WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC.    
© BBC 2010
WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2010
WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC.    
© BBC 2010
WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2010

 

Caryn Franklin

 

THE models pose open-mouthed, their eyes half-closed as if in a state of arousal. Sometimes they lie on their backs, their legs splayed.

These ads inevitably feature acres of exposed flesh. Not the pore-speckled, downy skin we all possess, but the hyper-airbrushed, blemish and hair-free variety – the kind that resembles the gleaming bodywork of a sleek sports car, the stuff of male fantasies.

This is standard fare from fashion advertising campaigns across the world, high-end and high street. The sexualisation of fashion models is now a regular sight.

As a style commentator of more than 30 years and a mother of two daughters, aged 21 and 14, I have to ask: since when did adverts for women’s clothes go from being fun, frothy and often empowering to little more than pornography targeted at boys and men rather than the females who buy the products?

What message is this conveying to the generation of young girls who have grown up surrounded by such imagery? My fear is that the more we are exposed to it, the more normal it seems.

Take a recent Chanel perfume advert featuring Keira Knightley. She lies on her back wearing a trench coat and holds the perfume bottle to her famous pout, lips suggestively ajar as if she is about to lick it. In other shots she appears as if in a state of post-coital bliss. Why is this necessary?

Then there is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, knickerless in her trench coat for a recent Burberry advert.

This isn’t selling fashion. This is selling nothing except sex, and it is being sold to girls when they are at their most impressionable by an industry whose influence is titanic and which goes practically unchecked.

Plenty of criticism has been aired about the pornification of pop, with explicit performances by the likes of Rihanna and, more recently, Miley Cyrus. But fashion is just as bad. There has been much attention drawn to the increasingly risqué clothing and underwear infiltrating the wardrobes of younger and younger children. Of course, it is unacceptable. Of course, it is lamentable. So why are we allowing it?

Put simply, with everything in fashion we must look to the top because that is where agendas are set and trends forged.

Take American Apparel, a brand favoured by young, middle-class teens, whose adverts feature models with the camera trained on their crotch, their modesty barely covered by a tiny strip of gusset.

To me, it is a brand that know- ingly objectifies its models. I can’t help but empathise with young girls repeatedly told by the fashion industry that they are valued for their sexuality rather than their intellect.

It hasn’t always been like this. When I started in the industry in the early 1980s as fashion editor of i-D magazine, the emphasis was on iconic trailblazers and power-dressing.

Women were focused and driven, our clothes had to accommodate us. I never once questioned whether I looked “hot” enough, or if my derriere was tight enough in a bottom-skimming, figure-squeezing mini-dress.

We all expected fashion to em- power us. So what changed? I put it down to two things: the rise of internet porn and the advent of airbrushing.

Airbrushing has completely changed the fashion world, allow- ing images to be “perfected” with ease. Skin is made sleeker, figures trimmer, cleavages more pronounced, lips plumper, teeth whiter, as women are further and further objectified.

At the centre of this porni- fication of the fashion world is the US photographer Terry Richardson – the man behind Cyrus’s X-rated makeover and ad campaigns for High Street brands such as H&M, American Apparel and Mango. But while his pop credentials are well trailed, what is given much less oxygen is his relationship with the high-fashion houses – the likes of Gucci, Miu Miu and Sisley.

Some of his imagery will be uncomfortably familiar. A woman sits with her tongue out and legs wide open as a bull charges or she smoulders knowingly as a cow’s udders squirt milk all over her face.

In his spare time, Richardson posts offensive pictures of himself engaged in sickening acts with women half his age on his social net- working sites.

Equally disturbing are alle- gations of manipulation from models who have worked with him. But it seems no agents, bookers or clients are perturbed.

The preface of one of his books declares: “Richardson took the Seventies porn aesthetic and made it fashion chic.”

Household brands are swallow- ing this tosh and continue to employ the multi-millionaire because sex – especially sex with very young women – makes money. Richardson, of course, denies his explicit images are pornographic. He also says he doesn’t use porn and doesn’t like to exploit people. “Everyone has fun on my shoots,” he claims.

High fashion editorial for glossy fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar keeps his profile buoyant. Fashion directors protect him, believing his images are “edgy”.

Anyone who dares to criticise such pornification could be decried as po-faced and uptight. Meanwhile, glossy fashion magazines continue to run adverts that undermine women because they need the advertising revenue.

When I began working in magazines, if we didn’t want to feature a particular brand in our fashion shoots, we didn’t – whether they advertised with us or not. But these days, editors no longer have this power.

As a mother, I’ve long pointed out to my daughters which fashion adverts are realistic and which aren’t.

Interestingly, neither of them wants to follow me into the fashion world and they are not interested in current trends, preferring vintage and second-hand clothes they can style to flatter their personality and body shape.

I laugh when I think back to my time as a TV presenter when I was happy to promote a modelling career as a wonderful opportunity. Today, I’m not so convinced.

As a university lecturer at the London College of Fashion, Central Saint Martins and many other institutions, I speak to hundreds of women every month about how the fashion industry is undermining their self-esteem.

I’m encouraging them to use their voices to activate change through the projects I and my co-founders Debra Bourne and Erin O’Connor have set up through our award-winning fashion campaign All Walks Beyond the Catwalk.

We have been calling for di- versity in front of the lens and we are demanding diversity behind it. By that I mean a range of creative opinions that will challenge this latest trend.

We believe that if young women are bombarded with unachievable ideals and sexualised images that encourage them to concentrate solely on making themselves seem sexually desirable and available, they’ll never reach their potential.

Fashion is powerful. Fashion leads opinions. It conditions how men, women, girls and increasingly boys view their world. It sells much more than clothes; it sells values and standards.

So I’m calling on my own industry to take the responsibility for upholding those standards and protecting the most vulnerable in our charge. – Daily Mail

 

lTo sign a petition against exploitation in fashion, visit www.change.org.