After an unauthorized Annie Leibovitz-lensed image of 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps in a bathtub next to a Louis Vuitton bag leaked last week, it was pretty obvious that he would be the star of the brand’s next Core Values ad. After featuring astronauts, musicians and actors in past Core Values ads, Vuitton moved on to athletes this year, first with an moving image of Muhammed Ali and his grandson. After the spectacle of the London Olympics captured the attention of people around the world, it was only natural that Vuitton should turn next to the man who is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.
Phelps isn’t the only Olympian LV tapped for these ads, though. Continuing the Ali ad’s precedent of juxtaposing the new generation of champions with those of the past, Phelps appears alongside Larisa Latynina, a Soviet gymnast who won 18 Olympic medals between 1956 and 1964. She held the record for the most Olympic medals for 48 years until Phelps eclipsed her record in London. Latynina still holds the medal for medals in individual events – 14 – and with Phelps’ retirement, it would appear that she stands little chance of losing it in the near future.
The picture itself, beyond what it means for the brand, is pretty incredible – bringing together two legends is no small feat, particularly when one is the most in-demand athlete in the world and coming off a performance for the ages. Whether or not you’re personally a fan of Louis Vuitton, it’s hard to look at this as anything other than an occasion where advertising and culture have come together to make something that’s actually pretty great. It’s a rare feat, and credit goes to Vuitton for putting their considerable budget toward creating an ad that’s worth both looking at and talking about.
Credit also goes to Vuitton for not using the picture leaked earlier this week, which contained what can only be described as a suspicious bubble in the bath water. Also, how good does Michael Phelps look in a suit? Really good.