Monday, December 30, 2013

The Stench of Dead Celebrities

Like a modern day Cole Sear "I see dead people". Only it's not in the real world (well…), but on my TV screen and when leafing through the latest glossies. No, it's not my Sixth Sense coming through. It's just that perfume and beauty companies (and not only) have been using famous people long deceased like crazy lately. Is this a symptom of an ephemeral star system that self-mutilates by creating vulgar scandal after scandal and lacks the distance necessary to create glamor or is it something else?

miniature porcelain skulls via Pinterest originally

I wrote a longer piece on Fragrantica exploring just this link between dead celebrities and pivotal commercials that use them. You can consult it at this link and feel free to comment there or here. I'd be interested in your views.


  1. Excellent article, Elena, I chose to comment here rather than Fragrantica. Yes, I'm tired of dead celebrities and poor Marilyn in particular, but I think their images are used as part of the culture of celebrity worship that the US is currently marinating in and exporting to the rest of the world. It's cheaper, as you pointed out so well, to use dead images and it certainly takes less creativity to design an ad campaign that way. The art and beauty of vintage print advertising for perfume is gone. Heck,the beautiful and talented fashion models that used to grace magazine covers and all forms of advertising - sometimes becoming "stars" in their own right - are largely gone, replaced by the flavor of the month celebrity face. Of course, in the case of magazines, said celebrity is usually launching a fashion, makeup or perfume line that's paying big advertiser bucks to said publication. I am fine with Marilyn's association with Chanel #5 because it makes sense. I don't understand using her for Dior J'Adore TV ads at all. I live in the Midwest US, a rural area where we only get televised perfume advertising during the holidays, and it's always the same; while Charlie and Natalie Portman are fine for Dior, isn't it time for some new ads? Charlize has been strutting that same catwalk for years...but I digress. It's time, past time, for some new creativity in advertising that doesn't rely on these recycled images. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening anytime soon. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

  2. i wonder if some of the impetus for the rash of deceased celebrity images in perfume marketing has to do with the desert of vulgarity in current celebrities...

    i'm sure that there are some interesting, even perhaps elegant and intelligent pop personages out there, but what gets plastered across the internet and magazines tends to be the brashest, most abysmal exemplars. a general falling-off of social graces exacerbates the pervasive sense of living in less than glamorous times. reaching backwards for icons of style and a classier type of sexiness may make a certain sense?

    i'd like to see a return to more imaginative, original, and truly beautiful imagery and styling in visual media for marketing. i think i'm not alone, given the surge of interest in previous movements such as arts and crafts or art nouveau/secessionist works, which gave us some very beautiful advertising imagery.

  3. I tend to agree with nofixedstars - many celebrities today are brash, vulgar and not necessarily who we want to be, only who we want to judge. Dead celebs indiscretions become distant memory and only their "class, beauty and charm" are remembered making them a foil against the Miley's of the world.

  4. Anonymous05:58

    I think that glamour still sells perfume better than anything, even though American culture (by and large) has ceded glamour to reality. Apparently we like our stars a little varnished, with faults and making mistakes. In fact we seem to have an unending appetite for human frailty, whether via reality tv, gossip mags, or morning talk shows... But our perfume? That is totally a different matter. So, where to find glamour?

    After all, "You know as well as I do, those jewels are fake."

    "Well I'm not."


  5. Anonymous10:49

    Oh yes, I do so agree with nofixedstars.

    There is just not much classiness around nowadays - no matter who you look at. And I don`t mean only the outside shell.

    You Elena, are for sure classy.

    Greetings from Vienna.

