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Oliviero Toscani - Be Unique


Oliviero Toscani is an award winning Italian photographer and creative pioneer who changed the face of advertising. His work has been awarded four Golden Lions at Cannes, and he has been the creative force behind many famous brands including Chanel, Toyota, and the Italian fashion company Benetton.

Working for Benetton from 1982 to 2000, he became a world renowned and incredibly successful “professional provocateur”, who took risks, provoked dialogue, and brought a social conscience into advertising by using images of AIDS patients, war, and prisoners on death row. In 2015, he published a book titled “More Than Fifty Years Of Magnificent Failures.”

In this episode of London Real, host Brian Rose welcomes Oliviero to the studio to talk about what is meant by creativity, why he chose photography and some of his unique work for Benetton.

Born on February 28, 1942, in Milan, Italy, Toscani’s early exposure to the world of art and creativity set the stage for his groundbreaking career. His father, Fedele Toscani, was a well-known photographer, providing young Oliviero with a familial connection to the visual arts. Toscani studied photography and design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, Switzerland, further honing his skills and expanding his creative perspective.

Oliviero Toscani’s name became synonymous with the global fashion brand Benetton in the 1980s and 1990s. As the creative force behind Benetton’s advertising campaigns, Toscani pioneered a new era in fashion advertising by challenging conventional norms. His approach was characterised by a commitment to social commentary and a willingness to tackle controversial subjects.

One of Toscani’s most famous campaigns was the United Colors of Benetton’s “Unhate” series, featuring digitally manipulated images of world leaders engaged in symbolic acts of unity and reconciliation. This provocative campaign aimed to address global issues and promote tolerance, although it also drew criticism for its audacious visual narratives.

Oliviero Toscani’s work is often described as provocative, pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in mainstream advertising. His photographs delve into complex social issues, including racism, environmental concerns, and the impact of consumerism on society. Toscani’s intent is not merely to sell products but to use the platform of advertising to prompt reflection and dialogue.

One of his notable projects, “The Body of Rome” (1996), featured explicit images of various body parts forming a human figure. The campaign aimed to challenge societal norms regarding nudity and celebrate the diversity of the human form, but it faced censorship and ignited debates on the role of explicit content in advertising.

While Toscani is widely recognised for his work with Benetton, his creative journey extends beyond fashion advertising. His diverse portfolio includes collaborations with major publications, personal photography projects, and exhibitions that showcase his distinctive visual language.

Toscani’s ability to capture the essence of his subjects, whether in fashion photography or portraiture, reflects a keen eye for detail and a commitment to authenticity. His work continues to be celebrated for its ability to evoke emotion, challenge preconceptions, and communicate powerful messages.

Oliviero Toscani’s legacy in the world of photography and visual communication is marked by his courage to challenge the status quo. His contributions go beyond aesthetics; he has redefined the role of advertising in shaping cultural narratives and provoking thought.

Toscani’s impact can be seen in the evolving landscape of visual storytelling and the increased emphasis on authenticity and social responsibility in advertising. His willingness to confront uncomfortable truths and address societal issues through his work has influenced a new generation of photographers and creatives.

Oliviero Toscani’s career is a testament to the transformative power of visual communication. His unapologetically bold and controversial approach has left an indelible mark on the worlds of fashion, advertising, and photography. Through his lens, Toscani continues to challenge perceptions, spark conversations, and inspire a reevaluation of the role of imagery in shaping our understanding of society. As a visionary provocateur, he has demonstrated the profound impact that art and advertising can have on the collective consciousness.


00:00 | Trailer
03:50 Brian’s thoughts on the episode
05:57 Brian’s introduction
06:42 1960s Swinging London, Flower Power California, Oliviero continues to seek out signs of evolution
13:43 Humanity is the subject, the object and the task
14:29 What is meant by creativity; not even God thought he was a Director of Creativity
16:50 All art has to provoke something, otherwise it is not art
20:16 Why he chose to do photography; illustrating his answer with a provocative suggestion
27:29 The quality of the architecture depends upon the intelligence of the patron
35:05 His unique take on advertising for Esprit’s Douglas Tompkins and Benetton’s Luciano Benetton
43:04 Why he chose to photograph multiculturalism, the Aids epidemic and wars
51:09 Why prisoners on death row were the subject of his photographs for Benetton advert
59:05 Producing the book of his work More than 50 Years of Magnificent Failures without archival work
1:01:15 What he hoped to achieve with the Anorexia pictures and how they were received
1:04:08 Oliviero’s views on current day promotional work, politicians and Donald Trump
1:06:15 America is a combination between hell and paradise, whilst Italy is a geographical reality
1:09:49 Integration is the biggest opportunity and the subject of his next campaign for his return to Benetton
1:11:10 Modern technology makes you lazy and stupid
1:13:56 Using subversion to disrupt accepted thought and impression
1:15:42 What is Oliviero’s super power
1:19:12 What scares him
1:19:38 The worst and best day of his life
1:21:58 What keeps him awake at night
1:22:47 His love of animals, being a wine and olive oil producer
1:24:20 Success secrets
1:25:07 Best advice ever received
1:27:25 Advice to the watching 20-year old would be “creative” artist
1:30:27 Brian’s summing up.


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