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.
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.
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.