It has been bubbling up to a boil in industry circles for a while now.  When will a Weinstein-gate equivalent for the fashion industry burst forward, implicating photography greats Bruce Weber and Mario Testino in allegations of sexual abuse on shoots towards male models.   It was in the pipeline for so long that at one point, Steve, (my partner who works at i-D) and I would ask each other casually at dinnertime, when this NY Times story was going to break, along with when the council tax bill was going to arrive.  It’s finally out there and the darker underbelly of this in-depth exposé is, I’m afraid to say, a discernible lack of surprise within the industry over what they’re reading.  More robes, more hotel rooms, more awkward and harrowing exchanges.  And what?

The story broke earlier today and Condé Nast responded with a pre-prepped release of their editorial Code of Conduct to defend the tidal waves of a would-be backlash.  Except maybe not.  A quick search on Twitter and the response is thus far, no where near as incensed or inflamed as when the Weinstein story broke.  The consensus on my WhatsApp group convos with friends in the industry is a “Meh” or an apologetic defence of the accused (the allegations against Weber and Testino have been fiercely denied).

But let’s not kid ourselves.  We – and I use a collective “we” here – may not have known the particulars and specifics of how Weber or Testino supposedly treated their photographic subjects but the rumours and gossip of this sort of behaviour does the rounds regularly, and often gets treated with a lack of gravity.  And despite the persistent (and consistent) accusations against Terry Richardson and the combative voices of industry greats like Caryn Franklin and the outpourings of abused models, spurred by Cameron Russell, the attitude towards sexual abuse in fashion hasn’t engulfed the industry in the same way that Weinstein and his merry band of bathrobed men has in Hollywood.  Yet like Hollywood’s casting couch culture, there are too many that are involved in the complicity of guilty parties, tied to a career ladder power struggle, where people lower down on the fashion food chain are pressurised into keeping it all hush-hush, lest they lose a gig in a highly competitive environment.

Mario Testino’s ad campaign for Gucci S/S 2003 under the direction of Tom Ford

There is a machination of keeping the status quo that goes deeper than what’s in the story.  The “sex sells” operating benchmark is so ingrained within fashion that it ties itself into all kinds of knots with the general modus operandi of the industry.  For want of a better word, it pays to be “on” in this business.  By “on”, I mean out there, on the scene, having a jolly.  Can you down a bottle of champagne at a party and still have the ability to make it to a 6am shoot call-time the next day or a 9am show at fashion week, looking nonchalantly fabulous?  As I have spent the year making a half-assed return to life B.B. (before baby), I’ve felt that pressure to switch back “on”.  Going out, getting shit faced, filing copy early next morning and taking a Nurofen/Berocca cocktail at an early show as proof.  Of course, I’m a consenting adult in these decisions.  As ridiculous as it sounds, being “on” subtly gives people the impression that you’re free spirited and most importantly, FUN!  And fun along with sex, are important cogs in fashion.   They’re the aspects that the fashion world has sold through imagery and branding in the last century to fuel this multi-billion dollar industry.

To be clear, I’m obviously not conflating going hard on the champers and partying hard at Le Bain with the sort of abuse that is being alleged in this report, but I do think it can be difficult to compartmentalise and separate the blurred lines that occur on a “fun” shoot littered with drinks and recreational drugs, producing images that reflect far-fetched fantasies, that then leads on to the specific point where someone is having their penis touched against their will.  There’s a vague link somewhere along that very VERY broad spectrum of what’s considered to be “a bit of fun”, all in the name of “fashion”.  Somewhere along that creative process of image creation, subjects will find it difficult to differentiate between what’s above board bordering on the unorthodox and what is clearly past the acceptable line.  When David Hemmings’ fashion photographer character (inspired by David Bailey and the like) commands the model Verushka to “Give it up!” and “Make it come!” in a shoot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, we chortle at the supposed stereotype.  But if you were realistically in Verushka’s position, feeling scared and a pressure to be “on” and go along with the wishes of a powerful person who can make or break your career, is it really a laughing matter?

We laud and consume provocative subject matter that have become standard fashion fodder – bared breasts under a submerged wet gown, performing fellatio on a handbag or a shoe, accessories artfully placed on genitalia –  but mostly ignore what may or may not have gone on behind the scenes in the making of these images.    There’s almost a so-what shoulder shrug tone in Tom Ford’s comments in the NY Times article: “We sell sex” he says, and in defence of Testino, purportedly locking a male model inside a hotel room on a shoot and climbing on top of him, he says there are only a few ways you can get the right shot of a model’s face on a bed.  Well DUH!  That’s FASH-UN!

