Aoi Miyazaki for Emporio Armani

Long ago there was a simpler age for foreign brands in Japan, where the mere mention of “The West” would conjure up images of luxury, progress, and sophistication within the minds of Japanese consumers. Due to a development of greater domestic confidence in the last three decades, however, European and North American companies can no longer rely on exploiting a national inferiority complex to pull in customers.

But that doesn’t mean that Japanese consumers now unconditionally prefer Japanese things to Western things either. No, the current market requires a well-rehearsed luge run through complex and shifting racial and national semiotic codes that almost no one can perfectly articulate.

As I explained in the previous essay “Race as Fashion Signifier,” “real clothes” magazines like CanCam or ViVi exclusively use Japanese and half-Japanese models to illustrate a plausible context for the clothing. High-fashion magazines like Spur and Ginza, on the other hand, deploy foreign (Caucasian) models to reflect the fact that the center of legitimization for the high-fashion world is “abroad.” Based on this principle, foreign luxury brands have had little reason to not use global campaign advertisements (meaning: non-Japanese models) in Japanese fashion magazines. Advertorial (“tie-up”) can often be used to show readers’ favorite local models wearing the latest season, while protecting the sanctity of the pure ad. But basically, there is an unstated rule that foreign luxury brands never “stoop” to the level of Japanese local culture by using familiar faces.1

Emporio Armani, however, has gone against scripture by conspicuously using popular Japanese actress Miyazaki Aoi in its new print advertisements. By many measures, Miyazaki is the “It Girl” in Japan of the moment, but she should be defined as a celebrated actress within Japan rather than one who has found broader acclaim overseas.  Compare Miyazaki to Kikuchi Rinko — star of Babel. Chanel used Kikuchi in a campaign last year, but this was basically a hedge: Japanese, yes, but an “international” woman who was nominated for an Oscar.

Miyazaki is not particularly “international,” but instead, can only be used to introduce the brand as something that everyday Japanese girls can wear. So while there is glamor in having a “star” model the clothing, Miyazaki definitely brings Emporio Armani to the “Japanese” level. She is “life-sized” (等身大) rather than “larger than life.”

This particular quality of Miyazaki’s celebrity may be a perfect balance for Emporio Armani, however, seeing that the brand is a bridge line. In the context of this strategic goal, she is able to act as a “bridge” between Japanese consumers and this “elite” foreign brand. We can be sure, however, that Armani would most likely avoid using a local Japanese star for the face of its premier Giorgio Armani line. So perhaps the racial hierarchy in Japanese fashion is stable at the extremes (West for high, East for low). All the interesting and innovation in bending these rules exists in the middle of the market, where the intersection of the two worlds can be constantly re-framed and re-negotiated.

1 There are probably counterexamples that come to mind, but it’s not that common.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “Aoi Miyazaki for Emporio Armani”

  1. Joseph K Says:

    Something of a digression, but I often wonder to what extent using celebrities in multiple advertising campaigns simultaneously ties together the brands appearing in those campaigns. Miyazaki is the current face of Tokyo Metro (though now that I think about it those ads may have recently disappeared), and I’d dare say a lot of people would still associate her with Aflac.
    Due to her association with reasonably pedestrian brands, isn’t she something of an odd choice for Armani? What you say about “bridge lines” is valid, but I’m wondering more about direct links. Surely people will subconsciously relate Armani with Tokyo Metro, and then stop and wonder why.

    Or is this just something that happens to me?
    Though I notice I get even more loss of brand recognition clarity when two similar brands use the same celebrity, so maybe behaving more safely than I thought.

  2. Matt Says:

    I think those Tokyo Metro ads have been replaced by the “Do!” campaign, of which she is still the star.

    I haven’t tried to do actual research on the topic, but I don’t think people will start associating Armani with Tokyo Metro as a result of this. In the Metro material, she’s cute and quirky, pootling around on trains to cozy little shopping districts and it’s all very Amelie and even her hair is frizzy. In these two pictures, she’s slender and long-haired, presented as a “beautiful” or “glamorous” being, rather than a “cute” one (pace the nuances of “kawaii”, etc.) It’s just another kind of acting, and the characters are totally different.

  3. Japanese Actress for Emporio Armani « Fashionaddicttest’s Blog Says:

    […] Japanese Actress for Emporio Armani By fashionaddicttest Photo Credit: Clast […]