In their boldest iterations, fashion and film – two creative disciplines with overlapping sensibilities – can harness imagination and memory to wondrous effect. Fantasies are created, worlds are constructed, extreme emotions are evoked. It’s no wonder, then, that fashion houses and clothing brands often enlist legendary filmmakers to help craft their campaigns.
While the commercial medium tends, of course, to be shorter, this constraint may tempt directors to deviate from the usual narrative conventions of feature film. More often than not, these filmmakers end up going for something quite chaotic, a bit melodramatic, and pleasantly off the wall.
While many are embracing scale and taking advantage of the massive budget at their disposal, others opt for simplicity and understatement (read: it’s all gone on the catering). Many directors will reunite with actors they have worked with before, finding freedom in an established artist/muse relationship. But in each author’s attempt to merge their own style with another brand’s ethos, there’s a small window into a vast and dynamic fashion world.
And so, from Scorsese for Chanel to David Lynch’s Jil Sander collaboration to Sofia Coppola on Dior, here are some of the most iconic designer-director connections, listed in order:
15. The Coen Brothers for Gap (2002)
For Joel and Ethan’s “Two White Shirts” Gap ad, screen legends Christina Ricci and Dennis Hopper manage to give us absolutely nothing and still look cool doing it. A short and sweet entry from the Co-Bros, but we’ve got bigger, better, and more esoteric stuff in store.
14. Michael Bay for Victoria’s Secret (2009)
This one actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it, but that doesn’t make it any less of a mirage. Yes, Michael Bay really ran a Victoria’s Secret campaign in 2009. The borderline satirical ad features the director’s deft editing, fiery explosions and a model *checks notes* strapped to a board as knives are thrown at her. It’s cinema, baby!
13. Jonathan Glazer for Burberry (2021)
Originally famous for his 2000s gangster flick starring Ray Winstone, British director Jonathan Glazer trades in a sexy beast for two more, enlisting Adam Driver and a huge tan horse. In a messy but inspired twist, this trippy take on the seaside perfume ad ends with the suggestion of a complete centaur transformation: God bless you, Adam the Stallion.
12. David Lynch for Jil Sander (1993)
Over the course of his career, David Lynch has produced a series of commercials for Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent, but this promo for Jil Sander’s “Background” perfume is the most typically Lynchian. The black lodgebut make it fashionable.
11. Martin Scorsese for Armani (1986)
Scorsese’s promo for Armani’s signature fragrance sees a proto-Patrick Bateman running out of his apartment to avoid a rejected lover, knocking over a bottle of perfume which artfully spills onto the floor below. A great mix of brooding 80s melodrama and preppy Wall Street glamour.
10. Giuseppe Tornatore for Dolce & Gabbana (2003)
Giuseppe Tornatore and Dolce & Gabbana have a long history of collaboration, forged by shared portrayals of generational Italian drama. D&G’s forever muse, Monica Bellucci, stars as the desperate widow in this beautiful short film and perfectly captures the tragicomedy inherent in Tornatore’s vision.
9. Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Chanel (2009)
French couturiers are renowned for their awe-inspiring shows, and their advertisements are certainly no different. With Audrey Tatou, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s sexy sleeper-train romance is a perfect synthesis of his own and the brand’s style, imbued with shimmering tones and a rich Parisian sensuality. In 2019, Jeunet disappointed the hopes of a Amelie followed with Tatou because, quite simply, “Paris is ugly now”. Sorry for this town, good luck booking that suite you’re talking about, etc.
8. Guy Ritchie for H&M x David Beckham Bodywear (2013)
The boxer brief may be dead and buried now, but David Beckham sprinting through Hollywood Hills in nothing but a khaki-green pair remains a defining image of early 2010s publicity. BBL’s current boom, Beck’s discontinued bodywear line could be due for a rebirth. Skims collab anyone?
7. Sofia Coppola for Dior (2008)
Sofia Coppola has long been a fashion darling. Notably, she interned at Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel while still in high school and met BFF Marc Jacobs at his controversial “grunge” show for Perry Ellis SS93. Coppola sprinkles her aesthetic magic on this campaign, with help from Natalie Portman. It’s a sweet
and hyper-feminine affair, as the actress tries her hand at couture, frolics through Paris and bathes with her sunglasses still on, all to the tune of Brigitte Bardot’s “Moi Je Joue” .
6. Robert Altman for Revlon (2005)
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in a starry dressing room. Well, thanks to the legendary Robert Altman, we don’t have to imagine anymore. The Ready to wear The director has assembled megawatt talent for his Revlon campaign, with Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth and Eva Mendes in the lead roles. According to creative director of advertising Robert Fontanelli, the video you see below is a less risque version endorsed by the cosmetics giant, not Altman’s original cut. In the lost edit, Berry drops her dress to the floor when changing, a moment that is awkwardly edited from the final scene. We say: release the tapes, immediately.
5. Joe Wright for Chanel (2011)
After the success of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, Joe Wright and Keira Knightley went back to it, this time for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume. Keira’s winning combo serving up biker-luxe in a nude suede jumpsuit and the Joss Stone cover of a James Brown classic makes it one of the most unforgettable fashion ads in recent memory.
4. Martin Scorsese for Chanel (2010)
The only director to make the list twice, Scorsese has also lent his talents to Chanel for its Bleu de Chanel men’s fragrance. Set in New York, the late Gaspard Ulliel plays a tortured actor, delivering a truly memorable performance with an iconic single line of dialogue. In a short sixty seconds, Scorsese launches into a subway chase scene, collapsing walls of traps, dozens of barking reporters and a crumbling wedding, all while referencing Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic. Explode. It’s safe to say Marty put all his Scorsussy into this one.
3. Jean-Jacques Annaud for Dior (2011)
Long before the fashion industry started using digital avatars as role models, Seven years in Tibet the director resurrected three screen legends for this very purpose. Charlize Theron tearing up the catwalk of a gilded French salon to the tune of Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” would surely have been enough to illustrate the energy of Dior’s J’adore. But the addition by Annaud of Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe (who has, it must be said, a terrifying face) brings everything up a notch. Lil Miquela has nothing on deepfake OG girls!
2. Michel Gondry for Levi’s (1993)
Throughout the 80s and 90s, the iconic denim label dominated the advertising landscape, with the help of London-based creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. In 1993, they hired Michel Gondry (head of Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind) for this future classic, where an anonymous teenager tries to secretly buy condoms from a local pharmacy. It’s the only entry that doesn’t feature a big-name actor, instead relying on a surreal and unforgettable mode of storytelling.
1. Baz Luhrmann for Chanel (2004)
Well, there could only be one winner. Billed as the most expensive ad of all time upon release, Baz Luhrmann’s Chanel No. 5 The film cost $33 million to manufacture. Starring Nicole Kidman, it’s a legendary Hollywood tale of forbidden love, and has since become a paradigm of modern extravagance – against which all incoherent luxury advertising is measured. “I’m a dancer,” screams Nicole’s depressed celebrity persona. “I love to dance!” Yes! We believe you, my daughter!
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