Outside of a Zoolander situation, the fashion industry is about as dangerous as wearing plaid with stripes (that is, once you're past the production phase). Or that's what you might think if it's been a while since you've thumbed through a filthy Vogue at the dentist. Contemporary fashion advertising is all about beautiful lifeless women, usually lying in puddles of artfully applied grime and contorted into broken, corpse-like sprawls.
It doesn't always bother with subtlety:
Some of these images, like this shot from a series called Pretty Wasted, can be hard to distinguish from real crime scene photos. But damn, that jacket, though.
This is such a widely accepted theme in fashion that America's Next Top Model ran an episode dedicated to it. The models were "killed" in different ways -- stabbed, mangled, electrocuted, etc. Real ... beautiful stuff?
The judges didn't say, "Wait a second ... are we making snuff porn?" at any point. Instead they offered comments like "Very beautiful, and dead" or "Death becomes you, young lady." They even scolded one of the models for not looking dead enough. To be fair, that's been about 75 percent of a model's job since the early '90s or so. (The other 25 percent is "smizing," and please do not question how we know that.)
The trend is oddly popular right now, but it's not new. Renowned fashion photographer Guy Bordain shot this for a calendar in 1980:
Like other media, necrophiliac fashion photography is governed by a set of well-defined, ghoulish rules. If there's a man in the shot, he'll have a creepily calm, methodical expression. There's no anger on his face, and definitely no remorse. He isn't somebody who would kill a woman in a fit of rage; he's a focused and psychopathic killer. Take this Duncan Quinn ad from 2008. The guy's expression of mild, indifferent surprise would be more at home on the face of a man who's just received an extra side of fries than one holding an exquisitely designed noose.
It might make a perverse sort of sense if this trend were confined to minor players in the fashion industry -- avant-garde types who design dresses of rotting leaves and such -- but the heavy hitters have gotten in on it too. Jimmy Choo apparently decided there was no sexier look than "bachelor party gone awry." Incidentally, the menacing-looking gentleman holding the shovel there is Grammy-award-winning music producer Quincy Jones.
Can you guess what's being advertised there? Cars? Sunglasses? Designer shovels?
Did you guess shoes?
"Expensively adorned feet dangling from the inside of a trunk" is a very specific subcategory that shoe designers love almost as much as they hate feet.
"Women killed on, in, or somewhere nearby a car" fashion goes back decades, all the way to this photo from 1966:
But of course, no American art form would be complete without guns. There are rules here, too. If she's not already dead, the woman must be cowering in an improbable position at gunpoint. The environment is always a completely bare, undecorated room, evoking a distinct "murder basement" aesthetic. Sometimes the killer is out of shot, making it easier for the viewer to imagine themselves in his place. Photographer Tyler Shields is particularly into this style, and apparently great at talking celebrities into going along with his fetish. If you can't tell because she's been blurred into unrecognizability, this is Lindsay Lohan.
Shields did a similar shoot with Hayden Panettiere, and had her fellate the gun, in case nobody got it yet:
Or take this 1997 ad by fashion photography legend Helmut Newton. Dingy, bare room? Check. Anonymous out-of-frame man with a gun? Check. The urge to have a good shower cry after seeing the ad? Check and check.
Fashion ads depicting domestic violence typically go for a woman with clear, detailed bruising and a calm, focused man standing in the background or right out of frame. Like this photo shoot for the Bulgarian 12 Magazine, which was widely criticized as glamorizing domestic violence.
Another shoot by Tyler Shields (That guy has multiple issues? Who could'a foreseen!) features an extreme closeup of Heather Morris with a black eye. In another shot, her wrists are bound with an iron's electrical cord. Y'know, what might pass for thought-provoking symbolism in an art gallery sorta loses its impact when it's being used to promote Glee.
This kind of thing seems like it would be a product of the past, back when it was acceptable for your husband to beat you for buying the wrong coffee. But this ad for a Canadian hair salon, which implores customers to "look good in all you do" (including getting beaten) is from 2011.
A 2014 issue of Vogue Italia ran a shoot whose target audience consisted solely of Patrick Bateman:
The glamorous gang rape is another bizarre mainstay of fashion photography. In this genre, a woman is shown surrounded and held in place by one or more men. Her expression is usually blank, as are the faces of those surrounding her. This 2007 Dolce & Gabbana ad -- which became so notorious that everybody from Italian textile workers to Amnesty International called for its boycott -- was excused by Stefano Gabbana as "an erotic dream, a sexual game." Weird, because no one in the ad seems to be having a good time.
That lesson was learned by no one, and a few years later, Calvin Klein did something similar.
And then there's "The Wrong Turn," by Indian photographer Raj Shetye, released not long after a 23-year-old student was raped in New Delhi by six men on a bus.
What do all these images have in common? They're all fantasies about exerting power over helpless women. That's more than a little weird, considering most of them are supposed to be selling products to those same women. In what world is "I'm gonna kill you, b***h" considered a tantalizing sales pitch?
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