Monday, July 5, 2010

Beliefs vs. Fashion

The Untold Crime
Vogue Nippon August 2010
Ph: Terry Richardson
Styling: George Cortina

It's taken me a long time to write about this editorial, mainly because I didn't know how to approach it. Sure the styling is great, Freja looks beautiful and overall the story is aesthetically pleasing, but it's shot by Terry Richardson. How can I reconcile my dislike for him with the fact that I'm essentially promoting his work every time I post it on this blog? And yet, I can't ignore his work with Freja because lately it's become a big part of her career (much to my dismay). Her last two editorials have been shot by Terry, and since she seems to be a new Vogue Paris "it" girl, you can bet that a lot more of her future work will be shot by Terry as well. As a blog that purports to be about Freja's work and her place within the industry, I can't ignore this aspect of it as much as I want to.

But hey, doesn't one of life's greatest lessons teach us that ignoring problems won't make them go away? So despite my extremely conflicted feelings I'm going to address this editorial and why I think it's existence is so problematic and so emblematic of the negative aspects of the fashion industry today. Now before you harp on me for being overly sensitive, prudish, extremist or whatever else you want to call me, you should know a few things about what I believe:

-The work that someone produces (no matter how good) should never be used to justify his harmful actions. I don't believe in compartmentalizing or creating a separation between the two because that can lead to a very slippery slope. Let me put it another way--would you excuse a priest who has sexually molested a boy just because of the work he does in his church? In this case would you ever create that separation? So even if I like how this editorial looks, I feel that to concede to it would essentially be to condone Terry.

-There is already an inherent power imbalance in the photographer/subject relationship made all the more worse by those who think they can sexually coerce others in the name of their "art." Our apologetic society, when faced with these issues of sexual impropriety, tends to blame the victims instead of force the perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions.

-Basic human rights and values should take precedence over all else, pretty editorials and fashion products included. Nothing can justify the degradation and exploitation of another human being. And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it's not worth basic human dignity and decency.

-Just because something is commonly done among a group of people doesn't make it right. Nor does it give us the right to apathetically accept their actions as the status quo. If people throughout history had thrown up their hands in defeat whenever they were faced with rampant injustice, the world would be a much different place. I've heard so many times that Terry isn't the only photographer with a questionable work approach. But you know what? He's the most obvious and prominent offender with plenty of accusations stacking up against him and a body of work that shows it. If nothing can be done about him then the fashion industry is facing bigger problems than declining sales figures and pinched bottom lines.

I'm well aware that I'm not in any position of authority here. I exist outside the fashion industry and this blog exists on the very periphery of the fashion landscape. Most of the time I feel very guilty and hypocritical for consuming as much fashion as I do. I don't even know how many people are actually going to read this whole post. Maybe a handful of you if I'm lucky? My attempts to keep this issue from disappearing seem futile, but I would feel even worse if I didn't even try to say something about how disappointed I am that Terry continues to work for high profile clients despite everything that has transpired. Way to go fashion! Way to have a backbone and stand up in solidarity with the women you profess to love and empower! Oh wait....

To top it all off, it seems like Terry has toned down his aesthetic in order to appease the situation. This editorial (and also the last one he shot for W magazine) is decidedly less provocative than the work he was doing prior to the accusations. Hmmmm....I do believe this is intentional. In the same vein of him taking down certain pictures from his blog immediately after the clamor over his scandal erupted, I can't help but think that Terry is toning down his work to placate naysayers. And sadly, it seems to be working. After all, his work is back in the pages of W Magazine after a long hiatus, and general consensus about this editorial seems to be positive. It's as if everyone has already forgotten that the scandal even happened.

Well I'm not ready to forgive and forget just because Terry took some good pictures. But it's so disheartening to realize that nothing will ever be done, and that he will continue on without suffering any consequences. Instead of facing the issue and taking action, the industry at large (minus bloggers) has ignored allegations against Terry. In fact, it feels like they've rewarded him in a way. His work is showing up again in a mainstream publication that he's been banned from for many years (Stefano Tonchi, if this is the direction you're going to take W magazine in, I wish you would have just stayed at T.) And his fashion friends have been doing damage control by coming out and making statements to the effect that he isn't a bad guy. Now people have stopped talking about the issue as well. If we aren't the ones to make a big deal out of this and if we can't even create a sustained dialogue, then there's no reason for magazines and designers to stop working with Terry. There's no reason for anyone to make him face the consequences of his actions because no one is holding him accountable.

