Céline x Didion: The Classic Duo

© Copyright 2017 Diana Wrona, Ryerson University

Céline’s Progressive Campaign 2015

The conversation of visual culture is constantly growing as new realms and advances of media are constantly being introduced and built upon, becoming more and more influential of the way we view the world surrounding. There are an abundance of social media platforms that influence the way we communicate with one another. There are icons and idols that we are able to stay connected with through this, giving us this sense of intimacy and interaction on a personal level. On television, there are breakthroughs of gender biases on newer shows being aired, and movies that challenge strict traditional and patriarchal ways of thinking. There are magazines that choose their cover girls based on personal successes instead of western beauty ideals. As a result, there is confidence and reassurance behind this move towards a future in which is more accepting and progressive.

One example that holds to be most striking to me is Céline’s 2015 campaign featuring a striking, 80 years lived, Joan Didion. The campaign involves an effortlessly chic Didion, sitting naturally on her couch in plain sight, in simple black attire, with a pair of black classically-large Céline sunglasses resting on the bridge of her nose. Throughout her career, Didion proves to be one of the most influential people of American culture, in literature first and foremost, but advancing towards the realm of feminist culture, and realism, and doing a great deal in the kickstart of the new realm of New Journalism.

80-year-old Joan Didion posing on couch in sunglasses for Céline campaign
Juergen Teller, Courtesy of Céline

I would like to discuss how Phoebe Philo’s vision of this campaign brought about the conversation of consumerism entering the established realm of literature and cerebral celebration, and its worthiness. I have hopes that the decision of this collaboration, in fact, goes beyond simple aesthetics, and focuses on a deeper tie between the elegant fashion brand and Didion that brought about this decision. Surrounding topics I will dissect are what does Céline stand for, in their branding, that resonates with the values of Joan Didion, finding her to be the perfect fit for this campaign? I will also ask how the debates around Joan Didion featuring in Céline’s 2015 campaign move to feed the fires against consumerist notions, as well as start a conversation surrounding the act of making excellence of character and profession a new sort of ideal.

Most importantly, I would like to raise the greater idea of this campaign providing society with a progressive approach in seeking role models with substance and success and morals that are held high along with their head. I would like to continue this focus to the view of interchangeability between creative realms. Introducing the idea of how one form of art, say literature, can be very much aligned and influential towards the next, say fashion, and how appreciation is drifting in and between each kind of art. Throughout the 2015 Céline campaign featuring a stunningly-aged Joan Didion, we find an inspiring dynamic between the realms of these two arts working together. This respective pairing is due to the fact that both can represent and speak to the same ideals and aesthetic of simplicity, and acceptance of things as they are. Reflective of the notion that art is still art, and how the presence of more than one art form within one work, can create fresh, new, and refreshing things that are made memorable.

Debate against Media and Consumer Culture

With the release of new campaigns, situating a new sense of branding, providing a message that goes against what you would normally see set across media platforms, there surely will be multiple stances on the situation. This first one I want to bring to question is the stance against consumer culture, ultimately viewing the Céline campaign as one that is grouped as superficial and lacking true substance as the rest of the campaigns are seen to be. This view is one that sees the involvement of Joan Didion in Céline’s 2015 campaign as one that in fact taints her reputation of a literary genius.

Elle Magazine made note of this position as well through their article written on the campaign stating, “When Joan Didion showed up in a Céline ad, the Internet erupted over the supposed commercialization of a literary genius. Is this a battle between the lit girls and fashion girls, or a collective identity crisis?” (Goodman). This argument was quite intriguing until I acknowledged that it is based off of laggards, and those that are a little more close-minded and held back than the greater, more progressive group of society.

Through an article on The Guardian providing a valid viewpoint on Didion being used to sell accessories, Freeman reveals that, “it’s depressing to see your idols used to sell expensive clothes. I’m going to be honest here: I hate advertising… advertising is not an art – it’s the act of trying to make people buy things they heretofore neither wanted nor needed” (Freeman). This viewpoint reveals a strong bias against visual culture, not wanting to see progression and give full approval where it is due. Those that are fans of Joan Didion first, are more connected to the art of literature, the importance of words, the strong grip of something they feel is more real and concrete than the rest of the world surrounding. It only makes sense that when mixing one’s favourite author with fashion, there is this hope that they are worth something more than this superficial, catty realm situated behind notions of consumerism and rapid change, as strict readers may see it.

Phoebe Philo: The Woman Behind the Campaign

Portrait shot of Phoebe Philo
Andrea Spotorno, “Phoebe Philo”

Céline’s redesign and rebranding can be accredited to the elegant and intelligent Phoebe Philo, who does not refrain from bringing about ideas that reflect her own feelings and cultural views at that time. This is brought to our attention through one of Philo’s past Vogue interviews, “‘My relationship with fashion is playful,’ Philo told Vogue in 2005, ‘and very expressive of what I’m feeling at the time’” (Berrington). This gives us insight into how each of her campaigns are curated, both carefully and with soul. Her work is directly representative of her morals and views towards all that is surrounding. With her new start at Céline in 2008 as creative director she reveals the foundation to her ideas when, “talking to Vogue about her vision for the label, she said: “I felt it was time for a more back-to-reality approach to fashion… For clothes that are beautiful, strong, and have ideas, but with real life driving them.” (Berrington). This view correlates directly to the people she chooses to have involved within her campaigns, along with the perspectives and use of imagery she confidently stirs together.

