…

    Only one of the five models escaped having to wear 3″ heels, and instead wears sneakers and kneesocks, a’ la schoolgirl uniform. The only model who would be able to run/jump/squat… in other words, be *active* in any way… is subsequently hindered by a miniskirt without leggings.
    I guess *this* is my problem with teens’ fashion… they’re pushed into dressing or acting beyond their years, to be eye candy, and to restrict their movement with short hemlines and/or heels.
    (aaarrghh!) At this point, I’d like to throw a spiked heel at Gaultier’s balding head.

    Let’s examine all the adjectives our daughters should aspire to be, per this ad:
    provocative: perhaps in thought and discussion, not so much physically

    feisty: this word isn’t even in my vocabulary, having purged it once I realized, to some, it is synonymous with “having the audacity to express any sort of opinion”

    impulsive: okay, sure, but a little forethought is merited

    glamorous: even at the upper end of Juniors’ range, I wouldn’t want my daughter to identify with this word, in that it has a connotation of being worldly; can we save glamor for some time after a bachelor’s degree?

    sophisticated: worse than glamorous, in that ‘sophisticated’ to teenage girls usually means trying to act older than they are

    breathtaking: all right, *I* think my daughters are breathtaking, but that doesn’t mean I want some 60-yr-old lech describing them this way

    innocent: as in, naive?

    coy: oh, good lord; aside from the inappropriate sexual innuendo associated with this word… I hope my daughters will be as direct and outspoken as I am!

    charming: manners are a good thing, but this edges alongside ‘pleasing’ and ‘loss of self’

    confident: YES!

    artistic: sure, but how about something active?

    lyrical: okay, I got it; confidently sit around drawing and writing… (also, note the Black model is described with three of the less-threatening adjectives; heaven forbid we should show a rebellious or feisty Black model…)

    rebellious: this, I’m okay with, as long as it’s not rebelling when I ask that she not date a 60-yr-old lech, mmkay? Otherwise, heck yeah, down with the system and all that jazz

    electric: huh?

    thrill-seeking: as long as those thrills are on the soccer field or on the stage or hitting the books, okay… not so much the hitchhiking, drug-swallowing, self-destructive kind

  8. says

    @ Revena – I think the fashion industry is glamorizing modeling work and commercializing the idea of a muse.
    I actually think of the muse/artist relationship as a fairly powerful creative force, and it annoys me to see it cheapened this way.
    Besides, I don’t believe these designers are being inspired anyway (really? ALL muses wear miniskirts?); they’re just making whatever weird designs they want, and then claiming they’re being ah-tees-tic.

  9. says

    @ ACW – I live to serve. 😉 Well, not really. But I do like to pass on links and information, which is close enough, in this case!

    I think what you did there with analyzing the individual words used to describe the “muses” is a really revealing approach. Whether or not one feels that the words focusing on sexuality are too mature for the target audience of the clothes, they’re problematic. “Coy,” in particular, makes my teeth grind. Especially because it was paired with the model who was doing the hair-twirling, “childish” behavior. Creepy Humbert Humbert vibes, amirite?

    @ Kathmandu –

    I actually think of the muse/artist relationship as a fairly powerful creative force, and it annoys me to see it cheapened this way.


  10. ACW says

    “Especially because it was paired with the model who was doing the hair-twirling, “childish” behavior. Creepy Humbert Humbert vibes, amirite?”

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