Outrage over Vogue photographs

French Vogue has never been one to tiptoe around controversy. Recently it has published photos of supposedly pregnant models puffing cigarettes [see pictures to the right], supporting devil worshipping and leather-clad glamazons kissing with blood pouring from their mouths.

Now, though, the magazine may have gone too far for even the most dedicated followers of fashion. Its October edition features pictures of Dutch model Lara Stone in which the naturally pale-skinned blonde’s face and body are painted black. The photo shoot, styled by the magazine’s long-time editor, Carine Roitfeld, provoked outrage today as its subject spread through internet forums and fashion websites. The US blog Jezebel criticised the decision of Roitfeld and photographer Steven Klein to alter the model’s skin colour, accusing them of cultural insensitivity.

“What Klein and Roitfeld should know … is that painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context,” it said. “France and Australia may not have the United States’ particular history of minstrel shows … but something about the act of portraying a white woman as black ought to sound an alarm, somewhere.”

French Vogue said the magazine was unaware of any controversy. Neither Roitfeld nor Stone’s agents at the IMG model agency in New York or Paris were available for comment.

Dominique Sopo, president of the French organisation SOS Racisme, said that even if the shoot was not racist in intention it was certainly “tactless”.
“If the aim was artistic, and not to pass off the model as a black girl, the fact that it produces such reactions shows that the world of images – advertising, fashion, whatever – is now paying for its long tradition of not allowing black people to show their bodies in public.”

Before starting this blog, perhaps in my naivety, I didn’t realise just how political fashion was and how many people it’s capable of offending. I suppose the clue is in the name; people are worried that behaviour they deem offensive will become “fashionable” and therefore acceptable.

It never seizes to amaze me at how diverse the fashion industry is (business, politics, creative) and how much it affects us; that selling clothes can cause so much controversy, how the clothes are made can cause so much controversy, that a picture can cause so much controversy.

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