A few years ago, the world was stunned when images of a bloodied Rihanna were released. The singer had been beaten by her “lover boy” Chris Brown; it was hard for the public to imagine that such a stylish and beautiful pop star could be the victim of such a horrendous act. Well, according to an October 2013 study by the World Health Organization, on average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. It is a sad reality; welcome to the age of glorified violence.
What’s even scarier than the violent acts themselves is when fashion magazines take domestic violence and transform it into a kind of fantasy or game, claiming they’re raising awareness for the cause. Domestic violence is neither a game nor a fantasy, and to use it as a vehicle to sell merchandise is quite shameful. It doesn’t matter if you are a genius photographer like Steven Meisel or a respected editor-in-chief like Franca Sozzani.
The normally fabulous and talented duo Sozzani & Meisel released the “Horror Movie” fashion editorial in the pages of Vogue Italia’s April issue. Groundbreaking? Mind-blowing? No, not even close. Models are shown lying in pools of blood, screaming, cowering and in various other poses portraying fear and pain. When I see such imagery, especially from people who have done fantastic work before, it can only suggest a phase of boredom, because it would perhaps be unfair to say outright that they’ve lost touch with reality. Nothing good can be accomplished by featuring abused women in a high-fashion spread. Are you going to buy a dress thinking how good it might look if unfortunately you find yourself in a violent situation? I don’t think so!
It is not the first time that domestic abuse has graced the pages of a fashion magazine, not even the second time; in recent years, misogyny has been a common concept when the intent is to shock and cause controversy. Stephanie Seymour got choked for Vogue Hommes (shot by Terry Richardson), 12 Magazine featured beat-up and scarred models for its “Victim of Beauty” spread, and underage model Hailey Clauson also got chocked for Pop magazine. These are just a few examples of how women have been portrayed in an “edgy” way. What is troubling for me is that in most cases, the editors responsible for the blood in these spreads are also women. Again, shame on them all.
When I think of fashion and style, I think of pure self-expression, the freedom to leave our colorful mark on this world and to achieve and portray the best of ourselves. While most photos of glamorized violence do not fall under that concept, an exception is the work of sublime photographer Guy Bourdin, who played with death and beauty in the playground of art. There is a big difference between the art inspired by Bourdin’s superb state of mind and a lazy fashion spread attempting to glamorize a very serious problem, which can only cause grief to real victims of domestic abuse or any kind of violence. Besides, it does nothing for the problem. The innumerous ad images Bourdin created for Charles Jourdan were phenomenal; however, when he used violence to sell a product, it was a dark narrative. Shoes and death are not a good match. Guy Bourdin is very much an influence to this day — and perhaps many try and fail to copy him.
The only acceptable garment to be violently splashed with blood is the iconic pink suit made by Chez Ninon with Chanel fabric, worn by Jacqueline Kennedy on the day her husband President Kennedy was assassinated in front of her. The blood on that fashionable ensemble is a historic reminder that there is no beauty in any type of violence. When mediocre or even talented magazine editors push merchandise by subjecting models to violence in a fashion spread, we too become their fashion victims.