In the latest news about strange and offensive fashion editorials from inside the pages of Vogue Italia, we have the March 2014 spread, “Abracadabra,” where famed fashion photographer Stephen Meisel shot the Dutch model Saskia De Brauw in a tribal-themed, overly face-painted hot mess of a shoot.
Though this specific photo shoot doesn’t exemplify typical blackface–which we should remember evokes minstrelsy and is generally a comic and degrading representation of African Americans, but was also used in other forms of entertainment such as Shakespearean theater–it’s nonetheless a mocking portrayal of the “primitive,” or traditional tribal cultures that exist in some African countries, as well as Native American culture groups, Aboriginal cultures, and many more.
We’ve seen this kind of offensive cultural appropriation before. Numéro magazine’s March 2013 issue used a white model to portray an “African Queen,” and let’s not forget the “African Disco” Halloween party and its bevy of bad costume choices.
The offenses this time around are three-fold, at least. First we have ignorance on the part of Vogue Italia–who on earth approves these things? Up next, the overt mockery of dignified cultures–Saskia’s seriously ridiculous facial expressions conjure up images of a toddler trying unsuccessfully to frighten, and her poses don’t seem to make any sense. And, finally, the tasteless (and absurd) juxtaposition of insanely expensive fashion choices–Chanel, Saint Laurent, Celine–in a “primitive” environment.
Jezebel makes a further good point about the third offense, stating, “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.”
Basically, everything about “Abracadabra” screams “this is offensive,” and we’re left wondering, once again, why the fashion industry insists on allowing this type of foolish misrepresentation of traditional cultures to persist. Wise up, people.