Is domestic violence in Vogue?
Despite declining circulation and the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, a risky magazine cover still has the ability to capture our micro-sized attention spans. In fact it seems that the decline in magazine sales is linked exponentially to an increase in inappropriate, controversy-baiting covers. And what a bumper year 2012 has been for flat-out bizarre cover decisions.
Just last week GQ chose to run a series of male celebrities suited and booted while leaving singer Lana Del Ray without a thing to wear. Last month a Spanish magazine was condemned for superimposing the face of Michelle Obama onto the body of a female slave. Earlier in the year South African marie claire went viral when they did a different kind of Photoshop hatchet job on Duchess Kate's body. Meanwhile Time’s cover story on the attachment parenting debate featuring an image of a 26-year-old mother breastfeeding her three year child made international headlines.
Yesterday another misadventure in cover design was revealed by French mens magazine Vogue Hommes International. Their latest effort features Stephanie Seymour being choked by male model Marlon Teixeira in what can most accurately be described as high fashion meets domestic violence. What an unsubtle piece of imagery. Seymour stands rigid in a submissive pose with her shirt unbuttoned and her eyes laced with a not-so-faint expression of fear. Teixeira with his pre-orgasmic facial expression appears in control with one hand on her breast and another firmly around her throat - except for one finger, which he appears to be licking.
French editions of Vogue adore controversy. Blurring the lines of what is acceptable and showing little to no regard for what the public thinks tends to be their modus operandi. Last year the women's edition published a fashion shoot featuring Thylane Blondeau, a 10 year old model who seductively posed on leopard print bed covers while wearing heavy make-up and gold stilettos. They are credited with creating "porno chic" a trend they've illustrated over the years in shoots featuring various models tied up with rope. And in 2009 they notoriously shot Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in blackface for a spread styled by then editor Carine Roitfeld.
Since the magazine's release, four separate domestic violence and women's rights advocacy groups in the US have written to the chairman of Conde Nast (Vogue Hommes International publisher) Si Newhouse and his editorial director Thomas Wallace to express their disgust and ask that the issue be removed from newsstands.
One powerful letter from The Sanctuary of Families included these messages:
"A 2008 Journal of Emergency Medicine study of murders of women in 11 cities found that 43 per cent of women who were killed by intimate partners had experienced at least one previous episode of choking before being killed.
In 2010, New York State made choking a violent felony, and advocates, prosecutors, police officers and survivors throughout the State have embraced the law as a way to save women’s lives.
While this cover was perhaps intended to shock and thrill potential readers, the truly shocking fact is that it glorifies violence against women and sends a dangerous message to anyone who sees this magazine – that choking is a sign of passion rather than of violence."
In the first half of this year, newsstand sales in the US for Conde Nast's heavy hitting titles Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker all fell in the double digits. So things at head office in New York where Newhouse and Wallace are based aren't great right now. In fact, you can almost hear the sound of Louboutins pacing the halls.
Many might say that it's a good time to take risks, to do things that get people talking about and engaging with magazines again. Whatever their strategy is for keeping magazines relevant, no matter how outrageous trends get or what boundaries designers and editors push, fetishising the abuse of women is a dangerous game that despite its presence this month in Vogue will never, ever be in fashion.