Why Did Vogue Italia Nix An Image From Karlie Kloss's Nude Editorial?

In the December issue of Vogue Italia, Steven Meisel shot the 19-year-old American model Karlie Kloss for the cover — and an 18-page editorial inside. Titled "Body by Kloss," it featured Kloss's first-ever nude work [link NSFW]. But it wasn't one of the nude shots that Vogue Italia decided to throw down the memory hole.

The picture that Vogue Italia deleted from its website was the one on the right above, where Kloss is styled in a pair of short-shorts, a leather jacket, and a hat. It is the editorial's lede image in the magazine, appearing right after the title page. The reason for the removal? Photoshop, according to Fashion Copious, which first noticed the removal: "from recent history it could be to avoid complaints that the photo is perceived to have been overly photoshoped [sic]." Fashionista wrote, "we have to admit Karlie's body looks a little odd here," and noted that when it reposted the image on Facebook, various user comments indicting Kloss for "anorexia" and Meisel for Photoshop streamed in.

So people think the picture looks weird. It does. It is also, like every photo published in every fashion magazine that isn't explicitly stated to be otherwise, the beneficiary of some retouching in a post-production program, most likely Photoshop. But the shape of her hips doesn't come from Photoshop; Kloss is twisting her lower body away from the picture plane, into something like 3/4 profile, while simultaneously thrusting her hips forward. Her shoulders remain straight on to the picture plane. It's an unusual pose, but it is hardly an unimaginable one. And it's not one that can only be achieved with digital image-manipulation — I just did it in the mirror.

You can see Kloss posing for the shot in Vogue Italia's [NSFWish] behind-the-scenes video from the shoot; this particular shot begins around 1:38. While you can't see Kloss actually move into her pose, you can see her shifting her weight around and moving her head, shoulders, and hips, proving at least that the position is something she came by naturally. Bear in mind that video can be retouched. While there's no guarantee that this clip is unretouched, video retouching is prohibitively expensive because with current technology it has to be done frame by frame.

Why Did Vogue Italia Nix An Image From Karlie Kloss's Nude Editorial?

If you take a still from the relevant portion of the video and compare it side-by-side with Vogue Italia's final shot, it's pretty clear that the pose depicted was achieved by Kloss in real life. Obviously, this still isn't from the exact moment that Meisel's shutter snapped on the photo that would become the final image, and equally obviously, there were some changes made to the image in post-production. (For example, the video seems to show Kloss's underwear, or perhaps the lining or a pocket bag of the shorts, poking out from one hem — a flash of lighter colored fabric that doesn't appear in the final image. And where the shorts bunched over Kloss's right hip in the video, the fabric has been smoothed for the picture in the magazine.) Click any image to enlarge.

Why Did Vogue Italia Nix An Image From Karlie Kloss's Nude Editorial?

And if you overlay a transparency of the same video still on the final picture, they match up pretty well. The differences between them seem attributable to Kloss twisting her hips just a little farther into the pose, and tilting her pelvis farther forward, for the final shot. That seems consonant with the slow twisting and rocking — you know, the posing — she does in the behind-the-scenes video. Aside from the slight shifting of her hips, the images are virtually identical: same abs, same muscle tone in her legs, same body shape, same lights and shadows.

Sometimes I worry that Photoshop has become the bugbear of online discussions of fashion — the catch-all scapegoat for all of the problems with fashion's imagery. It's true that fashion magazines wildly over-rely on Photoshop as a tool, and that advertisers often publish sublimely unreal images. But just because something looks "weird" doesn't mean it's Photoshopped. (I was pretty weirded out when a discussion of Tom Ford on this site recently led to some commenters reposting images from Ford-era YSL campaigns, including this image of model Liya Kebede — which in turn elicited a variety of horrified "OMG Photoshop!!!1!" responses. Folks, that isn't Photoshop. That's a very thin woman, in three-quarter profile, simultaneously leaning back and rounding her shoulders.)

Part of a model's job is to twist and contort into unusual poses; we all complain when magazines run same-old, same-old editorials that just "show the clothes" on a warm body against a greige background. And part of a fashion photographer's job is to frame pictures in unusual ways, and to choose from among a variety of different lenses, lighting designs, and camera angles — all of which can greatly affect the appearance of the model, and her surroundings, in the final image. All photography, in the sense that it is an edited, two-dimensional representation of things that occurred in three-dimensional space, is arguably a distortion of reality. The image Vogue Italia pulled may make Karlie Kloss "look creepy," to use the creative phrase of one of Fashionista's Facebook fans, but Photoshop almost certainly isn't to blame.

Whether images that feature poses like Kloss's have aesthetic appeal is a matter of personal taste; I tend to like fashion's more strange-looking, stylized images, because in their depiction of contortion, they remind us that fashion is fundamentally about the human body. But opinions vary. I'm a little saddened that Vogue Italia, which acted so quickly to defend itself in the whole "slave earrings" debacle, just quietly pulled this photo without any explanation. There was no defense for "slave earrings," but there perhaps is for a picture like this.