When I'm faced with inevitabilities like this I begin to understand why so many people eschew fashion because to them it seems superficial, petty and harmful. We turn our heads and pretend problems don't exist, just so collections and magazine issues get released on time. Underage models? Sweatshop labor? Sexual abuse? Unhealthy body expectations? All of those things are swept under the rug. At most they're posted about on blogs and treated like a water cooler topic among fans, but nothing is ever really done. These problems are pervasive and so deeply entrenched into the very fabric of what makes fashion, fashion.

And it's pretty evident to me why serious discourse around these social and political issues is nearly non-existent. The majority of fashion followers don't want to infuse this seriousness into something they regard as an indulgence and an escape. Either that, or they're just too afraid to speak up, too jaded to care, or just too enthralled with the glamorous side of things (like I once was) to even see the grit underneath. I can also understand that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them. If I worked in the industry and my paycheck came from fashion, would I think differently about all of this? Would I stop trying to make this an issue? I would really like to think not and say that nothing could cause me to compromise my beliefs. But I guess you never really know until you're actually put in that situation.

Anyway, I know that this post isn't what most of you want to see or read on a Freja blog. But sometimes there are just more pressing matters at hand than how our favorite model looks in her newest editorial. I hope you understand. And for the sake of fashion's future, I really hope with all my heart that something will be done about Terry eventually. But I'm not holding my breath.

Image Credits: scans by tFS member MAGstyle


Anonymous said...

I'm in no position to tell you what to put on your blog, but in my opinion you should just stop posting his work even if it involves Freja. That would be more consequent than posting the images (basically promoting his work) and criticizing the photographer in the same entry everytime there's a new editorial collaboration of Terry/Freja.
I don't have nearly the problem with Terry you do so I can still enjoy his work. Accusations by anonymous industry insiders on a blog are not enough to condemn a person without further proof. But that's just my opinion...

Anonymous said...

What exactly can be done though? The general consensus from Jezebel and Tavi's blog is that of animosity. But clearly, the public's disapproval still hasn't translate into any worthwhile sanction toward him. Those who have direct influence over his career are implicitly condoning his behavior. In doing so, they are as deplorable as Richardson himself. I won't dwell on the topic too much because posts by Jenna Sauers and you are far more eloquent in criticizing this morally deformed "artist."

Speaking of art, it is by nature subversive yet I see nothing avant garde or groundbreaking about his works. He is merely reiterating patriarchal ideas that has marginalize the opposite sex ever since the beginning of time... and for years to come if people like him continue to have their way. And I don't know why women today are taking this shit lying down. Those hairy legged bra-burners from the 60s got bad press for their radical tactics but at least they tried, perhaps we can rip a page or two from their book for future use.

Anonymous said...

It is only the second time that she writes about him though. Nevertheless, as a consumer of art, she has every right to speak about it, especially when the work and the man behind it have so detrimental an influence on culture. What kind of world is the future generation inheriting when one of most famous photographer is producing works that objectify women in the vilest way? A very patriarchal one I suppose. So don't complain if women still earn less than men, do disproportional amount of house-chores, endure subtle and/or implicit variations of sexual harassment throughout their life, you know... all perks of still being a second class citizen two hundred and eighteen years after that publication by Mary Wollstonecraft.

AMELIA said...

