Agent Provocateur’s latest campaign celebrates the strength in femininity, while raising questions about the places of beauty and sexuality in feminism.
The British lingerie brand recruited four elite athletes – Canadian pole-vaulter Alysha Newman, American climber Sasha DiGiulian, British gymnast Georgia-Mae Fenton, and American hurdler and sprinter Queen Harrison Claye – to model an assortment of sexy underwear. Heightening the unexpectedness of the two apparently disparate elements of athletics and lingerie coming together is the fact that these athletes are captured in action: on the field, at the gym, in the air.
Yet while they are somewhat surprising, the images never feel forced or unnatural. The athletes were given the choice of what they wanted to wear. Photographer Charlotte Wales brings her expert compositional eye to capturing them as they confidently run, climb, flex, and stretch, light glistening off of muscles or framing them in such a way that they almost look like goddesses. The photographs are undeniably powerful and beautiful.
But there is an undeniable sexuality here as well, one that borders on overt objectification. While these women’s bodies have an inherent, self-determined value in terms of fitness or athletics, the campaign seems in one sense to conflate this strength with a socially determined and by now antiquated idea of women as mere sex objects. The accompanying film, also directed by Wales, seems especially guilty of this, with its corny soundtrack and closeup shots of boobs and butts. Perhaps these women are presented not as goddesses, but as trophies… When does a depiction of beauty and sexuality become mere objectification? Do all ideas of femininity have a place in feminism?
Under the guidance of creative director Sarah Shotton, Agent Provocateur is brilliant and brave to raise these questions, and perhaps to begin to answer them. It is also hugely important that the campaign features quotes from the athletes, recognizing that each body also has a voice. The fashion world and culture in general are rapidly developing in their ideas of femininity and feminism, and these two historically distinct ideas may be moving closer to each other. While there are certainly still many obstacles, progress is being made. This campaign forms an important part of that conversation.
Agent Provocateur Creative Director | Sarah Shotton
Agency | Look Studios NY
Director/Photographer | Charlotte Wales
Director of Photography | Mathieu Plainfossé
Talents | Queen Harrison-Claye, Alysha Newman, Georgia-Mae Fenton, & Sasha Digiulian
Stylist | Charlotte Collet
Hair | Kiyoko Odo
Makeup | Jen Myles
Manicurist | Adam Slee
Casting Director | Rosie Vogel
Production Designer | Laura Sabat
Editor | William Town at Modern Post
Production | Iconoclast TV
Colour Grade | Cheat