Fashion is, in its shiny haute couture forms, about art. Designers often go for the bizarre in order to startle and dazzle with thought provoking and often controversial images rather than wearable clothes. So when designers and their photographers go in for having stick aliens as that image, it’s not the same thing as when advertisers and the magazines working with them use stick aliens images to sell products like purses, perfume, or even casual wear that would not seem to benefit from a stick alien image. It’s a game of strange expressionism that does actually keep people interested in fashion and what it might produce and thus, has a more clear rationale. However, sometimes the stick alien image of high fashion is so apropos about stick alien mentality in general that the bizarre image becomes a different sort of social art — an art that invites us to comment on the back-handed nastiness towards women that seems to run through the fashion and advertising industries. Such an image is the current cover picture for the Italian edition of Vogue Magazine, Vogue Italia. The cover, with the headline Avant- Garde, is apparently a tribute to a woman named Ethel Granger who loved to cinch herself up in corsets and have facial piercings and held the Guiness Book of Records record for tiniest waist. Why this would require a tribute is anybody’s guess.
The image isn’t actually photo-shopped, at least not much. Instead, famous photographer Steven Meisel cinched British model Stella Tennant into a special corset to make her waist 13 inches (and probably do permanent damage to her insides.) They turned her into a literal, real life stick alien. The image is meant to be daring, shocking and stir up lots of chatter and magazine sales, and it’s done all that. It’s art. It’s art that shows the hatred and control fashion has towards the women they use as a tool of art, and does it by invoking both a time period in which women were restricted and lacking power and Edward Scissorhands. It’s a big middle finger from fashion and Vogue towards all the criticism of their stick alien photoshopping and anorexic model servitude of the last few years, criticism that has forced them to make changes they don’t like. It’s an image that says, “We can do whatever we want.”
And of course, they can. And we can blast that image all over for them while pointing out the hatred that they are showing for the women to whom they are supposedly selling clothes and fashion art. We can talk about it, we can talk about it to young women, even if they don’t want to hear it and don’t care right now. And that talking has had an effect, slow but steady. And in the end, the stick alien is not really any better at selling haute couture and fashion magazines than it is at selling perfume, purses and casual wear. (Well, unless you’re Lady Gaga playing around in a music video.) All of the sales rates and the ad rates for all of the fashion magazines are falling and digital sales are underwhelming and still highly disadvantaged for picture heavy mags like fashion. Fashion sales are falling as well, thanks to the economy. If they keep up with the misogyny as their favorite advertising technique, that’s unlikely to change.
So here it is, an actual stick alien, Sid Vicious/American Gothic style:
Edward Scissorhands would be sad.