This month’s Vogue covers are earning quite a bit of publicity for themselves. Vogue US features soon-to-be married couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian donning designer weeding outfits, walking along the River Seine in Paris ahead of the big day. Opinion is divided on whether they should even be within 50 feet of a Vogue cameraman, but there’s no point in crying over spilled milk, and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about however, is this month’s cover story in Vogue Italia.
Vogue Italia has chosen to depict its models in compromising situations of horror and domestic violence. Natalie Westler, a 17 years old model, is photographed lying at the bottom of the stairs in her beautiful red coat and shoes, her red hair in a glowing, messy puddle of blood on the floor. Her eyes are glazed over underneath her flawless make-up, and it’s not difficult to imagine what happened there. Especially as the bloodied culprit is sitting only a few feet away from her, staring straight at the camera.
The shoot has been named “Cinematic”, and has been commended by its creators as “essential relationship [sic] the one that connects fashion publishing with daily life”. In the series of photos, these models are depicted as dying victims of severe domestic violence – there’s terror in their eyes, and blood on their ever-so-glamorous clothes.
Once questioned on the topic, Editor-In-Chief Franca Sozzani insisted that the idea was to bring about change and to insist that this behaviour is not acceptable. She believes that this shoot truly empowers women and will encourage them to come out of the darkness and leave the violence behind. I beg to differ.
These photos glamorise domestic violence; they tell men and women that it’s beautiful, feminine, attractive to be abused in the safety of your own home; that to die in the hands of someone you once loved would be to die with dignity and beauty.
Sozzani then continues to say that we need to raise awareness of the problem: “how many women are every year attacked, abused and killed? You know, in a small country like Italy only last year [the figure] was 1,700 women and almost 130 that were killed, so it’s huge: it’s more than two women a week, you know, it’s like a huge proportion, just killed.”
We do need to address these problems in society, but you first need to understand how. The main purpose of a fashion shoot is to sell to the audience both the clothes worn by the models, and the situation itself. That’s not rocket science. Models were created to represent what you could be, if you were to buy this fragrance, or that winter coat. The whole reasoning behind them is to make the audience relate.
Why do you think we’ve been running circles around the debate on size zero models for the past few years? Because readers of fashion magazines look beyond the clothes; they search for any clues into the model’s life which they then will be able to imitate. The problem with size zero models is that they promote not only the clothes they wear, but the size they are. The same goes with models in these situations.
Vogue Italia is selling the idea of beauty in a domestic violence setting, and believe it or not, people are buying into it. This doesn’t even have to be a conscious thing. The “Cinematic” shoot is dark, dangerous, and dramatic. It leads to the assumption that domestic violence in real life is similar.
This will not empower more women than it undermines. It devalues the woman’s life to nothing more than a fashion statement, and it equates high fashion to paying the ultimate price. Would Sozzani dare to dramatise the Holocaust victims or Heroin addiction using this medium? I sincerely doubt it (and hope not). But then, what is the difference?
Although Sozzani is no stranger to compromising cover shoots, she has edged over the line with this one, even if it has been produced under the guise of raising awareness. Vogue makes money out of these problems, and they’re not exactly donating the money to the real-life victims (as far as I can tell).
I’m sorry, Sozzani, but you can’t solve the world with a fashion shoot. And, in this case, you probably shouldn’t have tried.
According to the Vogue Italia website, this month’s issue will be out on April 4th in Milan, and will then be available shortly after in the rest of Italy.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, do not hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247