The fashion industry for me has always epitomised a fantasy far away from reality.I think that terrys controversy,anorexia,casting couch etc are some of the things that taint that u have noted, fashion is escapism for most people so we tend to look away and (i know this may sound heartless) but that world seems to be another world for most common folk.Really beauty,glamour,glory and wealth...its far from what regular folk experience so when thing brew up...we don't fully relate to those controversies.Thats what i've viewed anyways.Apart from that..its always a paradox for being hypocritical.if you post the pictures..its against your moral beliefs but on the other hand freja does really great work with terry.I don't know where i stan in this conundrum...but i think it is reflective of the sexism that still exists,really a man can do anything but we choose to either forgive him or ignore the action itself,we may rant on and on but that is the hard truth.As long as he is a man...ppl will make excuses to forgive him.The fashion industry may revolve around a woman's lifestyle but the people who make that choice are men.Argue all we might...its a sad truth.

endia said...

Aren't these accusations, though? Yet, many already have him convicted. He may or may not be guilty of these accusations, but right now, it's just he said/she said.

I can appreciate Freja's work with Terry, because I don't see him in the pics with her. That makes it easy for me to block him out. lol

Rrose Sélavy said...

@ First anonymous commenter: Your opinion is noted and something I have wrestled with myself. Trust me, it would save me a lot of time and effort if I could just pretend Terry didn't exist. I will put it under consideration if more people feel the same way.

@ 2nd and 3rd anonymous commenters: Thank you both for your comments. The frustrations you both express are exactly the same things I feel. Glad to know I'm not alone. I don't know what can be done, but I really do feel like talking about this is better than nothing.

@ Amelia: It is a sad truth that most people don't realize because they assume that in this day and age sexism doesn't exist. The sense of accomplishment we garnered throughout the 60s and 70s breeds a dangerous complacency. But like you said, I realize that not everyone wants to think about these problems. Also, in light of the myriad of other problems in the world, these might not seem as pressing, but they are very important to me.

@ Endia: Yes they are accusations. But they are serious enough in my opinion to warrant further investigation. sexual abuse and exploitation is not always black and white....I'm aware of that. But the fact that no one has taken these accusations seriously enough angers me. In the real world we have rules and laws and due process. That doesn't seem to apply in fashion where the power structure is SO skewed that a man like Terry can survive the accusations completely unharmed. That is utterly disgusting to me to the point where it taints all the work he does, no matter the aesthetic, no matter the model.

peter irvine said...

aside from the obvious arguement at hand regarding the terry richardson controversy , i cant help but feel something has been overlooked in this post and that is george cortina's (in my opinion) bland and repetitive styling ? its a freja blog so lets get back to what is important and discuss why we're all here .
i personally dont see any form of versatility amongst the looks included in the theme of the editorial ?
same belt
same pendant
same glasses
same high collar amongst the all too similar key pieces ?
sorry but , what actually is the purpose of this multiple page spread if we are seeing the same looks over and over ?
although my praise goes out to freja who managed to reaffirm the somewhat retro vibe of the shoot and styling with her under-exaggerated and casually appropriate modeling .

kim said...

Peter: I definitely agree with you. As a Freja fan, I love the pictures, she looks great and gorgeous. But as a fashion fan, I think the styling is quite...bad. Every look looks very similar. The styling accessories are used repeatedly. I am slightly disappointed.

Rrose, this is your blog, we are just people who are passing by. Please do not change anything for anyone, especially when they are Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I respect your opinions! This post was very well written. Is time that the fashion industry is brought back down to earth and make individuals who take part in what Terry is being accused Of to pay. I wonder where freja stands in the midst of all this? Either way her career is full of deserved success and there's nothing corrupt about that!

Anonymous said...

The editorial is clearly inspired by the brilliant 1971 film Klute starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. Interestingly and most pertinent to the discussions above the movie's plot is about a man who is preying on women (working girls in fact). It is an incredibly stylish and tense thriller with amazing performances from Fonda and Sutherland. If you haven't seen it I suggest you add it to your Love Film list.

Terry Richardson is one of many photographers who works in a highly exploitative way. He seems to have become the poster boy to attacks but there are many others like him.

Anonymous said...

Seriously there should be a STRONG call for doing sth against Terry. I really hate to think that the models that smile and grin in that photos were exploited and what's worse, sexually exploited.

