THE first thing that registers in a glance at the new advertising campaign for Thierry Mugler A*Men fragrance is that the model, shown running across the page, appears to have neon laser beams shooting out of his rump.
The second thing is his physique, his thick slab of a chest and powerful forearms in motion.
The last thing (and here it takes a moment to click) is that in place of feet, he has hooked metal blades.
Deemed fair ... these artificial limbs have helped Oscar Pistorius blitz by able-bodied athletes. Photo: Getty Images
The model is Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter with Olympic ambitions known as the Blade Runner. As a double amputee, he runs on J-shaped prosthetics made of black carbon fibre. In the ad campaign, his blades are stylised to evoke a superhero's legs, dipped in liquid chrome and wrapped in metallic foil, resembling something like a motorcycle crossed with a dental pick.
They are a striking addition, certainly, but not what draws you into the picture.
''It boggles your mind a bit,'' Pistorius said of the image.
Clarins Fragrance Group president Joel Palix, actor Naomi Watts and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius at a Thierry Mugler fragrance launch last month. Photo: Getty Images
''When people see something that has a stereotype of not being perfect, or that we think is a bit taboo to discuss, it just catches them off guard, especially in a context where they are so used to seeing what we as human beings deem as perfection.''
By hiring Pistorius for its ads, which will begin to appear in magazines later this year, Clarins, the beauty company that owns the Mugler label, was sending a deliberate message. The company wanted to challenge the often-singular ideal of beauty that is promoted within the fashion industry, said the president of Clarins Fragrance Group, Joel Palix.
''We have come to a time when people must understand that the world is diverse and there is no such thing as conventional beauty,'' Palix said. ''Corporations need to show that diversity is not just an idea but a reality.''
At a time when more attention is being paid to models of different races, shapes and sexuality, the appearance of one who was born without the fibula in his legs, which were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, in a campaign for a luxury fragrance is still unusual.
After L'Oreal, a competitor of Clarins, coincidentally announced that Aimee Mullins, the model and athlete who also wears prosthetic legs, would become one of its global beauty ambassadors, the bloggers at Fashionista responded with a post that asked, ''Are Paralympians the New Black in Beauty?''
That was not exactly the reaction the folks at Clarins were going for but, Pistorius said, he recognised that the campaign would be provocative. And the overall response has been largely positive.
''I think the ad is just captivating,'' said Jane Larkworthy, beauty director of W Magazine. ''Oscar just exudes sex appeal. He's so strong and sexy. There is a kind of mystery about him. At the end of the day, he does have these unfortunate adversities but he's hot.''
Said Pistorius: ''I have a strong sense that I have to educate people about disability … and this campaign kind of gets people talking.''
And it turned out Pistorius was already a fan of the fragrance, one of those, he said, ''that you either love or you hate''. Upon meeting Mugler, the eccentric designer whose personal body transformation in recent years is the stuff of its own bionic legend, he seemed charmed.
Pistorius has his own idiosyncrasies, including a pair of pet tigers named after gods of the underworld. (Mugler is still involved in the fragrances produced under his name, but not the fashion, which is headed by Nicola Formichetti.)
Being portrayed as a superhero in the campaign, then, made him slightly uncomfortable but he looked at it this way: ''It talks about not conforming to what are believed to be the limits of others but striving to make the limits of your own,'' he said.
''That is an analogy I am more comfortable with when it comes to being a superhero.''
The New York Times