Dec. 13, 2006— -- In keeping with his definition of youthful, romantic chic, Marc Jacobs delivered a vivid, sprightly women's line for spring of 2007. Understandably, he saw it only fitting to accompany the line with an ad campaign featuring one of the freshest faces in Hollywood.
So whom did he choose to embody his latest line of women's clothing? Dakota Fanning.
Certainly Fanning is no ordinary 12-year-old. The petite actress has proven star power, already making about $3 million per film. She's been honing her acting chops since she had baby teeth. Currently, she's appearing in "Charlotte's Web." Next year, you can catch her as the star of "Alice in Wonderland."
And beginning this February, the child actress will grace the ad pages of edgy fashion magazines W and Vogue. Yes, that's grown-up Vogue -- not Teen Vogue, where she previously appeared in an editorial spread. And it's no matter that she recently got braces. She'll be wearing couture from the Marc Jacobs collection, in sizes made specially for the photo shoot.
"Marc loves her character and thinks she is beautiful and a great actress," Marc Jacobs president Robert Duffy was quoted as saying. "He loved the idea of having this young, small girl in the clothes, and we made them in her size to shoot her in."
Undoubtedly, consumers have become accustomed to seeing beautiful, young stars cavorting in beautiful, expensive outfits. It's a very deliberate partnership between Hollywood and the fashion world.
Teen starlets can be quite influential with trend-hungry consumers -- not only adults and the masses of teenagers, but also with the younger demographic known as 'tweens. Marc Jacobs may like Dakota Fanning personally, but as a businessman, he also recognizes a chance to expose a much younger crowd to his clothing and accessories.
A smattering of Internet pundits and bloggers have reacted with surprise to the ad campaign, images of which have cropped up on several fashion-related blogs. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has opined that the campaign "is wrong on so many levels." Another blogger commented, "I don't want little girls selling me clothes. This new kiddie trend is so wrong."
However, Bob Garfield, editor-at-large of Advertising Age, said the photos he's seen "don't strike me as remotely objectionable. It's not erotic. It's not sexual. It's dress-up. It's goofy."
Garfield has not reviewed the entire ad campaign and has only seen the online images, one of which shows a barefoot Fanning wearing an elaborate white party dress. The other has her making a funny face while clad in a white fur jacket.
On a hypothetical level, Garfield said, "if [another case] were overtly or implicitly sexual, that would be gross. Then it crosses the line." Continuing his broader discussion, Garfield noted, "It's hard to summon outrage on the issue of sexualizing children as long as the children are celebrities. They either are already so contaminated, or are demigods who cannot be harmed -- because after all they're not real people."
This is not the first time a major fashion house has turned to a very young star for a bit of fresh marketing appeal. In 1980, Calvin Klein ads featured a rosy cheeked, 15-year-old Brooke Shields famously cooing "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." Jaws dropped, but the jeans flew off store shelves.
In 1994, Isaac Mizrahi handpicked 14-year-old Natalie Portman as the new face of his women's line with the slogan "Every woman is a star." Some industry experts objected to Portman wearing Mizrahi's designs, and she was later replaced by Diane Lane, who was twice Portman's age. Mizrahi, however, said the switch was always intended.
The right young star modeling the hottest runway fashions can be such an effective marketing tool that Teen Vogue developed an in-house consulting firm to help fashion designers identify young actresses on the verge of stardom.
"Ideally for the marketer you want to select somebody who is on the rise, somebody who is about to break," said Jane Grenier, associate publisher of Teen Vogue. "That way the fashion brand will rise with the celebrity."
That's exactly what fine leather goods company Dooney & Bourke is banking on. They worked with Teen Vogue to select their newest spokesmodel, Emma Roberts, the 15-year-old niece of Julia Roberts and star of Nickelodeon's hit show "Unfabulous."
"Teenagers are seduced by famous teen identities. Especially stars that they like," said Elizabeth Kane, director of advertising and public relations for Dooney & Bourke. "Having that teen identity as a brand through a teenage spokesmodel holds a lot of cache."
Two years ago, Teen Vogue helped Dooney & Bourke select the then 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan as their spokesmodel. During that ad campaign she became a household name and Dooney & Bourke enjoyed an increase in sales among younger women.
"It's a combination of forecasting who's next, who's on the rise," said Tracy Monahan, executive director of creative marketing for Teen Vogue. "But they must be appropriate for the brand. You wouldn't cast a girl who is hippy chic for a brand that's edgy and modern. You want them to mesh."
Dakota Fanning is hardly on the rise -- the actress has the career trajectory of a rocket. But if the reasoning is that the model and clothes should mesh, it's not surprising that some people are perplexed to see a 12-year-old in an ad campaign aimed at grown women, despite the many people who have noted that Fanning looked "cute" in the outfits.
Since Fanning was five years old, her agent has been Cindy Osbrink, who described the two-day Jacobs shoot as "fun -- just a fun thing for [Fanning] to do" and likened it to Halloween.
Osbrink steadfastly does not accept the premise that images of her young client in high-fashion outfits intended for adult women might be inappropriate.
She called the ad campaign "a win-win situation."
"Dakota had a blast, we were so happy to do it, and we hope Marc Jacobs is happy with it too," Osbrink said. Fanning and her sister now use the outfits to play dress-up, and the actress considered wearing one to a "Charlotte's Web" premiere, but changed her mind because of the weather.
"As much as Dakota is a jeans and T-shirt girl, she loves fashion," explained Osbrink. "Every 12-year-old would love to dress up in Marc Jacobs clothes." And their mommies, too.