Louis Vuitton and Annie Leibovitz

No matter how interesting the juxtaposition of personalities is supposed to be, I’ve never understood the fascination with watching celebrities interact with other celebrities behind the scenes. All that self-conscious self-promotion and faux humility tends to get on my nerves.

Having said that, this Louis Vuitton print ad with dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz stopped me in my tracks. The composition is heroically lit and a bit stagey, but still beautiful. It leads the eye right to the feet: There Misha stands, on a platform, beneath a cloud of illumination (um, a studio strobe light with softbox), with his naked feet so consequential and veiny that they seem to have been chiseled from marble by some genius sculptor. (Michelangelo comes to mind, had David been sporting a black T-shirt and pants.)

Really, how can you not stare at those iconic tootsies? They are the real thing, the instruments that executed all those amazing four-foot leaps and tournes en pointe. Still, as human body parts, they show the wear and tear of all of those years of dancing.

Which leads me to another thing I like about this ad: These are not celebrities in the Paris Hilton sense, famous for being famous. They’re known for their formidable talents and plain hard work, sustained over decades.

That’s endurance, and it’s analogous to Louis Vuitton’s bags (although I’m sure the intention was not to compare either one to an old bag). While the photo is frank about the effects of aging, it also shows that talent is pure and everlasting; and with age — and some weathering and setbacks — comes a greater sense of self-awareness and mastery.

That would seem to be Leibovitz’s angle in plunking herself in the middle of the photo, which she also took. This is the eighth ad she has shot for this Louis Vuitton “Core values” campaign from Ogilvy & Mather Paris, but the first that she’s appeared in. Other famous persons in the series include everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev to Keith Richards to Buzz Aldrin. (The brand’s fashion campaign, showing a racy — and often aggressively airbrushed — movie star or two holding the merchandise, is separate, and done under the aegis of designer Marc Jacobs.)

This campaign is softer and more thoughtful, and is meant to conjure up the brand’s legacy, when Louis Vuitton crafted luxurious but durable boxes and trunks for travel. In American parlance, the word “journey” has lost all meaning these days, since it’s used so frequently in reality shows. (A bachelor kissing his way through 25 women does not a journey make.) The “Core values” campaign is intended to restore the mystery and poetry of the journey, even if it’s a personal one.

Frankly, Leibovitz’s public journey has been toward financial solvency, and in this photo she shows that she’s still here and on top of her game. She and Baryshnikov are old friends. She’s photographed him over the years and is on the board of one of his foundations. It’s an artfully integrated campaign, too: The online video of their conversation, at LouisVuittonJourneys.com, is fun to navigate. It comes into focus with the sound of a shutter, and the user can choose to watch a close-up, medium shot or panoramic view.

While the print ad is obviously staged (and perhaps a bit too studied in the middle area, where the dance books are gingerly placed in the Vuitton bag), there’s an effort at stripping away all pretense with the online interview. Baryshnikov is surprisingly honest and unaffected, nothing like Alexandr Petrovsky, the narcissistic artist who slapped Carrie in their Paris hotel room on Sex and the City.