Between the release of her 2010 feature SOMEWHERE and 2013’s THE BLING RING, director Sofia Coppola would keep her skills sharp by taking commission work that further established her influence in the commercial, music video, and fashion film realm. Her previous advertising work hinted at the harmonious synergy that her aesthetic could bring to fashion and luxury brands in particular, but her output during this three period would cement her inherent appeal in that arena.
CHRISTIAN DIOR: CITY OF LIGHT (2010)
Thanks to her reputation as a filmmaker who can coax career-best work from her cast members, Coppola can command some serious star power whenever she steps behind the camera– even when said production is for the latest Christian Dior perfume. Titled “CITY OF LIGHT”, her 2010 spot features established actress Natalie Portman and the up-and-coming Alden Ehrenreich slinking around the streets of Paris in elegant black-tie formalwear to the seductive strains of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus”. Coppola’s distinct aesthetic is immediately identifiable– soft light, lens flares, and ephemeral handheld camerawork rendered in feminine hues like blush and cream. The piece makes significant use of the idea of “the little black dress”, a hallmark of cosmopolitan female sexuality and mystique, while shots of Portman donning oversized sunglasses in the bath echo Coppola’s career-long exploration of celebrity and glamor.
H&M MARNI (2012)
To promote their 2012 collaboration with Italian fashion brand Marni, H&M commissioned Coppola to shoot a distinctive spot featuring young actress Imogen Poots on a moody summer night at a desert retreat amongst other beautiful people. Coppola recruits her SOMEWHERE cinematographer Harris Savides to lens the spot, once again incorporating lens flares, soft natural light and a lingering pace to imprint her distinct stamp. Several of her recurring thematic fascinations make an appearance here, wrapped up in the unmistakable iconography of California-cana: Palm trees, pools, and the back seats of cars. “MARNI” had a high-profile rollout for a commercial, earning prominent placement and critical coverage that would position the spot as one of Coppola’s most iconic.
MARC JACOBS: “DAISY PERFUME” (2013)
In 2013, Marc Jacobs enlisted Coppola to direct a spot titled “DAISY PERFUME”, featuring a group of young blondes frolicking barefoot in a sun-kissed field. The idea isn’t exactly novel, but Coppola nevertheless manages to make it distinctive by harnessing the feminine mystique of Peter Weir’s 1975 classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (as well as her own 1999 debut, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES) via the dressing of the girls in long white dresses that stand out against the pastoral scenery. The bright cinematography flares with natural light and an airy looseness while electronic music courses underneath on the soundtrack. “DAISY PERFUME” isn’t the most memorable spot Coppola has made, but it still bears the undeniable mark of her hand.
CHRISTIAN DIOR: LA VIE EN ROSE PERFUME (2013)
Coppola delivered her third spot for Christian Dior in 2013, working once again with Natalie Portman to promote the brand’s La Vie En Rose line of perfume. Set to a new rendition of the eponymous track made famous by Edith Piaf, the style of “LA VIE EN ROSE PERFUME” recalls the pastel color palette of blues, pinks, and creams that Coppola applied to MARIE ANTOINETTE. The natural sunlight flares into the frame, reflecting a casual and carefree approach to the camerawork, while a gauzy soft focus is employed to round off harsh edges. A fleeting reference to Federico Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA (1960), wherein Portman happily splashes around inside a fountain, is a particularly nice touch.
The feminine mystique that enshrouds Coppola’s aesthetic is embodied in the glamorous allure of Portman as well as the unattainable air of her celebrity. However, the effect isn’t as potent as it tends to be in her feature work– the mystique tends to diminish when it can be commodified as a tangible quality inherent in an item of clothing. With its seductive glimpses of the LA celebrity lifestyle– swimming pools, sunglasses, and classic cars– “LA VIE EN ROSE PERFUME” slides quite easily into place as yet another succinct example of her unique artistic signature.
PHOENIX: “CHLOROFORM” MUSIC VIDEO (2013)
For her first music video in nearly a decade, Coppola teamed up with her husband Thomas Mars to promote his band Phoenix’s new single “CHLOROFORM”. Like her video for The White Stripes’ “I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF”, “CHLOROFORM” is built around a very simple concept stretched out along the track’s length. Shooting in black and white with a slight rose tint, Coppola first shows the band performing in silhouette, the definition of their forms almost lost to the moody wells of shadow surrounding the edge of the frame. The bulk of the piece dedicates itself to a slow-motion dolly shot featuring young women watching from the audience. Their faces– juxtaposed in shallow focus against the bokeh of fuzzy light orbs– are twisted into varying expressions of rapture, heartbreak and awe, projecting a nuanced and dignified beauty that could only be realized by someone as well versed in the inner life of femininity as Coppola is. That being said, there’s something slightly odd (and maybe even amusing) about a director placing her husband on a pedestal for the worship and adoration of other young girls; a kind of winking in-joke to the nature of intimacy in the context of celebrity that could only come from the mind that devised SOMEWHERE.
Being the independently-minded auteur she is, Coppola isn’t necessarily the kind of filmmaker who can (or even should) stake her legacy on the box office performance of her feature work; her thematic interests and those of the megaplex crowd don’t exactly intersect. Besides providing her with a steady stream of income, the advertising arena proves crucial to her development as an artist because it gives her an opportunity to experiment while maintaining her influence within pop culture. Just as David Fincher helped to shape the distinct characteristics and conventions of the music video genre, so has Coppola’s unique style informed the legions of up-and-comers in the fashion film and branded content realm. Having worked at a production company that produced a substantial amount of fashion films in particular, I can tell you from personal experience just how much Coppola’s style has influenced the next generation of directors– no matter the content, each piece bore some kind of creative debt to her aesthetic. Her string of commercials and content during this three year period solidified her palpable influence, enabling her to weather the still-unfolding economic storm that would see the drastic drawdown of the mid-budget prestige pictures that enabled her rise.