In a world awash in semi-naked selfies and DIY fashion photography, do commercial images of undressed women still have the power to titillate and enthrall?
The question is more than just academic for the lingerie industry, which relies heavily on glossy, sexed-up imagery to reel in customers. All those lookbooks and marketing campaigns are expensive to produce, and brands today have to weigh those costs against the shrinking retail market that most promotional efforts are designed to support.
No brand knows this better than Aubade, the esteemed Parisian label that has made glamorous photography a core piece of its DNA — through its seasonal campaigns, its coveted annual calendar and the ongoing portrait series called ‘Lessons of Seduction’, now numbering more than 180.
RELATED: Aubade Marks 20 Years of Seduction
The calendar is the centrepiece of Aubade’s marketing and the company typically recruits some of the world’s leading fashion photographers for the task. Now in its 24th year, the calendar has until recently been a treasured collectible only available to customers who purchase Aubade’s lingerie in their branded shops or from retail partners worldwide. That element of exclusivity drove sales and heightened the label’s cachet as a luxury brand — and even created a brisk aftermarket in pirated copies of the calendar.
But time and technology have overtaken that business model, and the storied Aubade calendar now serves as both clickbait and desktop wallpaper after the company began releasing it as a free download a couple of seasons ago. Even the illegal resale market has dried up, though you can still find copies on EBay for about $30.
The company acknowledged the changing times last year when it began showcasing the calendar’s highlights on illuminated billboards at Paris bus stops, encouraging fans to share the audacious images on their social media feeds. And one of the coy “lessons” accompanying the 2016 calendar was “Dépasser les 100,000 likes” (surpass 100K likes) under an image of a model holding a cellphone — a sly suggestion that romantic attention is akin to social media popularity.
But it takes more than clever wordplay — another Aubade signature — to keep eyes glued to the screen these days. For 2017, the company coaxed legendary lensman Ali Mahdavi to shoot its fall campaign, which supplied many of the images for this year’s calendar. (The calendar’s instantly iconic cover shot features the St. Tropez shorts from Aubade’s new bondage chic range Entrevue Secrète, inspired by the Marquis de Sade himself.)
It also includes a rare full-colour image for December to acknowledge its stunning collaboration with couture designer Christian Lacroix, who contributed two vivid floral prints for the brand’s Idylle Parisienne range.
And lest you think all of this is trop French to play overseas, Aubade offers some fun for Anglophone customers with a January caption (“Passer la nuisette ensemble”) that turns into a cute pun (“Spend the nightie together”) when translated into English.
The leçon here? Times may change, but after nearly a quarter of a century Aubade’s inimitable visual style and its playful approach to romance really haven’t aged a bit.
2017 AUBADE CALENDAR