Barbara Lippert’s Critique: She’s Gotta ‘Dahnse’

Who doesn’t love Audrey Hepburn? She was the original waif, long before Kate Moss made it chic. Unlike the anorexic/drugged-out bony model/actress crew of today, however, she actually starved as a child during World War II in Europe! How’s that for size 2 cred?

And her signature Breakfast at Tiffany’s look—little black dress, pearls, hair in an up-do, oversized black sunglasses—is as fresh and modern now as it was in 1961, when she wore it in the movie. Legend, icon, star, myth—whatever, Audrey Hepburn is by now the kind of style-goddess that has influenced generations of women.

She died in 1993, having devoted the last years of her life to being a special ambassador for Unicef. (Take that, Angelina Jolie.)

This latest Gap spot features the image icon dancing in little black pants, backed by AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” That’s a little like connecting Jackie O to Beavis and Butt-Head (they wore AC/DC T-shirts, after all). But we’ll get to the music later.

Granted, it is sometimes creepy for ads to bring people back from the dead. But Audrey’s timeless works, looks and movies live on, regardless. So with permission from her son, Sean Ferrer, who runs the estate, she’s seen in a clip from the 1957 musical Funny Face, in which she played Jo Stratton, a quiet mousy girl who works in a bookstore and is taken to Paris and transformed into a fashion plate by photographer Dick Avery (played by Fred Astaire, based on Richard Avedon). It’s My Fair Lady meets Devil Wears Prada, with singing and dancing in glorious 1950s Technicolor. There’s even a crazy magazine editor who coins the term “think pink.”

(And I guess it is ironic that Astaire was also brought back from the beyond to dance with a vacuum. Dancing for Gap makes more sense.)

This particular scene shows her dancing alone in skinny black pants, which were whipped up for her then by a young designer named Hubert de Givenchy.

I had never actually seen the movie, and this little scene is charming and unexpectedly wacky. In a smoky Paris “beatnik” club (think bongos and berets!) she does an odd, little interpretative number—sort of a combination of blues and African jazz fusion—wearing a ponytail and her black turtleneck and pants.

Not only is it the kind of provocative clip that jumps off the screen, it also provides the most natural, organic fit that the Gap, known for ads featuring women dancing in white space, has mustered in a long time. As the fashion-forward know, the “skinny” pant and jean is the big trend this year. (I love that singular fashion-talk—especially when it’s all about the “pant” or the “shoe.”) This season, the Gap is selling a variety of black narrow pants, including one style called the “Audrey.”

The ad opens in color, with Hepburn singing, and then she’s taken out of the movie frame, placed against white space, and manipulated and moved so that her silhouetted figure becomes something of a Rorschach test. By taking the figure out of the movie and into the white space, not only does the clip fit the Gap brand iconography and heritage exactly, but it also sells a product that women will want to seek out. That’s about as relevant as it gets.

Her voice, doing a kind a very weird, cool spoken word song, is sampled over the “Black in Black” music, complete with its signature guitar licks. It’s great that her quirky song is included, because, in her fancy European- inflected English, she’s heard saying, “I rather feel like expressing myself … I can certainly use the release … I want to dahnse!” (And who knew that Nicole Kidman would repeat that last line almost 50 years later in the worst Chanel commercial ever made?!)

Obviously, the AC/DC track, recorded in 1980, attracts a whole different type of Gap wearer. But the use of jarring, even annoyingly discordant music is also a Gap tradition.

A 2001 Gap campaign that opened with the question “Who was your first love?” included a spot with Cherokee, an R&B star, which had her jumping around against a wall of Marshall amplifiers, playing blistering riffs on an electric guitar as she said that her first love was Angus Young (AC/DC’s short kilt-wearing lead guitarist).

Is the commercial better or worse if you happen to be a metal fan? My colleague Cathy Taylor, a heavy-metal fan and Audrey wannabe (you see, there are some) thinks it’s worse. She calls AC/DC “one of those unfortunate bands that came in the wake of the eternally awesome Led Zeppelin.” She thinks Angus Young is a “moron” and that Audrey Hepburn is “rolling in her grave!”

It is contradictory, certainly. And I can think of a couple of songs that could also have provided surprise, and an unexpected edge, without going all soft and Michael Buble-ish. (“Black Slacks” is a great old rockabilly tune.)

I don’t like AC/DC or Led Zeppelin—save your letters, please—but I actually don’t mind the big guitar riffs. I think they go with little black pants and they certainly get attention. After all, we could all, as Audrey puts it, “Use the release.” At the very least, no one here is thinking pink.