Ugly clothes, it seems, aren’t quite enough. They need to be marketed with ugly images of models in ugly poses too—triple the ugliness. The house of Saint Laurent got themselves in a bit of a spot a couple of days ago when uproar broke out over two of their latest advertising images for the spring/summer 2017 season. We won’t describe the pictures; we let you see what the indignation is all about for yourself.
The photos used in the Saint Laurent ads do open us up to one question: Why is the pose of the model, rather than the clothes she wears, the focal point of a fashion advertisement? It is perturbing to think that this is a reflection of the evolving taste of the consumers of fashion, but it is more disquieting to consider this an indication of how women now see themselves: individuals who can be viewed between their legs, and not face, first.
Of course, a woman seated with her legs apart is so common a sight that no one will think it a show of impropriety. After all, we are no longer in an era when not wearing a petticoat is tantamount to not wearing a brassiere. The panty now cheerfully looking out to the world between the shredded crotch of denim cut-offs is so inoffensive that nobody really cares anymore how a woman sits, or squats, or stoops.
And so she places herself on a chair, seat, or floor as she pleases, legs spread in a way that nearly renders her asunder. Or feet up on the seat so that a heel can cushion the backside, or a knee can serve as chin rest. Comfort is key, we have been told, and that means you do not loll at home, you do it before a camera. You do not kick up your heels when nobody is around, you do it when there is an audience. You do not curl up in private confines, you do so on any chair, anywhere—on the ground, in the air.
The Saint Laurent ad controversy comes just a week after Kellyanne Conway, President “Taped Tie” Trump’s able Counselor, was photographed seated with her legs tucked behind her rear on the sofa of the Oval Office. Ms Conway was, of course, more modestly seated compared to the model in the Saint Laurent ad, but it does draw our attention to the fact that many women now choose to take to a chair in a manner that challenges traditional ideas of lady-like demeanour.
Drawing a viewer’s attention to a woman’s full-frontal crotch is, of course, not new. Just last year, Calvin Klein Underwear put out an advertising image that was framed as an up-skirt shot. Something is also being said when mothers do not chastise little girls for seating with their underpants in full public view, even when unintended. Such indifference and advertising media that has adopted perceptibly suggestive poses in place of nudity to sell clothing allow the young to be weaned on the scanty as standard
Nudity in the media has lost much if its potency. It is a visual marketing device since the ’70s—it has been in use for too long. Yves Saint Laurent himself posed nude in 1971 for his first men’s fragrance in a campaign shot by Jeanloup Sieff. He did not have a shred of clothing on, yet one cannot say he was the epitome of a sex god. As we are now constantly told, just because there are no clothes on does not mean it’s sending out a salacious message. A nude body is no prelude to sex. In order to communicate sex, the message today has to be obviously about sex. Even with clothes on, fishnet stockings too, sex can be the core suggestion when you zero in on the area of the body where sex usually takes place. Better still, the legs positioned like a triangle that frames the other triangle.
But how does making visual the object of another’s voyeuristic or onanistic pleasure help sell clothes? Maybe selling is not the point, controversy is.