Magazine's 'domestic abuse' fashion shoot shows nothing but bad taste

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 9:45am

Have you seen the last issue of Italian Vogue? If not, look online and Google "domestic violence" along with it. Franca Sozzani, the respected editor at Vogue Italia, decided to tackle the topic in the pages of her magazine, with a glossy fashion shoot featuring designer clothes on "abused" models, shot by Steven Meisel, titled "Horror Movie". When I first saw it - "Oh my god", was my first thought, before almost spitting out my coffee. I was utterly baffled.

When I saw the images, I had to do a double take. A red-haired beauty in a satiny red gown (Prada, in case you wanted to know) lies on the floor, looking dead, a bloody knife near her body and a sinister man watching over in the background. Another image shows a dark-haired model cowering under the stairs in high heels, knee socks and a lacy black dress as a menacing man wearing a clear plastic raincoat approaches. Another is screaming on the stairway in a white dress with blood smears on the wall and a man standing ominously above her. What are they smoking over there in the Vogue Italia office, and where can I get some? There is even a short video to go along with it, opening title tastefully done (yes that's sarcasm) in a blood-splattered font.

"This is really a horror show, what we are looking at and what we see every day in every newspaper around the world is how fragile the woman still is today, and how she can be attacked, can be abused, can be killed," Sozzani was quoted saying in The Independent last week. I'm confused about whether this is supposed to entertain or highlight a serious issue. It seems that part of her intention was to bring attention to the plight of abused women around the globe. Well, despite the media storm around this controversy, I'm not sure that the attention is just on the issue of domestic violence. There is much that has been lost in translation.

I've always admired Sozzani's work - she's made Vogue Italia into a fashion institution, and this incident won't change that. But still, this just seems like very poor judgment. Her point about raising awareness, highlighting this huge problem in society seems to come from a kind and reasonable place, but her intention gets lost in the medium. There are some things you cannot do with fashion or a fashion shoot.

I agree on the point that fashion is beyond just pretty clothing, trends and designers. I see fashion in the context of creative cultural expression. "The rag trade" is a huge commercial and cultural force and it would be a mistake to treat it lightly. Fashion is also an important way of expressing identity, for both the individual and the tribe. It has a deeper significance, which is often forgotten when the industry is dismissed as shallow.

But despite all this, sometimes it's best to be aware of the industry's limitations. Glamorous fashion shoots sell luxury clothing; they project an ideal, a creative vision or a proposition of beauty - however unconventional. Ultimately, however, fashion is also a form of entertainment. This isn't gritty photojournalism; there is the element of aspiration and often glamorisation in this shoot, and it uses high-fashion models. Portraying the issue of domestic violence in this manner just seems inappropriate, and the visuals just strange.

There are times these kinds of shoots can address issues successfully (see Vogue Italia's plus-size models cover, which I thought was wonderful), but this Horror Movie project unfortunately did not cut it. Not only is the Hollywood horror film photography very stylised and artistic, to me it awkwardly belittles the enormity and terror of real-life domestic violence. Does it even matter if you are wearing Prada or Marc Jacobs if this is happening to you?

It's admirable to try and tackle an issue like domestic abuse in the pages of a glossy fashion magazine. Next time try commissioning a daring article, interview survivors; you know, employ regular journalistic techniques to deal with a serious topic. I hope no one again decides to manifest this "theme" into a beautifully composed fashion shoot with sexy models in expensive clothing and try to pass it off as activism.