White model. Facepaint. African animals. Shot by Steven Meisel and starring Dutch model Saskia de Brauw, a fashion story titled "Abracadabra" in the March 2014 issue of Vogue Italia feels sadly familiar and offensive.
As Elizabeth Licata at The Gloss puts it:
Fashion just loves to dress a white woman in a pastiche of the costumes of a different culture to make her seem "exotic" and sell a bunch of obscenely expensive clothes.
The clothes in the shoot are from Saint Laurent, Chanel, Comme des Garçons and Céline, among others. Julee Wilson at The Huffington Post points out that the fashion spread doesn't involve "historical minstral-inspired blackface," but questions "why the magazine didn't think this type of editorial would be offensive and why they didn't just use a black model in the first place."
It's obvious, though, isn't it? Fashion falls back on this narrative again and again: In the minds of the fashion editors, a white woman becomes more interesting, edgier, and more stylish when appropriating another culture. Geisha robes, Native American headdresses, "tribal" ensembles — they've all become shortcuts to telegraph chicness. But like the Tumblr says, "my culture is not a trend." The dynamic here — a white woman "playing" at being some vague kind of primitive being while wearing designer garments and having fun just feels disgusting when you consider the history of imperialism, racism, privilege, power and oppression. (The history of the Dutch in Africa, the Caribbean and South America is one of colonization and profitable slave trade.)
But perhaps Meisel — a veteran in the business — knows how ridiculous this? Otherwise why is the model posing with a reindeer? In any case, if you sense some weariness, it's because we've seen this so many times before that it's ridiculous. Enough already.
Images by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia via Visuelle.