Im sorry because my English is poor. But rest assured that many Behans are reading your words and Im one of ppl who don't miss any of your articles :)

Keep posting articles like this. Freja is stunning, her works are exquisite, I can read it there and there and there. But this ? Nowhere else.

Beatrice said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for not letting this issue die. Your posts are relevant and up-to-date; I was not aware that fashion insiders such as Olivier Zahm (who I have lost even more respect for), Noot Seear, Abbey Lee, and Marc Jacobs have defended him publicly, or at least shown a depressing neutrality and tolerance towards what is most definitely sexual exploitation.

I clicked on the link to the post that was reviewing his work in W. The tone of that post astonished me. It actually said: Notorious reputation aside, Terry Richardson can keep it classy when he wants to; case in point, the photographer’s latest story for W, an appealing slice of Manhattan life ... I could not believe it. Thank you for alerting people like me who do not know about these discrepancies in opinion. They reveal an alarming tendency (or is it something more than that, maybe an inclination?) to excuse the crimes and hypocrisies in fashion.

By the way, your blog is interesting and intelligent and it is usually one of my first fashion stops on the internet. As well as offering a considered analysis of Freja’s career, your loyalty is heartwarming. Keep up the good work! (And let’s hope that Freja stops working with Terry very, very soon. I, for one, can’t believe that a strong, independent woman like her is still consenting to appear in his shoots.)

Rrose Sélavy said...

Thanks for all the kind words and encouragement everyone, especially on a post like this one. I'm glad that we can talk about issues like this because they are significant, and they remind us that fashion isn't about glamor all the time. I love that as the readers of this blog, you all are not ones to shy away from difficult issues and you all have such insightful, intelligent things to say. Makes me feel honored to have you as readers.

@Beatrice: Thank you for your comment and for letting me know how you feel. I'm so glad that I wrote the post now, knowing that it made a difference for you. So thank you again!

Miranda said...

Ah, I'm late! I was overseas in Taipei for a week and didn't have internet, but I did stop by Narita Airport to buy the Vogue Nippon issue. I was surprised to discover this editorial in it.

"(Stefano Tonchi, if this is the direction you're going to take W magazine in, I wish you would have just stayed at T.)" My thoughts exactly.

...I always wonder what it is with Freja and Terry Richardson. Does she actually consent to working with him? Is it of her own volition? I find it a bit hard to believe that this would be of her own choosing.

The whole matter is conflicted, yes. As to whether or not anything will be done about Terry--I suppose for now all we can really do is hope, like you've said. It's a shame that certain high profile individuals in the fashion business support him, or at least let him go on as he pleases. I have a feeling something will happen in the near future that will take us by surprise regarding this matter, though.

Rrose Sélavy said...

^I'm sure she does consent to working with him, but she's also an established model and I doubt he'd fuck around with her. From what I can tell, Terry doesn't try anything sketchy with any of the well known models.

I really hope you're right and that something will take us by surprise. Something needs to happen before I lose my faith in fashion completely and stop defending it.

Anonymous said...

These aren't really just accusations... the Terry stories are widely known throughout the biz. See what Rie Rasmussen has to say about him here...

But as many point out, the problem is in the business itself. There are good people working in fashion for sure, but there are also many who are apparently trying to work out their childhood issues and emotional baggage. This is part of life and found everywhere, but the difference for fashion is the age of the models (female AND male) and the sexual nature of advertising. Did anyone see the recent article from Jezebel about Karin founder and MC2 head Jean Luc Brunel. Grow up already. Use all the money for some therapy.

Then there was the BBC documentary where Elite Paris owner Gerald Marie is quoted explaining the Elite Model Look contest as a "...stadium of pussy." Really Gerald? How old are you again?

It seems that throughout the entertainment industries (and let's not kid ourselves... fashion and entertainment are not really so far apart) druggies, criminals and even child molesters are not only allowed to work, but often celebrated. Perhaps it's so rampant because of the artistic nature of the businesses, but even artists (and their hangers-on) must be required live responsibly; i.e. - not allow their art to harm minors.

Regardless, art has many levels on complexity and depth just as does math. Terry is somewhere around basic addition - right in line with his supporters' awareness.