So, should we just shrug, accept this “sex sells” standard, and carry on as before?  There will be murmurings for sure, coursing through the industry that mirror Catherine Deneuve’s open letter defence of flirtation and sexual advances in Le Monde – those that decry a “puritanism” washing over our woke-on-the-surface industry.  This NY Times story may not be a watershed moment.  We may not even raise our eyebrows enough to try and out other offenders (suffice to say, Weber and Testino AREN’T exceptions).  And of course, it’s not a case of erasing a culture that has given us so many potent moments of creative artistry in fashion and provocateurs, whose images aren’t tainted with wrongdoing.  Guy Bourdin.  Helmut Newton.  Corrine Day.  You could go on…

Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein

Just as the film industry needs a significant amount of time to enact real concerted change, so too does the fashion world.   Change also depends on legions of editors, photographers, stylists, designers and those in charge of brand image and marketing collectively changing attitudes that don’t treat these sorts of allegations and rumours as light fodder.  The question is, is it the sort of change that might be asking too much of an industry predicated on provocation and boundary pushing?  Isn’t it all too seductive, deliciously decadent and yes, just a bit of fun?  Furthermore, it’s still difficult to untie all those knots of a hierarchical industry, where getting ahead is ranked ahead of acknowledgement of any possibility of foul play.  And even if the industry adopts Condé Nast’s Code of Conduct as standard working practise, how will it realistically be enforced in a transparent manner?  Are all parties involved willing enough to play by the rules and whistle blow where necessary?  It’s been less than a day and these are just some thoughts that have been percolating in a mind reacting to a story that was sadly so inevitable, it became part of day-to-day chitter chatter in our house.

N.B. I know the blog has been so dormant, it’s hard to remember the last time I even posted.  I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to take my mind off mopping up baby vom/phlegm/food to sit down and properly write.  But…in other news, I’m relaunching/redesigning the blog so that I don’t just pop up once in a blue blue moon to bang out 1,000 words.  New year, new me, new yadda yadda… I’m just sorry I had to begin 2018 with thoughts as muddied and murky as these.

The first bit of physical fashion I’ve seen since emerging from my postpartum haze wasn’t even on a human being.  In fact, I’m not sure I’d even categorise it as fashion.  Jonathan Anderson has taken me to some unexpected non-obvious venues.  Places where art and design live and breathe and when his clothes are presented in those contexts, they feel believable.  One time, it was the The Millinery Works, a wonderful arts and craft furniture dealer in London, for a Loewe dinner celebrating a collaboration with the textile artist John Allen.  Another time, it was up to Cambridge for a J.W. Anderson resort presentation at Kettle’s Yard, where former Tate curator Jim Ede’s 20th century collection was a backdrop for the zany mix of metallic knee-high boots and polka dotty frills.  With a very very kind offer to take Nico in tow with us, Steve and I journeyed up to Wakefield last weekend to the opening of Disobedient Bodies, an exhibition curated by Anderson at the Hepworth Gallery, the first of its kind as the gallery invites creatives from outside of the art world to come and present their perspective on the gallery’s modern British art collection.

Anderson’s starting point was that problematic quandary of “Is fashion art?”, a question that he admits was something that irked him.  Then two years ago, invited by the Hepworth to come and curate its collection, and embarking on a collaborative process of selecting pieces to converse with one another, Anderson became a convert to the idea of fashion sitting alongside art, sculpture and design on an equal and almost indistinguishable footing.  The result is Disobedient Bodies, gathering together over a hundred pieces by artists, sculptors, choreographers, furniture designers, fashion creators and even ceramicists, who have all looked at the body in a rebellious manner.  In most instances, the body is absent, altered or abstracted in some way and together it’s an extraordinary assembly of aesthetics.

