Europe has had a tough week. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union threw global markets, upended political stability, and triggered an existential crisis for Britons who considered themselves stewards of good sense. But the groan heard around the continent this morning wasn't about Brexit, it was the reaction to the news Brioni chose Metallica to be the grizzled face of its latest campaign.
When the venerable Italian menswear brand appointed Justin O’Shea, the street style habitué and former buyer for the e-commerce site MyTheresa as creative director in March, the choice seemed a natural fit: O’Shea is, after all, a man, and seems to have a preternatural intelligence of tailored vests. No matter that he had no design training or experience, in 2016 the job of creative director is about image. Truly, how much designing does the creative director of a major fashion house actually do? After all, Raf doesn’t sketch. Who’s to say that Simons, whose reported frustration with the lack of say he had in brand aspects led to his departure from Dior, wouldn’t have asked Megadeath to front a resort campaign?
The possibilities seemed endless with O’Shea, who is cool and young and would divine the correct alchemy of millennial insouciance to thrust the label into the sightline of the similarly young and cool. And because O’Shea was a womenswear buyer, perhaps Brioni was interested in divorcing itself from its stultified image of James Bond hyper-masculinity and wading into the gender fluid pool where Gucci and Saint Laurent were already playing.
Three months later, we have our first taste of O’Shea’s Brioni and it consists of 50-something-year-old geezers wearing tuxedos out of Casino Royale. James Hetfield alternates between a rictus grin and what might be described as a “studied glower.” Lars Ulrich affects a pose of bemused contemplation, as if to say, ‘Can you believe they let me wear the beanie, and then they made me take it off?’ Kirk Hammett’s face does not register emotion, which is for the best. They’re arranged behind “a new interpretation of the house's first official logo,” the kind of Fraktur lettering that everyone who wanted to telegraph motorcycle gang affinity got tattooed in 2008.
Far from a decisive repositioning, the images offer only more questions: How did this happen? Were Slayer unavailable? Do they listen to thrash metal in rural Abrazzo? Perhaps the more important question is why O’Shea thought co-opting an already well co-opted heavy metal aesthetic was a radical pose.
As the great thinker Q-Tip once wrote, “Don't you know that things go in cycles?” By now the cycle has so completely returned to heavy metal signifiers that fashion resembles a commercial Thunderdome of hard-faced rock stalwarts and severe typefaces. Saint Laurent has cast Kim Gordon and Courtney Love in recent campaigns; Marc Jacobs insisted on making people look at Marilyn Manson again; Vetements likes to sprinkle vaguely hardcore iconography like pentagrams into its designs and then have a laugh when you buy it.
Most conspicuously, noted rock and roll superfan John Varvatos has been making reverential campaigns featuring KISS, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr, and Alice Cooper for years, which makes the overall effect here a kind of Varvatos-lite. It’s also a shrug—if Europe is going pear-shaped, we may as well cue up “Enter Sandman.”
Are they stress-eating cornettos in Rome yet?