  6. I loved the article! You made many entertainingly put and excellent points.
    Additionally, you actually said something nice about Courtney Love. That blew me away. I had never known that she was so vigilant about safeguarding her husband's memory so I liked it when you said,
    "Of course not all celebrities are ripe for exploiting. Courtney Love, praise be with her gritty exploration of pop culture in its many avenues, has always put a protective mantle around the image of her former late husband, Kurt Cobain."
    How fine; a person with ethics when it comes to "using" other people!
    xox jean

  7. Hiya all.
    On the whole there is a lack of magic with the current crop of celebs but we've had some good celebs too, Kiera Knightly for CHANEL and though Charlize is not new for DIOR there is a woman who has faced trials and gone through to become an icon. I think the newest girl (as yet unused) Jennifer Lawrence is a pretty good role model this far.
    Eric Bana is not a bad boy but he also did some lovely work for Bulgari last year.
    Though I am not a fan of Robert Pattinson his was earnest and very dedicated to creating something interesting and lasting for his DIOR shoot.
    I also think that the big guns are doing some spectacular works with their advertising, can you forget the Versailles series by DIOR, the balloon series by Vuitton and others that haven't popped to mind.
    I can't wait to see the images that 2014 has in store for us.
    Thanks for making me think.
    Portia x

  8. Maria06:37

    I'm not sure I'm convinced.

    First and foremost, is it really so bad to use dead celebrities' images? How does it hurt them? If surviving family is fine with it (I assume, the Monaco family had to be consulted with?), it's definitely fine with me. Nobody's being degraded in any way here. They are part of word cultural heritage now. Those ads refer to the public image of celebs, not their personal life, and fame - public image - was their life's work, like Sistine chapel was Michelangelo's (not a perfect example, just to give the idea). We don't speak of exploitation when images of famous sculptures or paintings are used, do we? I believe the reactions are so strong because not that much time has passed, and we have moving images, voices and detailed biographies of those celebs, so it makes us feel more of a personal connection to them. Of which in fact there is none. Or do I miss something?

    Besides... Business side of it is crucial, I agree here, but I think that's not all. Both Monroe and Dietrich consciously exploited their looks, these ads only do what they did themselves. Marilyn might have been a good actress (personally, I don't think she was), but even she presented herself as a beauty more than an artist, whatever she said. Think of her Korean tour: did she really have to sing in those revealing dresses? Piaf never needed to show cleavage to perform... I think it is one of the reasons they were chosen: those women (and men! didn't Delon exploit his handsome face?) were a specific kind of celebs, a lot of their fame was about the look. Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and, say, Peter O'Toole were no less famous, so why not them? Because even Garbo built her career on a different basis, though she had a distinctive personal style. Or so I think. I can't imagine Bette Davis on a perfume ad these days.

    I also think there's something else. I'm not that culturally savvy, but still... I don't see that this decade has a distinctive recognizable look and style, the way 80s, 90s, 70s or any preceding had. I try to keep an eye on all things style, and I still don't see it. There seems to be no unique defined ideal image for a woman or a man. It looks like a mishmash, hence no defined message other than "diversity rules", and that's no ground for marketing campaign for a product. Besides, aesthetically, hodgepodge is seldom acceptable. So they go for a clear idea, repeating images of success, ambitions and sex, which together sums up into glamour, from times past, so welcome Grace and Marilyn. Current decade doesn't have a face, at least yet.

    Sorry for writing that long. Early rise on Jan 1 gives you some free time while everybody else is asleep :) And thank you for this post, it really got me thinking. Which I love :-D

  9. Anonymous21:34


    I love the picture you chose to accompany your article. Where do you find this stuff??

    Here in Canada we see an abbreviated version of the Dior commercial-i had no idea Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich were in it. I didn't understand why all of a sudden there was this weird image of MM, with her misshapen mouth, cradling a fragrance crested longafter her death. The version you showed makes much more sense.

    I think i read that Susan Strasberg had fallen on hard times due to illness, and sold her MM rights to another person. So it's ironic that otentially someone who never met nor cared for MM is earning big bucks from her image. It sinks-MM was all about intellectual copyright, and she did not want to be made a joke of. i am not so sure she would have done a fragrance commercial . She was an artist, a producer, a champion of human rights-I think that if she had lived she would have gone from strength to strength, and left the little girl lost persona behind.

    Thank you for the thought provoking article,



Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin