Here’s an article I never thought I’d write. Recently it was announced that Claire “Lightning” Farron would become a spokesperson for the fashion brand Louis Vuitton, sparking exactly the kind of comments I’ve grown to expect by now. It’s no secret that Final Fantasy XIII is not widely popular, especially since nearly every recent article that even mentions Final Fantasy feels a need to restate that fact. Whether it’s coverage of Final Fantasy XV and the predictable use of “return to form” and related terms, or on the recent PC ports of the FFXIII trilogy where commentators openly ask what the point of them is. I’m being defensive, but it’s frustrating to see a series that means the world to me so often, and easily dismissed. However, this endorsement deal is actually pretty interesting, and here’s why: It makes a bizarre amount of sense.
It’s obvious that the best spokespeople for a brand are ones whose image or dealings lend themselves well to its narrative. Examples range from athletes promoting sporting equipment, to celebrity doctors like Dr. Oz peddling snake oil. However, I’ve noticed that fashion advertisements function a little more subtly, they very often have celebrity endorsements, but that endorsement comes through implying they have distinguished tastes and lifestyles, and therefore choose the associated brand.
Fashion advertisements often have little to no copy, and if they do it’s clearly muted in the presence of the model and brand name. However, it’s fascinating to consider what narrative these advertisements are conveying. Take Jennifer Lawerence’s appearance in advertisements for Dior. The advertisements not only bank on the fact that we’ll recognize who Jennifer Lawrence is, which is a safe bet because even I- who couldn’t pick Kim Kardashian out of a police lineup- know who Jennifer Lawrence is. Then the ad only has her wearing fashionable clothes, and our minds are left to construct the rest of the narrative. Which is that Lawrence, an Academy Award winning actress, having had a taste for the wealthy lifestyle, obviously knows what high fashion is, and how to dress, so here she is in an outfit she must actually wear, that happens to be by Dior. It’s a small thing, even obvious, but consider how little the featured advertisement has in terms of explicit content, versus the vivid narratives its latent content promotes.
The thing is that very few people actually know what Jennifer Lawrence is like. My only knowledge of her comes from having seen The Hunger Games films, and from seeing her image occasionally/ relentlessly posted to Imgur, that’s it. I swear. Those are the only two places I’ve seen her. Honest. You can’t prove anything.
The point is that my conception of Jennifer Lawrence, one that’s likely congruent with the rest of mass society, makes me see her advertising Dior and go- “Yeah, that seems something a classy woman like herself would wear.” And companies know that, because advertisements only have a split second to grab our attention, so they need a model who can provide such a clear and direct association and narrative without resistance.
And that’s why Lightning endorsing Louis Vuitton makes so much sense, because think of what you know about her. Think about the last place you saw her.
Lightning’s real name is Claire Farron, and her story is an interesting one of shifting identities. By all accounts, Claire was a normal teenager, when at sixteen her mother became ill and quickly passed away, leaving her and her thirteen year-old sister alone. When that happened, Claire put aside both her life and identity, and became Lightning. She would later confess to Hope Estheim that she chose the name Lightning because it denoted a power that she needed, in order to provide for her sister and keep her safe, she had to become someone strong and uncompromising. Saying: “Lightning. It flashes bright, then fades away. It can’t protect; it only destroys.” Interestingly, that line likely refers to the destruction of her Claire Farron self, because she never admitted her real name to anyone. In Final Fantasy XIII, Barthandelus even got a rise out of her when he used her name in front of the group. However, during that game, Lightning begins to request that people call her “Light”, which symbolizes her gradual transition from being the hardass military chick she had lived as for five years (she’s 21 in FFXIII), into someone who’s arguably more maternal (definitely around Hope) and who helps build a better future for Cocoon.
Lightning Returns (the third game in the trilogy) is largely about Lightning’s transition back to Claire Farron, and what that means. A new character, Lumina, is introduced, who is eventually revealed to be the externalized persona of Claire Farron. Lightning had denied that part of herself so fervently, that it effectively tore from her very being when Bhunivelze began to fuck with her mind, as he tried to shut away even more parts of her self. Importantly, when Lumina’s origin is revealed, she says that she is Claire Farron, the weakness and vulnerability that Lightning couldn’t accept. More so, Lumina’s bright and playful personality, coupled with her more eccentric style of dress confirmed that Claire was once our conception of your average teenage girl. At the end of Lightning Returns, Lightning is able to defeat Bhunivelze in part by reclaiming those lost parts of her, including Claire Farron, who becomes a part of her once more.