Joan Didion: Slouching Towards Céline

Philo’s vision proved to be more whole than one-sided, as the appearance of Joan Didion seemed to be more sensical than random, “Consider than Joan Didion might be the ultimate Céline woman: brilliant, creative, vaguely recalcitrant. Consider that she may have been Philo’s muse all along” (Codinha). Many magazines familiar with both sides of the duo, continued to rave about this perfect pairing, as Vogue’s Codinha demonstrates and continues, “come to think of it, of all the celebrity fashion campaign appearances, who better to represent Philo’s ideals—a certain ease of wear, simplicity of line, clothes that are assured, structured yet fluid, decidedly for the woman on the move—than Didion, the original chronicler of heartfelt experience, both her own and others’?” (Codinha). When taking note of this obvious correlation between these two strong-minded, caring women, what better factor to build a campaign on than resounding ideals and morality?

Joan Didion sitting in white car inspiring Céline's photo alongside
Photo: (from left) Julian Wasser, “The LIFE Images Collecion”: Getty Images; Tyrone Lebon, Courtesy of Céline

Continuing this rave of approval, The Atlantic writes of Didion always being present and active within the fashion realm as she also made many references to fashion in her writings, on a level of intimacy, revealing her closeness to art in all forms. Her ability to express her individuality within her works, extending outwards to that of her physical presentation through fashion, is what drew this approval of the campaign for the most part. Aesthetics are a key part of these campaigns as The Atlantic points out that, “A major part of the appeal of the Céline ad, surely, is how vintage Didion it is in its aesthetic. There she is, hiding in plain sight; in front of the camera and behind sunglasses, just the way we’ve seen her on the covers of so many books” (Lafrance). Always seeming to sport a large, bold pair of black sunglasses, Didion definitely was able to catch the eye of the company that invented the look to begin with.

Creative Realms Have No Boundaries

An interesting concept to note in addition to the reflective values both Didion and Philo clearly share, is the question of this campaign not only looking for someone representative of Céline’s vision, but perhaps also to join the movement of challenging the western beauty ideals that are present in advertising and media. Could an 80-year-old Joan Didion also be used to counteract beauty ideals of desired youth and smoothness of appearance? Through the imagery of an elder woman used to create a campaign that hones on a vintage aesthetic, we see their values fall further through through this notion of creating an ideal surrounding reality. Bringing about this idea of leaving such as is, hinting towards the use of minimal editing, allowing age to show and just be.

This allows the viewing audience to take what they want from it. People will always have an opinion, perhaps maybe that should be accepted and let be as well. Sometimes it is best to not seek solutions and adhere to words of distaste, but to do what you feel is necessary to you, allowing those around you to do the same. These ideas are reflected through the simplicity presented within the campaign: a woman with her over-sized sunglasses resting softly upon the bridge of her nose. There is good contrast created here through these large, seemingly heavy sunglasses sitting upon a soft, thinning layer of skin, in which is clearly dainty and delicate. Overall, the edits are very natural, and made vintage, allowing for the true essence of this elderly lady who is well-known and respected in society, to bring out the classic aesthetic of the sunglasses. The form of this media seems to have been created so as not to distract, just as Didion chooses her clothing the same in straying away from the risk of taking away from the importance of her profession and words. Didion works here as a perfect wearer of these sunglasses, proving its viability, its everydayness, this acquired need for these glasses that are just so good in themselves. People within the fashion realm may not know who Didion is, but they just could not deny that the aesthetic of this campaign is just so admirable and bold in its contrast to competing campaigns. This is the start of making excellence in profession and character a new ideal that has, in fact, been very long-awaited.


To conclude, there is this interchangeability and cohesiveness that is found throughout the creative realm. Through Céline’s 2015 campaign, designed by Phoebe Philo, featuring an elderly Joan Didion, we see how one form of art can be directly correlated to the next. We can also see how appreciation is drifting in and between each sort of art, as fashion and literature are seen working together here. Both can represent and speak to the same ideals because it all falls back to the creative who brought about these art forms in the first place. Art is art and the presence of more than one art form can create fresh and new and refreshing things that will be made memorable.

Visual culture allows for these art forms to come together and make use of each of their strengths, bringing people from different backgrounds together to create something like never before with these newfound resources. There has been so much progression within media and visual culture that is presented through campaigns such as this. Here’s to the move towards ideals that stretch beyond western beauty and youth. Beyond age and gender, and mere appearance, towards something more promising— character.

Works Cited

Berrington, Katie. “Phoebe Philo.” Vogue UK, 22 Apr. 2008, www.vogue.co.uk/article/phoebe- philo-biography. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

Codinha, Alessandra. “Céline Unveils Its Latest Poster Girl: Joan Didion.” Vogue, Outbrain, 6 Jan. 2015, www.vogue.com/article/joan-didion-celine-ad-campaign. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

Freeman, Hadley. “It’s great that Céline is celebrating Joan Didion – but to sell accessories?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 12 Jan. 2015, www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/jan/12/celine-joan-didion-literary-hero-fashion-advertisement. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

Goodman, Lizzy. “Who Owns Joan Didion?” Elle, Hearst Communications Inc., 27 Aug. 2015, www.elle.com/fashion/a29826/who-owns-joan-didion/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

Jacobs, Alexandra. “Joan Didion on the Céline Ad.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 7 Jan. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/fashion/joan-didion-on-the-celine- ad.html?_r=0. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

Lafrance, Adrienne. “Slouching Towards Bendel’s.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 16 Jan. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/01/slouching-towards- bendels/384496/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

McCartney, Stella. “The 100 Most Influential People: Phoebe Philo.” TIME, 23 Apr. 2014, time.com/collection-post/70824/phoebe-philo-2014-time-100/. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

She. “Joan Didion Showcases a New Form of Beauty in Celine Campaign.” She Canada, 7 Jan. 2015, shemagazine.ca/features/joan-didion-showcases-new-form-beauty-celine-campaign/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

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