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PARIS — No matinee idols for Louis Vuitton. Its latest poster boy, Keith Richards, has deep wrinkles, smudged eyeliner and unruly hair as he sits strumming a guitar in an untidy hotel suite. And Antoine Arnault, Vuitton’s head of communications, couldn’t be more pleased. “We thought it was important to continue with someone unexpected,” Arnault said of the Richards ad, slated to break in a range of general-interest titles in April. “I think when people are flipping through a magazine, this will stop them.”

This story first appeared in the March 3, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A legendary guitar player and a founding member of The Rolling Stones, Richards is the latest personality to appear in Vuitton’s “core values” campaign, designed to underscore the brand’s travel heritage and classic monogram leather goods as a balance to its fashion-driven marketing. Launched last fall, the first batch of ads — starring Mikhail Gorbachev, Catherine Deneuve and tennis deities Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf — will continue to appear in tandem with the Richards image. The new spot comes with the tag line, “Some journeys cannot be put into words,” and the rocker’s haunting, hypnotic expression says it all. Arnault recalled that, when Annie Leibovitz displayed the photograph on a computer monitor after the shoot, Richards exclaimed: “It looks like a Rembrandt.” Albeit one with many rock ‘n’ roll details, including black scarves printed with skulls covering the table lamps — a Richards touch — and a custom-made Vuitton guitar case tossed on the bed.

Thanks in part to his long rapport with Leibovitz, Richards accepted the invitation to pose for the French luxury brand readily, Arnault said. He even went to a Vuitton store the day before and picked out a leather jacket to wear for the shoot. The musician donated a portion of his fee to The Climate Project, an environmental charity.

Arnault said that Vuitton plans to add more surprising faces to its campaign, but declined to identify them. He also would not discuss budgets, but said that Vuitton would spend “significantly” more on communications in 2008 as the company ventures into television and film advertising, and adds more of what he considers “core-values characters.”

As for Richards, “We think the image is so strong, we’ll try to launch it in some newspapers” as well as some edgy fashion titles like V Magazine, Arnault said. “The good thing about Keith is, he’s big just about everywhere. He speaks to the 20-year-old who’s into rock ‘n’ roll and the 65-year-olds who went to [a Rolling Stones] concert when they were 20.”

The core-values campaign has already bumped up traffic in Vuitton stores, with managers reporting that it “brought back people who might have thought Vuitton was not for them any more,” Arnault said. “It reassured the customer.”