While adding to his brochure collection, Bruno Vijverman notes a somewhat overt case of borrowed inspiration.
A while back, upon these pages, I wrote about the coincidental (or otherwise) similarities which have occurred in car design over the years. But more recently, since one of my past-times is collecting classic car brochures, it came to my notice that in some cases the practice of copying does not seem to be limited to the actual product, but also to the sales publicity material itself.
To be clear, I am not talking about the obvious broad similarities which are often dictated by the fashions and prevailing tastes of the era – in the sixties and seventies for instance the focus of the illustrations and text was on people and the freedom (real or imagined) and happiness that their new car was supposed to provide them.
In the decades thereafter there was a gradual but unstoppable shift to a more technical and factual approach. For the most part, humans started to disappear from the brochure photographs: the focus was now on the technical aspects of the car, the aerodynamics and its safety features, with the accompanying prose following suit.
As time went on an emphasis on image and the dreaded term premium became increasingly obvious in the publicity material of many an aspiring make. After the millennium, environment and sustainability came to the fore, and perhaps because of this people started to make a bit of a comeback in the brochure pages.
But what I came across recently was different. I had acquired a small batch of brochures, and was in my usual process of going through all of them – putting to one side those to add to my collection, and to another those already in my possession, and the ones that for whatever reason did not fit within my collection.
One of the brochures that caught my eye was an Italian language catalogue for the Rolls Royce Corniche, printed in 1980. The white laminated cover is embossed with the RR logo and Corniche script; nice but not shocking – one expects restrained chic from a maker like Rolls-Royce. It was only after opening up the inside pages that I was overcome with a strong sense of Deja vu. Hadn’t I seen this distinctive style of layout and photography before?
Luckily, I did not have to wait long for confirmation of my suspicions. My collection of Citroën brochures contains among several others a beautiful brochure on the SM from around 1972. Its photography is by Sarah Moon, the wife of Robert Delpire, and first female photographer selected to shoot the famous Pirelli Calendar. The fact that Delpire was responsible for the production and layout of all of Citroën’s publicity material for most of the sixties and seventies will no doubt have been a factor in the selection of Mrs. Moon for the job of photographing the 1972 SM catalogue, but her talent is obvious even now.
Having placed both brochures in front of me on my reading table, I was fascinated. The covers are of course very different but the inside pages are where it gets interesting. There is no mention of any photographer’s name in the RR catalog but, if I may be a bit blunt, it was someone who was perhaps not without talent but not quite in the same league as Mrs. Moon.
And neither was the person responsible for the layout, for otherwise it would not have lead to such an obvious pastiche of an earlier SM catalogue. The most blatant spread is the one with the detail photo of the dashboard on the left page: rainy windshield, road map, casually placed sunglasses, eyes of the model in the rear view mirror. All the evidence needed to conclude that whoever produced this Corniche brochure had the SM item nearby for inspiration.
Having said that, I am happy to have accidentally discovered this example of idea theft in print. The RR catalogue has been added to the various section where I place anything that technically does not belong in my collection (which consists of hydropneumatic Citroëns and American makes), but for whatever reason is deemed worthy of retention. This one is certainly for keeps.