Violence in Vogue

Vogue Italia finds itself in an imbroglio about violence against women.

Every year editor Franca Sozzani attempts a ‘political’ spread. She is alert to the ambiguities of the fashion industry and tries to lend her resources of her 100,000-circulation magazine to a progressive theme.

So far, so noble. She tells The Independent:

I think about not what could make the magazine different, but what could make a good issue, that people will remember. Anyway, I’m using fashion! I’m using what everybody else is using. I’m more or less using the same girls that everybody’s using. I’m very politically correct in this way, but in the other way, I feel that we can use fashion in a different way.

Her April 2014 issue devotes a spread to the scandal of domestic violence and it has roused great tumult.

Vogue Italia photography by Steven Meisel

Photography by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia

The controversy is less to do with the fact of Vogue doing violence against women, more to do with whether it can do it, whether the magazine has pulled it off.

Sozzani has explained her commitment to the project, it is ‘our civic duty’ she writes, ‘to convey a message against barbarism.’ She has expressed her alarm at the statistics showing that two women are killed every week in Italy — the same statistic as the UK.

Her photographer Steven Meisel captures exquisite corpses, horror scenarios evoking The Shining, and of course, the frocks.

Vogue Italia photography by Steven Meisel

Photography by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia

Sozzani herself has said that when she considered the concept, ‘the idea was cinematic’. This, then, was a genre shoot.

But did she pull it off? Could women who, she writes, are suffering, ‘feel our nearness’?

Having registered how young people relish the horror movie genre, she writes that the death rate from domestic violence ‘is really a horror show.’

But of course it isn’t a show. And that’s a clue to the problem with the spread: it is defined by form, by cinematic allusion and the codes genre, but not the content of violence against — the cultures that sponsor men’s domination and defeat of women.

The spread doesn’t show the relationship so much as it rehearses the mis en scene that saturates popular cultures of violence. It doesn’t rupture them, it repeats them.

That’s why Vogue Italia’s domestic violence spread is controversial: its message is overwhelmed by the medium — the pleasures of seeing the bodies of women, dead or alive, are repeated, again and again.

3 thoughts on “Violence in Vogue

  1. Pam I

    When I recently did a photography degree, one fellow graduating man produced a spread like this, of abused and violated women. He had got access to a fabulous house and a stunning model, used very highly skilled techniques re lighting etc. He was chosen for inclusion in the best of show. When I told him, and the tutors, they made me want to vomit, he defended them as ‘Edgy’. I am so sick of hearing this kind of crap celebrated as Edgy.

    1. Anonymous

      This photographer sounds an incredibly sick man. A sadistic misogynist perhaps. The fact that his work was endorsed is even more depressing.

      I’m glad you spoke up. A human voice in a sick twisted world. I hope your career is successful too.

  2. Anonymous

    This is completely sickening and can only be ‘enjoyed’ I presume by those without empathy and a streak of sadism and misogyny.

    I’m dismayed, horrified, depressed that suffering of this magnitude can be linked with glamour in the minds of some warped individuals.

    Boycott Vogue Italia. I feel really angry about this. Women are murdered in real life and Vogue Italia is just adding gloss to the subject.


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