The fashion industry does not care about breasts. Boldly affirmed by Brook Shields with Calvin Klein jeans, the use of nude imagery has been slowly integrated within fashion advertising. However, in a case of mistaken identity, the negative connotations placed on an image of a semi-nude model are often in ignorance of the artistic merit behind the work. In replacement is a taboo, which condemns the naked female form. Whilst it’s pointless to fight against social order and proclaim that the masses are wrong, it seems there is least there is a battle to be won on behalf of nudity within photography and fashion.
The face and methods of advertising have matured beyond the years in which simply ‘modelling’ a product is effective. In retaliation, most nudity within fashion campaigns constructs a sensual image, in order to embody the emotions and themes of the collection envisioned by the designer. Hedi Slimane’s latest Saint Laurent Paris spread includes a model wearing a flimsy shirt exposing her nipples. The photograph is beautiful, both wistful and romantic. Yet similar images are condemned because of the exposure of the female body on grounds of being ‘unnecessary’. Such an attitude “brings with it a sort of hyper-sexualisation that doesn’t extend to men” notes lingerie designer Karolina Laskowska. “It’s an issue that extends beyond the relatively small world of advertising and presents far bigger issues of inequality.” What is most concerning is that the breasts here are no different from the ones hidden in the infamous Sophie Dahl “Opium” fragrance advert or those of Karen Elson as the face of Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Classique”. Whilst part of the blame is down to misleading media captions, branding images of naked women as “risqué”, there is a problem with the public attitude in mistaking sensuality for sexuality and nudity with obscenity.
On the other end of the spectrum, erotically charged images are targeted with more justifiable reasoning. The sexual images promoting the first fragrance by Tom Ford had the perfume bottle squeezed between the models breasts and legs. Shocking yes, but is it wrong? The fragrance itself is heavy and musky; designed for sex and thus advertised sexually. But in other cases, the ‘over-sexualisation’ of a modest product is often the mere opinion of the consumer, and the equally critically media. Tom Ford himself defends the projection of sex as a personal reaction. In an interview with Interview Magazine, Ford discusses how sexual nudity is something we project ourselves, drawing on the experience of doing an interview nude. Once dressed, Ford asked the interviewer whether the experience was sexual. “He said, “Absolutely not.” And I said, “That’s because I didn’t make it sexual. Sexuality is in the eyes, it’s an expression, it’s a look.” Then, all of a sudden, I looked at him in a very different way, and it made him very nervous.” Although Ford references male nudity, there is no marginal comparison and the attacks branding nudity ‘unnecessary’ thus come from a consumer that objectifies nudity sexually, forgetting about our natural state of undress. That is something that is infinitely more worrying.
A concern that can be easily dismissed is the ‘exploitation’ of both male and female models. Being naked is part of the job as a model is considered to be an animate, human coat hanger. Nudity has shaped both a designers and a model’s career from the very beginning, with the likes of Kate Moss gaining instant recognition. Concerning the Calvin Klein jeans advert, Alex Needham of The Guardian cites how the image “tells us as much about the mores of 1990, as the woman lounging naked at a picnic in Manet’s Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe does about the changing sexual attitudes of the early 1860s”. Integrating nudity within an advert not only says a lot about progression of social attitudes, but there is always the concern of the model, demonstrating their professionalism and understanding of their role in fashion.
With the issue stripped bare, what remains to be evaluated is a much bigger problem. Considering that some of the most beautiful and memorable images have been produced by fashion’s artistic ensembles, its saddening to see that ignorance is bliss for most, not bothering to make the distinction between what is pornographically structured and what is naturally presented. Until we can move past that attitude, it seems that the opinions will always be divided, with the opposing team remaining blind to something rather beautiful, whatever their style preferences.