Oliviero Toscani, one of the biggest influencers of the past decades as well as one of the most criticised photographers, is finally back on the fashion scene. His latest campaign for Benetton, former employer of Toscani, has just been released and finally, it appears his “controversiality” is finally on point with the industry’s current mood.
Toscani’s bold campaigns from the ’80 and ‘90s have been heavily ridiculed. Everyone remembers the ads and billboards of Benetton, from images of human hearts denouncing racism to polemical kisses among politicians or nuns and priests, there has never been a taboo or issue that Toscani refused to approach and expose. Unfortunately, his active unveiling of uncomfortable matters was hardly appreciated by a society apparently not ready for him. Often accused of excessively “crossing the line”, Toscani and his work have been reprimanded on more than one occasion also by the fashion brand itself, until an inevitable split amongst the two.
The current abundance of strong statements, protest movements, and controversial topics on every day’s agenda, provided the perfect backdrop for the visionary photographer’s comeback. Benetton, willing to re-attract lost customers and proving to be on the trend with the current flows, did not miss the chance to welcome back Toscani.
The latest campaign appears less impactful to the naked eye but a closer inspection shows the message is still as meaningful. Toscani decided to focus on diversity and portrayed a classroom of 28 schoolchildren from 13 different countries and 4 continents in an Italian primary school, all wearing Benetton, reading Pinocchio with their teacher. “They studied together, they were educated together and they will shape future society” said the photographer. It is a very endearing image and, like a lot of Toscani’s work, the message can be interpreted differently.
Since Toscani’s departure, the brand slowly lost its appeal to the consumers, various rebrands to try and overcome this issue resulted in financial complications that included a net loss of €46m (£38.5m). The question now is can Toscani’s return bring back Benetton to a more profitable past era? And will Toscani still be able to shock us as he used to? Or has the current overexposure made us immune to such images?