Henry Moore’s wooden sculpture, the “Reclining Figure” from 1936 marks the beginning of this fluid and unconventional exhibition, where a Madame Grès pleated dress is draped haphazardly on an Eileen Gray Transat chair.  Or where a Christian Dior haute couture dress from A/W 1952 with architectured jutting out and undulating hips stands like a totem next to Jean Arp’s S’élevant (Rising Up) sculpture or indeed, Barbara Hepworth’s white marble Totem, both conceived in 1962.  One of the central anchor pieces of the exhibition sees a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress pulled tautly over a specially made mannequin body where the conical breasts are exaggerated to mimic Moore’s curvaceous figure.

“Can Helmut Lang be seen as powerful as Louise Bourgeois or a Giacometti?” was another hypothetical question that Anderson posed and so Lang’s iconic harnesses and holsters hang behind the spindly Standing Woman by Alberto Giacometti.  Aesthetic similarities are drawn in a deliberate bold fashion as the flat steel planes of Naum Gabo’s Head No. 2 are paired with the felt brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s “2D” A/W 12 Comme des Garćons collection.  The padded out fabric tubes of Kawakubo’s “Monster” collection is seen on parity with Sarah Lucas’ “Bunny” works made out of stuffed flesh-coloured tights.

Anderson doesn’t shy away from calling out his heroes and references in his own work.  Kawakubo is one of course as is Issey Miyake, whose pleated garments hang next to the lamps of Isamu Noguchi.  Other fashion design purists such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens also feature in the exhibition.  Anderson’s own work isn’t necessarily the main focal point, but is present where it feels necessary and significant.  For instance, a grouping of clear plastic Loewe garments stand next to the only bit of natural light in the exhibition, with Wakefield’s old factory buildings looming in the background.

Housing all of these conversations are curtain-esque partitions made out of surplus fabric from Anderson’s studio, devised by 6a architects in London.  It’s an intentional nod at domesticity as are the tables for displaying some of the pieces.  You almost trip over the gingham ‘lumps and bumps’ of the infamous Comme des Garcons S/S 97 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection as they lay on the floor like casually placed boulders.  The tangibility is something that Anderson wanted to convey even if it isn’t quite possible to maul our hands over the art works on display.  Hence why the central room of the exhibition has been filled with an installation of twenty eight floor-to-ceiling elongated jumpers, drawing from Anderson’s love of knitwear.  Here you can twist and interact with yarn, forming your own tactile ties.  Much like the local kids of three schools in Wakefield, who were photographed wearing the exhibition’s fashion pieces by Anderson’s longtime collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth.

That acknowledgement of the Hepworth’s out-of-London location was one of the primary reasons why Anderson was drawn to the project.  “London is an island,” said Anderson at the dinner feting the exhibition on Friday night, “We don’t end up sharing or seeing outside of our bubbles.”  That’s of course a valid sentiment cited as one of the primary driving forces behind people voting for Brexit.  By placing Disobedient Bodies at the Hepworth, Anderson is keen on empathising with this sentiment, by wanting to share creativity across the whole country, and not just within the M25.  It’s an attitude that makes sense coming from the Northern Irish Anderson, who once told me he never really identified himself as a “London” designer.

It seems appropriate that for my first work outing, after my own personal life-change, that the fashion that I did see was placed in a context that makes you really think about its true value.  Can fashion matter or make a difference?  Is it worthy of a similar stature of say, the work of Louise Bourgeois or of course, Barbara Hepworth?  Can it comment on our times and the significant world beyond the hyper-glam and privileged surfaces that whirs past us during fashion month?  Why yes is the answer which is why when the time comes I’ll gingerly attempt to enthuse Nico about it all.  Even if she doth protests.

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>> My first port of call when it comes to Graduate Fashion Week isn’t necessarily the fashion design students.  It’s the University of Salford course of image making and styling headed up by Christine Ratcliffe.  The photography that emerges from this progressive course can hold its own up there with images in style titles and mainstream publications, so much so that for the past two years, they’ve branched out from their stand at Graduate Fashion Week to exhibit in the nearby Herrick Gallery.  If you had wandered in on the night, you would not have thought these images came from barely graduated 21 year old BA students.  Then again, it’s their youth and energy that contributes to these images that express the things that somehow affect you deeper at that age – isolation, not fitting in, confronting sexuality, feeling both wanted and unwanted.  All of those elements bristle in bedrooms and bucolic landscapes and are captured with a grounded sense of reality.

