Oh, look: it's fashion, engaging with the social issues of the day again! Are you a homeless poor? Do you sleep on a flattened cardboard box? Do you tote your possessions from place to place in recycled shopping bags? You've just gone into style, darling.
This editorial from the new issue of Antidote magazine, shot by top photographer Giampaolo Sgura and featuring the Polish model Magdalena Frackowiak, a familiar presence on the runways, is very much in the vein of other representations of homeless chic in fashion.
Some statistics: soup kitchens and pantries report that in the past year, the number of people seeking their assistance has tripled and even quadrupled. The number of people living below the poverty line in the U.S. rose by 8.2 million between 2007 and 2010, to a record 46 million. The gap between the rich and the poor in this country is now the largest in the Western world. What that means in practice is that the richest 1% of Americans owns nearly one quarter of all the country's wealth, but the bottom 40% owns just 0.3%. There are hundreds of people sleeping in the streets on Wall Street; 700 of them were arrested this weekend. This very afternoon, ten thousand people are expected to march on City Hall to protest economic injustice.
And an anecdotal note: there are far, far more people sleeping in subway stations and trains this fall than any fall I can remember in New York City. Yesterday, I made four journeys by train and saw eight homeless people. It's heartbreaking, and in an insecure labor market it's kind of frightening, to think how close to the edge so many people are living. Something is clearly broken in the social compact when there are this many people living on the streets.
If there were ever a time when a homeless-ness inspired editorial would be appropriate — and that is really hard to imagine — that time would certainly not be when 46 million people are living in poverty.
Homelessness — like poverty in general — isn't romantic. Human misery is not just fodder for a glossy fashion magazine spread.
Fashion, done well, can provide interesting commentary on world events and issues. But done wrong, fashion just reveals how badly it's out of its depth.