Sunday, December 14, 2008

Louis Vuitton-Clad Baby Elephants & More!

Normally I try to avoid posting photos of models and fashion shoots, because they tend to be a dull and typical representation of what fashionable people should aspire to, and are invariably ruined by the knock-kneed, blank faced, clearly anorexic model, even if the concept is good. But, I loved this editorial starring Elyse Sewell, who you may know as the best (okay, aside from Jay and Austin, first season of Project Runway) reality show contestant from the first "cycle" of ANTM, as well as the proprieter of a very funny and great livejournal blog detailing the adventures of being a supermodel in Asia, with lots of food pictures because obviously food is the best part of travelling.

I love this shoot not only because of the way it's shot, but because it mocks an all-too-familiar editorial cliche: the model posing ridiculously in designer gowns among various "ethnic" people. Here's a slideshow from a Vogue shoot starring Keira Knightly, entitled "Colonialism! Fun for All!" in which, notably, they dressed a baby elephant in Louis Vuitton. There are far more examples of colonialist-themed editorials than that, but it's not as easy finding stuff on the internets as it should be in this day and age.

In these shoots, the people are always shorter than the models- mere colorful, exotic props to highlight the incredible, otherworldy chicness of the couture -clad mannequin. She may be standing in front of a mud hut or posing with a starving baby, but the message is always the same: look at this study in contrasts! They are so quaint, so simple and different from the world of glamorous fashion! But, they are fashionable, sort of, in their own, simple way! Not enough to be in their own photo or have their name in the magazine, but they make for a good background, like a pretty tree! It brings to mind those photos of tribesman people used to collect in Victorian times. (Sorry, I can't find a good photo of what I'm talking about here. anyone collect those? Alex?)

Of the shoot, Elyse said:

Furthermore, in Asia, the photographer usually shows the model a "reference" picture- something he's ripped out of Italian Vogue or the like- then asks her to copy the pose. This photographer's "reference" was a bunch of pics of evangelists and faith healers from the 1920s! There was no stultifying pose copying; he just said, "OK, we've dressed you up as a bizarre extraterrestrial evangelist...go!"

Here, all the everyday people are looking at her like she is crazy, highlighting the fact that she is the one acting and looking strangely in the environment. Her swooning poses and facial expressions are intentionally over-the-top, parodying the ridiculous hunch-backed, dramatic contortions so common in fashion editorials. Even though the shots are beautiful and the clothes are kind of amazing, we can appreciate them while acknowledging that they are somewhat ridiculous thmselves. Instead of using the "third world"-esque environment to elevate her, she is the one who comes across as truly exotic.

Okay, I can also appreciate this fashion shoot. I'm not made of stone!


teach people not books said...

great post! it's good to see that the world of fashion isn't as ignorant to the presence of orientalism as i thought.

M said...

yeah, i also forgot to add the fact that she is dressed like a nun and is supposed to be an "evangelist" is another awesome layer to the parody- you know, of frantic western missionaries civilizing the darker continents.

teach people not books said...

ah you're taking me back to days of heated debate over joseph conrad's heart of darkness. . .

Nickey Robo said...

The other difference is that Keira Knightley's clothes are horrifyingly dull and unoriginal, and the ones Elyse Sewell is wearing are beautiful and interesting and artistic.
What an interesting study in contrasts.