The epilogue (pictured above) shows Claire Farron walking off a train in the French countryside, on her way to meet her friends. Note that beyond the fact that she’s smiling, and relaxed, note her fashion sense. Here’s where I’m going to make the argument that Claire Farron was/ is quite fashionable, or at least fashion-conscious. Aside from the above, and stereotypes regarding teenage girls, the fact that Lightning was able to accept that part of her after so long likely means that she returned to embrace what she loved even more. Speaking as a transsexual, when many of us first come out, we tend to go through a teenage girl phase- no matter what age we actually happen to be. This is in part because we suppress so much desire for so many years, that when we’re finally free to engage with those wants, we tend to embrace them completely. Sometimes a little too much, but eventually finding a happy balance.
There’s also how Lightning has a huge wardrobe in Lightning Returns. Now, I’ve argued that this is partially reflective of how Bhunivelze considered Lightning a doll that he could create and command, but the many images of her most interesting outfits certainly lend the impression that Lightning always had some latent fashion tastes/ interest.
And so, seeing Claire “Lighting” Farron advertising Louis Vuitton is completely consistent with the narrative that I have associated with her. In fact, out of all the endorsements that she could have, this one makes the most sense. Now what’s interesting is that the official narrative surrounding the campaign emphasizes the ‘adventure’ inherent in fashion, and one that draws on Lightning’s experience throughout the trilogy. In a real interview, and this is amazing, Lightning says that:
My clothes were nothing more than armor to stay alive; “dressing up” was a concept I’ve never had. Perhaps that makes me an unseemly choice as ambassador. But this experience has opened my eyes. Fashion isn’t something you’re taught or given, it comes from your own taste and your own choices. It displays the essence of who you are to the people around you.
It makes me feel excited, a feeling similar to when I venture to unknown lands. It is a thrill that I, who has faced my share of danger, have never experienced before. LV is a new adventure―a new fantasy―that I will enjoy from the bottom of my heart.
Adding to that, the Telegraph reports:
Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière rationalised the unusual decision by explaining that the collection that ‘she’ models was predominantly inspired by video games. “Lightning is the perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman and for a world where social networks and communications are now seamlessly woven into our life,” said the Frenchman, adding: “She is also the symbol of new pictorial processes. How can you create an image that goes beyond the classic principles of photography and design? Lightning heralds a new era of expression.”
It’s worth mentioning that Lightning herself has become an extremely popular character, especially in Japan, and now it seems more so globally as time continues. It’s interesting to read the official rationale, because while it conflicts with my analysis, it’s still clear that for Vuitton Lightning’s narrative is one they want to associate with. It makes sense, given that the biography I’ve written above isn’t common knowledge- and in fact is partially only revealed in a Japanese-only novella, so her actions throughout the games becoming the focus is naturally the best option.
It’ll be interesting to see how this campaign is received, but I know that I quite like it. It’s certainly gotten me, someone who thought that Holt Renfrew was a hotel chain, and that Nordstrom was a Scandinavian Neo-Nazi party (both until last year), to think about fashion a lot more than I probably ever have.
I just hope that people who report on it remember the context in which the campaign exists, because otherwise we get strange articles like this one on Destructoid. Which, if I can be honest, is partially terrible fan fiction. Allow me to get nitpicky: First of all, Lightning in the official interview spoke with the implication being that Final Fantasy XIII actually happened. Second, I’m fairly certain someone who has dealt with geopolitical strife, and who was once on track to becoming an officer in the Guardian Corps, would understand what ISIS is. /fangirl
The fact is that using fictional characters to sell products is nothing new, it’s only that they are now penetrating new markets. As trends continue, let’s at least hope that the endorsements make sense. Or are interesting enough to comment on in articles like this. Because otherwise, shit can get weird. And right now, there’s a lot of weird marketing shit, especially with one particularly popular franchise. So I’ll end by saying that perhaps ‘let he who is without sin, cast the first stone’, and that perhaps people snickering about this campaign should remember what their own personally beloved characters have been up to lately.