Shoemaker Glamour

Vuitton-shoeThis full page image appears next to an ad for Louis Vuitton shoes which is titled, “The Craftsman with his Brush.” A better title might be, “A model in a photographer’s studio pretends to be a craftsman with his brush.”

Part of the ad text reads, “But other qualities remain unseen: the craftsman’s skill and the simple elegance of his gestures, repeated so often and precisely. Not forgetting the final touch: a coat of dark paint to protect the sole and enhance the beauty of every step.”

If we take this photo at face value, it’s a difficult job to get. You have to be stunningly handsome, have great hair, and never ever get the dark paint on your hands. The job is made harder by the lighting conditions, a single light source (reflected in the glass jars) that makes you look artistic and soulful, but makes seeing what you are doing difficult. Apparently you’re only allowed to wear dark clothes, to go with the black walls. At least they’ve given you a nicely stained work table, though you’re never allowed to get paint on that either.

In some senses this glamorous image is harmless, as long as we recognize that it is an fabricated illusion designed to make us feel beautiful with every step, provided we wear Louis Vuitton shoes. But as Elizabeth Wilson pointed out in Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, the fashion industry has a long history of exploiting workers, and an image such as this does not convince me that applying paint to the soles of shoes has now become a glamorous job. I appreciate craftsmanship, but the craftsmanship displayed here is a photographer’s, not a shoemaker’s.