You ask somebody why they used a specific colour, what inspired a collection or a shoot, and they start dropping names, mentioning this or that rare art archive, almost to validate their work, while it would be simpler and more credible to just reply "I fancied that" or "I dreamt about it". After all, the most beautiful ideas are often the simplest and and they are the result of sudden bursts of inspiration.
In the same way you wish Franca Sozzani, supreme editor at Vogue Italia, would have tried to avoid justifying the shoot appearing on the April 2014 issue (currently out) of the magazine.
On the cover a woman appears to be lying on the floor next to a man who looks more or less dead. A title reads "Cinematic" and inside the magazine there is a Steven Meisel shoot inspired by horror movies showing models (Issa Lish and Natalie Westling) cowering in fear, being threatened by a maniac looking knife-wielding man (Bernd Sassmannhausen), or lying dead while in the background a blurred killer sits and stares (for what regards the cover, the assumption is that the model has just committed an act of violence in self-defence...).
In Italy there is a long tradition of horror films and there is an even longer tradition of fashion houses lending their garments to horror directors. One of the best thriller movies Mario Bava ever shot takes places in a fashion atelier and features models being killed and dropping dead one after the other, and we learnt in previous posts how Dario Argento even directed a catwalk show with a surprise killer appearing on the runway and how thriller films keep on inspiring fashion adverts and photoshoots.
Therefore, while some readers may have found a bit annoying and scary the idea of a maniac running wild in the pages of a glossy fashion magazine, the title of the shoot - "Horror Movie" - would have maybe pointed towards iconic scary movies and even the most sceptical readers may have been left content with the explanation that Meisel was just channelling Dario Argento & Co.
But, no, unfortunately Ms Sozzani thought that was probably not so controversial and - to explain the shoot and possibly sell more copies - she decided to justify it as an attempt at fighting against domestic violence.
Now, before moving any kind of critique to Sozzani, bear in mind that people who spend too much time in a fashion-related environment may display a terrific detachment from reality.
Sozzani has spent the last few days between the opening party for "The Glamour of Italian Fashion" exhibition at the V&A Museum, among uncountable numbers of alleged tax evaders living in fiscal paradises, and the Venetian show and party thrown by Diesel to celebrate the first results of its new collaboration with Nicola Formichetti.
Being surrounded by models, money, dubious characters and chancers obviously gives you a very different perspective on life, compared to the perspective of an ordinary person, more worried about less glamorous engagements such as paying the bills and doing the school rounds.
According to an interview published on The Independent, after seeing the images Meisel had shot Sozzani linked the two things, and realised that women in Italy and all over the world are attacked, abused and killed. Somehow you feel like standing and clapping: having figured it out now, in 2014, when she's only 64, is a definite achievement, a key moment in her otherwise glamorous existence. Unfortunately some of us discovered it earlier on in their lives for different reasons and, while some got away, others are still in therapy and there's also a few ones who can't tell their stories any more because they were killed in the process.
Sozzani also added in the interview: "It was not against men, it’s about the fact that women have to be defended. And a lot of people are already doing something, because I know that even some other people in fashion are really committed to defending women and raising awareness, to empower women." It may have been a translation problem, but, if our fierce editrix states, "even some other people in fashion are really committed..." she sounds as if she herself is actually amazed that some people in the fashion industry may be committed to defending women, almost implicitly revealing the contradictions of the industry she represents.
Fashion is indeed excellent at denying the same things it states it's fighting against: it's feminist but puts pressures upon women, convincing them they will be socially unacceptable if they don't buy that bag or wear those shoes; it claims it stands against food disorders, but then encourages models to starve themselves; it states it's not racist, but it's a mainly white industry; it proclaims it's ethical and exploits millions of workers.
Fashion is a bit like Alice's looking-glass, it reflects unreal and untrue images, it retouches and makes you believe it supports the opposite of what you can actually see (if Vogue Italia will ever do a photoshoot inspired by Rosemary's Baby it will claim it's a tribute to Catholic religion...).
Sozzani may be against domestic violence, but she ends up showing not an antidote or a cure, but another history of violence. It's as if to benefit a young girl suffering from anorexia, you would show her catwalk images of thin models wearing the latest collections.
If you were genuinely against domestic violence, you may have done a different shoot with real women who recovered after they were hit, wounded, or disfigured, to prove other victims of violence that you can actually find again your strength and get on with life. Or what about calling a charity and doing a project with them? (note: a charity and not a trendy venture sponsored by a powerful fashion group wearing the philanthropy cloak...).
Maybe if Sozzani had opted for this solution she may have discovered that victims of domestic violence are rarely dressed in designer coats and are rarely followed around by mysterious killers.
Most of the times they are the victims of their own partners as violence occurs within the family, and among the many factors that trigger violence there aren't just misogyny, resentment, and personality problems, but also the stress of poverty, and, in some countries and cultures, a woman can get battered by her husband if she wears clothes deemed to be not sufficiently modest.
Domestic violence can also be psychological, emotional or sexual, can happen in heterosexual or same sex relationships and occurs within all age ranges (have we forgotten about children?), ethnic backgrounds and social classes.
While not all abusive relationships involve violence, this simple word is also linked to a long list of terrible acts, including marital rape, forced marriages and child marriages. These are all issues related to domestic violence that can't be implicitly tackled in a shoot about horror movies.
The most surreal thing about the entire story remains one basic and simple point: a horror movie is a work of fiction, and a shoot in a glossy magazine is fiction as well. In a nutshell, the blood is fake and your dead actresses or models will stand up at the very end and walk away.
When real domestic violence occurs, the blood is real, when somebody lies on the floor motionless she may be really dead, and a victim of domestic violence never leaves behind a beautiful corpse.
In fact, despite literature, films and adverts showing death as glamorous and sublime, and Edgar Allen Poe stating in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world", there is nothing glamorous in death.
There's something else though that makes you bitterly laugh and shake your head: turn to page 244 of Vogue where you will be able to read a rambling piece by (male) Vogue Italia feature editor Carlo Ducci (you see, there were no intelligent women around to write it...) in which the magazine becomes a sort of masked super hero, rescuing women, offering counselling, and engaged in civic responsibility.
"What is important for us is that at least one of the dozens of women suffering violence every day can feel our nearness," Mr Ducci, writes at some point. I may not be so well informed about the issue, but a victim of violence rarely dreams of Balenciaga, Miu Miu, Fendi and Marc Jacobs while being attacked or feels the glamorous nearness of Wonder Franca spreading all around her. She usually hopes that the person perpetrating violence will stop and - unfortunately - that rarely happens...
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