My Kingdom for a Horse!, or Why We Need To Keep On Dreaming

NOTE: This is a retrospective of an article I wrote on Gucci in April 2020. After some unsuccessful pitching attempts, I shelved it, only to rediscover it a year and a half later. With summer drawing to a close once again, perhaps it can serve as a rearview mirror, but also as a cautiously hopeful magnifying glass.

Sometime in February, when scrolling through my Instagram feed, I was met with one of the all-too-common video ads. The culprit this time: Gucci, promoting its 2020 Spring Summer collection. Knowing my disposable income and propensity to spend big on clothes, I didn’t bother looking further into it — it’s just an ad after all. But sometimes ads can be really persistent. Gucci followed me whenever I would check the app, at least every other day for almost two weeks.

Ads can be effective in two ways: either by immediately grabbing your attention at first glance or by simply becoming so omnipresent that you can’t help but click on them just this one time. This one definitely found itself in the latter category.

© Gucci

Equestrian Enchantment

The spot titled “Of Course a Horse”, perhaps unsurprisingly, heavily features our equestrian companions. And companions they are: they board airplanes, use a car wash, ride shotgun, and frolic in the swimming pool. Horses are more than just livestock, but living, breathing, feeling creatures, the spot seems to suggest. But if you think that that’s all that a commercial by one of the world’s leading fashion houses, directed by none lesser than Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favorite), has to offer, you’re sorely mistaken.

He invites us into a world that is equally his as it is Gucci’s. It is no coincidence that horses would become the focal point of the company’s large-scale ad campaign, as the two have been connected since the brand’s earliest days. When founded in 1921, Gucci started out as a producer of high-quality horse riding equipment, only later branching out into other kinds of accessories and fashion. Its iconic red-and-green stripe, itself inspired by a saddle detail, is a direct testament to that.

© Sotheby’s

Lanthimos too is no stranger to weaving the animal motif into his art, with different species frequently featuring in his film titles and narratives (beside the obvious Lobster, Dogtooth and Killing of a Sacred Deer come to mind). But that’s far from the only common thread in his work: the director likes to blur the line between reality and fiction, between what is really happening and what people are dreaming up. And that is exactly what this commercial lulls us into: a dream state.

still from Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009)

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

The spot is dream-inducing in three ways: Firstly, there’s the dream of surrealism, presenting us with an alternate reality in which horses are our equals and partake in much the same activities as we do. Secondly, there’s the dream of a nostalgic past, flinging us back into sunny 1960s California. Part of this comes from the visuals themselves, but it’s really the music that’s carrying the image here.

What we’re listening to is “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson, a song made famous through its appearance in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy starring Dustin Hoffman — a film that is set in New York, but toys with the images of the Wild West. “I’m going where the sun keeps shinin’ // Through the pouring rain // Going where the weather suits my
clothes”, Nilsson wails as our centauric couple steers its convertible into the sunset of a Summer of Love that never quite ended.

Finally, there’s the dream of a brighter future. In Dogtooth, Lanthimos deals with the subject of isolation: a wife and husband deem the outside world too dangerous and decide to lock their three adult children in their countryside house. Although a work of fiction, the film’s themes hit closer to home than one might expect: with nothing to do, the siblings resort to anything they can in killing their time, dreaming of a life that they only ever knew through
smuggled-in VHS cassettes from the 80s.

In times of global lockdown, the Gucci commercial becomes to us what the videotapes became to one of the sisters: a window into a different world. Not only into a glamorized past, however, but also into a better future. A future where we can roam the streets freely, bask in the summer sun, and reconnect with our close ones. What not too long ago was an everyday reality now seems a lifetime away.

perhaps one of the most uplifting fake news of the early pandemic: “drunk” elephants dozing in a field

Whatever Makes You Sleep At Night

The Coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on everyone. Most of us are confined to our humble abodes, many alone. Many have to fear for their relatives, nobody knows how much longer all of this is going to last, and for all we know, the worst might be yet to come. In these uncertain times, a glimmer of hope is often the best we can ask for. The only winner right now seems to be our planet, with news of the good Earth starting its recovery being circulated
as early as mid-March. Swans and even dolphins were reportedly roaming the canals of Venice, while elephants ventured into a Yunnan village, and monkeys and deer besieged the streets of Bangkok and Tokyo, respectively.

As it turns out, many of these stories were fabrications, created to make us feel a bit more optimistic in a time when it’s harder than ever to keep one’s chin up. Of course, fake news never is good news, but our willingness to resort to it in boosting public morale speaks to our desire to always find the silver lining, even if it might be dreamt up. We dream to remember, but also to persevere when there is little else to hold on to.

In Richard III, the titular Shakespearean monarch cries for “a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” when gazing into the jaws of death. “Of Course a Horse” is the antithetical answer to his demands.

There is a fundamental difference between the two works of art and our current situation, though: their dream is an impossible one, a figment of their imagination, while ours just waits to be awakened from a deep slumber.

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