Monday, October 19, 2009

French Vogue painting Lara Stone black, much ado about nothing?

French Vogue and especially its editor Carine Roitfeld find themselves in the middle of a "race" riot. What started as an innocent photo shoot with Lara Stone(a white Dutch model) painted black has snow balled into a controversy! It had people at all levels dissecting the supposedly "arrogant high handedness" of Ms.Roitfeld to have come up with such an outrageous idea and the most common denominator of the whole issue being that if she wanted someone black for the shoot she should have got a model of African descent rather than painting a white model black. That a medium of artistic expression has got tinged with racial discrimination owing to the myopic view of many is very saddening. Suppose a model is painted yellow with intermittent black stripes does that mean insult to a tiger and should a tiger have instead been used in the shoot?

Fashion is largely aspirational and fashion shoots always fantastical, constantly projecting a "what could have been" world, alien to the one most people inhabit. Anything/Anyone conventional in fashion is quick to be named a drab.So why then should a regular photo shoot attract negative attention? If the series of pictures constituting the photo shoot are observed carefully, its evident that the model's (Lara Stone's) skin tone gradually changes from a darker shade to a lighter one. Wasn't that not what happened in evolution as well? Africa is the mother of all mankind, with man originating there and progressively spreading to the rest of the world, the color of his/her skin tone a direct consequence of the temperature in the region. Maybe Ms.Roitfeld wanted to bring out a message of unity that beauty is independent of skin color. And this isn't the first time that the skin color of models have been tampered with, Spring 2003 RTW show saw John Galliano paint his models blue(see below), resembling Indian Goddess Kali. Should that too be taken as an insult to an Indian deity or commended as an effort in blending eastern and western cultures seamlessly to produce a new aesthetic in addition to exposing the little know cultural aspects of eastern countries to the West and in the process unifying the world?

As for the repeated allegations of fashion houses preferring white models to black, the reason however hard it might be to accept for some, is purely driven by business. A simple look at their revenue charts points the white to be the major consumers of their products. How would you sell your product to a consumer who cannot relate to your ad? Even in a country like India which eulogises white skin, a white model will not be preferred to an Indian model of darker skin tone by a fashion house selling sarees for the simple fact that its customers cannot relate to the white model!

Racism still exists but to say that it exists in every nook and corner is an untrue generalisation. The worst could be that in these tough times when magazines are cutting corners in every possible way Ms.Roitfeld might have thought of this photo shoot as a financially profitable one driving her magazine sales up and unfortunately she might have succeeded in her endeavour by playing with people's willingness to jump on the race bandwagon at the slightest provocation.

In a world submerged with problems of a much larger scale, lets learn to treat a fashion shoot as one, indulge in the fantasy, turn the pages and get back to our life instead of trying to read too much between the lines and concocting non existent meanings out of fantasy.

P.S:The first photo shows Lara Stone in John Galliano's clothes and coin jewellery from Fall 2009 RTW.



Laura said...

Do you even know what you're talking about? Indians, as the case in so many other countries, prefer lighter-skinned models to darker ones. A darker skin tone is reflective of one's social class. It's said to indicate whether a person is working class or high class. Google, "India Fair & Lovely," and see what you find.

P Adhikari said...

There are so many successful dark skinned models in India like Nina Manual,noyonika chatterjee , lakshmi menon etc What is rare is always coveted and such is the case in India too.But why read too much into an editorial meant to push the boundaries and view everything from the jaundiced eye of racism?

And to generalise that in India skin color is viewed as reflective of social status is a very uninformed judgement.The reality is that the class you belong to depends on how heavy your purse is and not how light the skin color is!