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More shock than chic: inappropriate fashion shoots

It seems like every week there’s a news story about an insensitive fashion shoot, from models wearing blackface to that shoot the other week based on domestic violence. Are fashion editors just really stupid?

Charles, by email

Would that it were that simple, but in fact, Charles, there is much more going on here. So when you next see yet another blackface fashion shoot; or yet another one in which models wearing ridiculously expensive clothing cavort gleefully around poor people (so real!); or yet another one that glamorises injured or even dead women, such as the Vogue Italia shoot you cited in your question or the Vice shoot last year recreating the suicides of famous female writers; or yet another one which uses a natural disaster to flog clothes, such as Vogue Italia’s notorious oil spill shoot; or one that insists that someone or something deeply inappropriate should be seen as a fashion icon, such as John Galliano’s notorious “homeless chic” collection, or the claim in Vogue this month that we should all try to dress like Piper Chapman, the incarcerated protagonist of Orange is the New Black – who is not only a prisoner but based on a real person, Piper Kerman (Kerman herself was unimpressed, tweeting simply “ugh”), rest assured there is much more than mere stupidity going on here.

Instead, these ideas are the product of a complex mathematical equation, one that I will exclusively reveal now: 30% stupidity, 20% ignorance, 10% inability to take anything into consideration beyond mere aesthetics, 10% over-privilege, 30% infantile attention-seeking. It’s like learning the recipe to Coca-Cola, isn’t it?

There are many glorious things about fashion: the creativity, the excitement of novelty, the thrill of the imagery, the pleasure it can give. But one of the many decidedly unpleasant aspects of it is the way certain parts of the industry confuse an immature desire for controversy with edginess. This is certainly the case with the Vogue Italia shoot that depicts Prada-clad models imitating famous film heroines being threatened with weapons. Chic! Hilariously, the magazine claims that it is not glamorising violence against women – who could ever think such a thing? – but drawing attention to domestic violence so that women who suffer from it “can feel our nearness”. As the feminist website Jezebel pointed out, survivors of violence might feel the magazine’s nearness better if the editor had simply released a statement promising to stop glamorising violence, as opposed to doing precisely that, but how would that help the magazine feature the requisite number of Prada credits? Will somebody please think of the needs of the advertisers here?

The truth is, I feel rather sorry for these fashion editors. Can you imagine how stressful it must be having to shut the oxygen off in your brain enough so that you can come up with these inane ideas every single month? It’s just not enough any more to float Angelina Jolie through the Cambodian jungle, getting close to nature while she totes several thousand pounds’ worth of Louis Vuitton handbags (SO REAL); you have to think of fashion shoots involving models dogging, as V Magazine did in 2008, or style children like high-end escorts from the 1980s, as Tom Ford did in French Vogue in January 2012. Imagine the stress! And stress causes wrinkles, which are just the worst thing ever, far more so than torture, famine and holocausts. Speaking of all those things, here are some more ideas for controversial fashion shoots to spare fashion editors’ complexions:

1. Slave market fashion shoot

Get some white models and black them up. Put them in faux rags, probably by Comme des Garçons and maybe a bit of Marni, too, and build a set of a 19th-century American slave market (12 Years a Slave winning the Oscar has totes made this era have a moment). See if you can get that Lupita chick to feature, for a bit of realism, plus she’s so hot right now. Get some famous white dude to act as the auction barker – I’m thinking Russell Brand.

2. Auschwitz fashion shoot

I’m seeing models – extra skinny ones, too, yay! – and I’m seeing barbed wire. Stick the girls in sexily distressed frocks (nipple shots totally acceptable for historical accuracy), ideally by Gucci and Bottega Veneta, but maybe include ones by Jewish designers (Marc Jacobs???) for cultural sensitivity.

3. School shooting fashion shoot

The great thing about this idea is, unlike the slave and Auschwitz shoots, there are many more opportunities to show off accessories here. So, using images from news stories about Columbine High School as the mood board, have two models walking around in trench coats (Burberry, obvs, as classic is always the most tasteful) while they apparently murder their “classmates” with guns. Female aggression = hot, and kind of feminist, too, no? School satchels should be shown flying through the air – get ones from Chanel and Mulberry.

4. Rape shoot

Look, rape is a very serious issue and it’s time the fashion industry had the courage to draw attention to it. So here we’ll just have several pages of photos of models being violently raped. Their clothes – from Prada, Dior and Louis Vuitton, for an edgy, aspirational vibe – will be provocatively torn and stylishly distressed while a male model appears to attack them. We never see the male model’s face, but there is always a close-up of the perfectly made-up women’s faces as they are raped, really emphasising the horror of the crime – natch – but also to show that being raped does not mean your Bobbi Brown lipstick necessarily needs to smudge.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com.

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