Cillian Murphy’s New Versace Campaign Reminds Us What The American ‘Melting Pot’ Should Be

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Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
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The American “melting pot” ideal is what we all grew up aspiring to. American society was exceptional because it allowed various cultures and traditions to flourish independently while simultaneously blending them all into one distinct and unified American culture. We didn’t always live up to that ideal, but we came a hell of a lot closer than anyone else — and we were damn proud of it. Somewhere along the way we lost that pride. We abandoned the melting pot ideal in favor of an insidious multiculturalism, celebrating only our differences — “diversity” — and rejecting anything that brought us together. Yet a reminder of how things used to be — and could be again — just came along from one of the most unlikely places.

You might have seen the new Versace menswear ad campaign, launched at the beginning of April. Probably not, however; most of us don’t keep up with the world of luxury fashion, especially brands best known for pushing gaudy, $100+ pairs of underwear. But it’s worth taking a look at. For the new campaign, the Italian fashion house did something completely out of character. It made Cillian Murphy, one of the world’s most famous Irishmen, the new face of the company.

Boldly Italian with subtle nods to Murphy’s Irish heritage, the new Versace “Icon” collection blends both traditions into a unique campaign. You lose sight of where the Italian flair ends and the muted Irish simplicity ends, creating an aesthetic that perfectly encapsulates the melting pot ideal.

Up there with Gucci, Fendi and Prada, Versace is one of the most prominent Italian luxury fashion houses. It’s certainly the most flamboyant. Gianni Versace began building his empire in the late 1970s by standing out — far out — from the rest of the pack. At a time when refined simplicity still carried the day, Versace became known for his vivid colors, bold prints and risqué cuts that left little to the imagination. Today, the brand is instantly recognizable for its signature Baroque print, Greek key and of course, the iconic Medusa head. While Versace may have started out as an iconoclast, the Italian fashion world followed his lead to become the cosmopolitan industry that it is today.

In this way, Versace was very much American. He relocated to the U.S. in the 1990s and is now famously associated with Miami, after his brutal murder on the steps of his beachfront mansion. He built the brand on American celebrity culture, staging fashion shows like rock concerts to draw in media attention. “He was the first to realize the value of the celebrity in the front row, and the value of the supermodel, and put fashion on an international media platform,” Vogue’s Anna Wintour said in an obituary after his death. Early detractors labelled him vulgar, but, as Wintour put it, ultimately “everybody followed in his footsteps.”

So it came as a surprise to the fashion world when this quintessentially Italian, ostentatiously American, fashion house decided to put an “Irish twist” on its latest menswear ad campaign. Fresh off his Best Actor Oscars win for “Oppenheimer,” Murphy’s A-list star power is a natural fit with Versace heritage. While his distinctly Irish looks and often muted personal aesthetic don’t exactly fit with typical Italian flare, the brand decided to cater to him rather than force him into its mold. (RELATED: ‘Oppenheimer’ Is Not A Win For Conservatives)

The new commercial shows Murphy taking the viewer on a behind-the-scenes tour of his own photoshoot. He’s dressed in understated pieces from the new “Icons” collection: a basic white tank, a meticulously tailored black jacket and high-waisted trousers — only a flash of gold from a small Medusa buckle on the jacket pocket stands out from the otherwise muted look. Contemporary Irish pop-punk music builds in the background. “Collaborating with Donatella — from sharing image references to selecting the music of Fontaines D.C. for the video — resulted in a campaign that reflects who I am,” Murphy said of the shoot.


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It’s not just the shoot, but some of the pieces in the collection themselves. The suit jackets remain fitted tight and short, made with finer, lighter materials — all quintessential aspects of Italian tailoring compared to more structured, heavier English suits. But other pieces appear as Anglo as the Queen herself. From the front, the gabardine khaki trench coat Murphy dons is typical of the English style. Gabardine is durable and water-resistant material, perfectly suited to the English climate; in fact, the English coat maker Thomas Burberry holds the original patent (and also claims to have invented the trench coat). But from the back, the signature Baroque print is boldly on display. It took the best of Anglo and Italian traditions, and blended them into one.

While Irish fashion typically falls within the Anglo tradition, another heavy-knit, flecked wool sweater vest Murphy wears in the shoot appears far more suitable for the Emerald Isle than the sunny Amalfi Coast. Additionally, the wholly American loafer would fit right into a New England boarding school, except for the gold Medusa in place of a penny.

Now, the ad campaign is certainly not meant to be a political statement, but it’s still an interesting reminder of what we used to aspire to. The peak of Irish immigration to the U.S. came in the mid-19th century, while the Italians mostly came over a few generations later. Each group embraced American culture as much as they contributed their own traditions to it, and are often the first groups that come to mind when thinking of the melting pot ideal. Yet our society no longer incentivizes assimilation in the way it did when they first came over.

The Italians and the Irish are arguably the last groups to fully immerse themselves into American culture. They became durably America and embraced Americanism on its own terms, while adding further to the melting pot as it was already constituted. Our diversity is important, but only to the extent that it brings new customs and traditions into a unified whole.

The Versace campaign is a microcosm of these two groups’ assimilation. An Italian fashion house, a brooding Irishman, both bundled into a bigger-is-better Americanism. It all blends together seamlessly, but the distinct qualities remain visible for anyone who cares to look.