A quick glance through the Tumblrs and the collective course blog Uossaim and you might be thinking that you have seen this all before and that the root of all that film-derived grain and lo-fi styling of course leads back to Corinne Day or Nan Goldin.  But truth isn’t a trend.  It resonates no matter what generation of photography, and matters whether it’s a picture of a boy in a Man United shirt or a girl sitting on a hay bale obscured by her hair.  Ratcliffe seems to have a knack of coaxing layers and nuance out of her students and the result is a group of young photographers and stylists, who go beyond fashion’s framework.  It’s how a fashion image can go deep without losing out on aesthetics.  Long live Uossaim!

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”  Susan Sontag, On Photography          

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jodiecox2Jodie Cox


AbbeyJB_1

AbbeyJB_2Abbey-Jade Birden


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emilyburkitt2Emily Burkitt


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jessicagwyneth3Jessica Gwyneth


Ashleigh_Cunningham_copyAshleigh Cunningham


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kristinalaisney1Kristina Laisney


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laurenjadekelly3Lauren Jade Kelly


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sharenat3Shahrenaz Tavakolynik


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stephwoods2Steph Woods


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zigourniej2Zigournie Jarrett


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vickychambers1Vicky Chambers

>> For my birthday on Saturday… I saw some exhibitions and had a lovely nice dinner and was back by 10pm with a cup of tea in my hand. Welcome to my thirties. Ok, I omitted the fact that I did go out on an all-night rager in Tokyo the night before and was still recuperating from jet lag. Still, the quiet birthday did give me a chance to attempt to chug through the clog of style and fashion related exhibitions that London is enjoying at the moment. It’s not drudgery when everything is worth the trek and the crowds. I’ve still yet to see the excellent Women, Fashion Power at the Design Museum, Knitwear from Chanel to Westwood at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Horst at the V&A and Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts.

I attempted two in a day to compare two very different photographers of different eras, who both have distanced relationships with the products they are photographing. First was Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House and the second was Viviane Sassen’s Analemma: Fashion Photography from 1992 to 2012 at the Photographer’s Gallery. There’s no superlatives that hasn’t been said before about Bourdin’s work and specifically this exhibition. It is the biggest exhibition of his work with plenty of unseen images, films and other visual material that reveal sides to Bourdin that the fairweather photography or fashion fan may not know. A series of photographs taken around Britain for the shoe brand Charles Jourdan (for whom Bourdin shot many advertising campaigns) in 1979, for instance opens the exhibition as we discover a humourous and detached oddness – a world away from the glossy-lipped hyper sexy femmes of his editorial work.

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On display are plenty of those famously surreal images as well where sense of proportion is distorted as well as many where the female subject is obscured and shrouded in sex-tinged mystery, namely shot for Paris Vogue, with whom Bourdin collaborated with extensively in the sixties and seventies.

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More revealing were the sketches on display that mocked up the shot that Bourdin wanted to create as well as magazine layouts with meticulous notations about dimensions. These were examples of Bourdin’s exacting approach towards his photographs. Nothing was spontaneous or haphazard. This evidence of planning and eye for detail only adds potency to the final image.

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I especially enjoyed the showreel of Super-8 films which Bourdin shot. These were less about precision and more about the energy on set that you can’t quite glean from the resulting photography.

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I also loved seeing Bourdin’s early paintings (they’re undated by probably date to the 1950s) and how they would directly correlate with his photographs.

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But of course the exhibition isn’t a complete tell-all. You still leave wondering what exactly is Bourdin’s relationship with the fashion and women he photographed so extensively. It’s not as simple as calling it out as “sexual objectification” because it feels so much more complex than that. The image leaves you hanging and that tension is difficult to explain in an exhibition. Perhaps that’s why he shunned books, exhibitions and even awards.

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Over at the Photographer’s Gallery, one of my favourite contemporary fashion photographers Viviane Sassen has taken over the top floor, not with static hung frames but with a moving “analemma” of 350 of her fashion photography looped into a video projection, moving across the walls and floors. You’ll see there’s a slight graininess to the images below. They don’t need to be crystal clear though to convey Sassen’s pre-occupation with disgured forms and using clothes and background to sculpt an image. The body is always manipulated somehow either with the clothes themselves or the angle which Sassen shoots from. Sassen has said herself that she has a love/hate relationship with fashion. That shows in her photography but you wind up being intrigued by the new form that she has created be it an inside out skirt pulled over the head or a shadowy figure striking an abstract pose.

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