Maybe you remember the Sean Connery ad. Not the one for Jim Beam or Suntory whiskey, or Smirnoff vodka, or Japanese yogurt, or Apple computers, or Rolex watches, or vaguely nautical clothing. I mean the 2008 campaign for Louis Vuitton bags, shot by Annie Leibowitz, with the tagline, “There are journeys that turn into legends.”
Connery, who was then 78, looks fit and relaxed. He sits on a wooden dock in the Bahamas, near one of his homes, leaning on a piling and wearing the outfit of a worldly rake: khakis rolled to mid-shin but wet to the knee; long-sleeved black turtleneck; rumpled Panama hat; expensive dive watch. The bag itself is tossed down insouciantly at his foot, since wealth does not matter, only functionality and style.
It is a photo of repose as reward, not only for a beloved actor with 63 film and TV credits to that point, but also for James Bond. Four Bond films were shot in the Bahamas, and Connery was Bond. Now, the ad hints, duty done, double pensions from Royal Navy and MI6, Bond eats seafood with excellent wine, wades on the beach, and when the blood is up, races his Aston Martin around the island roads. The constable has been meaning to talk to him about that.
Leibowitz shot accomplished women for the campaign too—Angelina Jolie sits on a rotten boat in a marsh—but the Connery ad strikes me as appealing to a certain type of male fantasy that conflates power, violence, accomplishment, wealth, materialism, relaxation, and sex.
Connery told Playboy in 1965:
“When I spoke about Bond with [Ian] Fleming, he said that … Bond was a very simple, straightforward, blunt instrument of the police force, a functionary who would carry out his job rather doggedly. […] But if you take Bond in the situations that he is constantly involved with, you see that it is a very hard, high, unusual league that he plays in. Therefore he is quite right in having all his senses satisfied—be it sex, wine, food or clothes—the job, and he with it, may terminate at any minute.”
That is, he is a guy lacking status, but there is still a way of being that can justify unusual reward.
I was thinking of all this when I saw a Facebook group I will call “Manly Good Taste.” Its administrator posts only photos, and they would not be out of place in the Vuitton campaign. The page slogan is: “Take it easy. Enjoy life. Appreciate good things in all forms.”
One recurring series of photos of men is titled “Impossibly cool”; in one, Jack Kennedy is shown in bare feet and perfect hair, heeling over a homely little sailboat with a stick tiller. A series called “Lovely” shows young, fit women with little makeup and a ‘60s Brigitte Bardot vibe. “Yes, please” is a series of elegant living rooms and dining rooms with no one in them.
The administrator has a penchant for Brutalist architecture softened by wood and books; cars more aesthetic than practical, like ’53 Fiat coupes with wire wheels and rally lights; and classic motorcycles that did not look especially powerful, like the 1970 Triumph Bonneville. There is no digital technology, no labor, and surprisingly little food in this world. Nature is best appreciated in secluded spots with no bad weather. The belly of a jet fighter is shot lovingly against the sky.
I began to try to guess who is behind the page. An older white male, certainly. More likely European than American, given the immaculate punctuation, occasional awkward English phrase, and photos of row houses on stone lanes. Considers himself vital and tasteful, yet the page is proof of trying too hard, so he is not old money, or even new. Maybe a retired sergeant-major, encumbered by alimony and dreaming of repose?
It took some digging, but I learned the administrator is late-middle aged and Portuguese. He likely served in the military, at least for a short time. He says he used to restore Land Rovers, had an interior-design studio, and now runs a hostel in Lisbon. Given his age, he probably grew up, as I did, sneaking a peek at his friends’ fathers’ Playboys.
Elsewhere I wrote about a boyish fantasy embedded in a certain narrative: a rough guy has adventures that validate his ticket to journey outside his class “through simple heroism and incorruptibility.” In adulthood, can there be an innocent version of this?
The Fleming/Connery Bond was always a thug, but that gave him power, and through it he met the rich, learned their codes, and got access to their rewards. (Connery too was said to be mentored in how to walk, talk, and eat by director Terence Young.) These values, the ad and Facebook page also hint, strand such a man in lonely materialism. More darkly, anything can be justified to get a man his privilege and keep it.