Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gender Play in German Vogue

Thanks once again to the scanning prowess of tFS member candlebougie, we already have scans of one of Freja's Vogue Germany editorials.

Monokel Diele
Vogue Germany October 2009
Ph: Karl Lagerfeld

At first look the phrases "gender play" and "role reversal" pop into my mind. Using black and white photography and a neutral background, it seems to me as if Karl is making a statement on the fluidity of gender roles and how social constructions play a large part in how we determine who is male and who is female. Anatomy and physiology aside, there are certain social signifiers that we use to determine someone's gender; height, hair length, clothes, dominance, and passivity immediately come to mind. We rely on these signifiers to make assessments about the people around us, but when these signifiers are unexpectedly mixed around things get interesting. Take for example this particular shot from the editorial:

Freja is taller, has short hair and is wearing a bow tie - all things that suggest masculinity. Baptiste is shorter, has longer hair and is donning a corset - all things that suggest femininity. Here they are defying their gender roles; yet at the same time, they are playing into them as well. Freja is wearing a skirt and the highest of high heels. Baptiste is wearing pants and men's dress shoes. He is also taking Freja's hand in his own, exhibiting dominance over Freja's passivity. These are the elements that fit into our conventionally held notions of male and female.

Thus we have a simultaneous embracing and rejecting of traditional gender roles, colliding in the same image with androgyny as the end result. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this shot was the one that stuck out for me as the strongest in the set, because I think it has the most to say.

(Note: I wrote the above before I read the editorial summary: "Women, strong as men. Men, tender as women: In the legendary club of Berlin in the post war period the role of the sexes was completely turned upside down." So I guess my assessment was fairly accurate, except maybe I gave Karl too much credit in the intent of his concept. Maybe he wasn't looking to make some grand social commentary; he just wanted to re-create part of Germany's past, which is fitting for an anniversary issue such as this.)

Androgyny and the mixing of gender characteristics has been done before in fashion, so this editorial is nothing new. However, I think it's beautifully shot and all three models look absolutely stunning. You know that I'd take this overplayed concept any day over the shallow concept of having us gaze at pretty clothes on jumping models.

Lastly, I must say I'm so happy that Freja seems to be Karl's female model muse once again. I wonder what it is about her that draws Karl in? I have some thoughts, but I think those will be better suited to another post. It is amazing that their collaboration has lasted so long and presently shows no signs of slowing. At least someone is giving Freja her due as a model, for otherwise I think she is grossly underrated. While her modeling contemporaries show up at fancy fashion soirees, have the blessings of Anna Wintour (and consequently Vogue US) and Steven Meisel, have issues of magazines dedicated to them, and have fashion luminaries waxing poetic about their looks or bodies, Freja is left virtually unnoticed to occupy the role of the underdog. And I think I might prefer it this way. For the underdog is the one unconfined by conventions and traditions. The underdog is the one with the freedom to grow without the strain of public scrutiny. The underdog is the one who will defy all expectations to eventually come out on top. And that is exciting.

Image Credits: scans by candlebougie @ tFS


Anonymous said...

Again your writing is so freaking good!!!! if you ever write a book i would buy because you use words the way they were meant to used. Never stop writing and never stop writing about my muse, Freja.

Rrose Sélavy said...

Thanks so much for reading and for your comment, but I really think you give me too much credit. :) I appreciate it though!

Anonymous said...

This ed is great. Freja is really giving it some and I love it. Her co-workers in the pictures are a mere side show to Freja's cheek bones.