Trick or Treat?

Fashion advertising is about shock and provocation; it is not about female power. I’ve gotten so inured to the semicomatose model thing that I can page through any fashion magazine and think, Gee— there’s a nude model lying on the floor of a shower underneath a man who’s standing and fully dressed!

Doesn’t her milky skin look great against that blue tile!

Pay enough attention, and you begin to see a trend. Look at the Gucci model. She’s clutching her gold, low-cut dress to cover her crotch, kneeling on the ground in what looks like a desert! Is she searching for a lost contact lens?

No—she’s touching the tan suede Gucci loafer of the shirtless man hovering over her! His legs straddle her head! We can see the outline of his genitalia right through his pants! What will they think of next?

Obviously, there’s a need for extremes to incite reaction, to create something new every season. So there’s no point in getting outraged.

By contrast, this Versace campaign shows fully dressed women, sitting primly in a house. Why does this picture get me so depressed? Let me count the ways: It is so embalmed, so static and immobile, so Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls meets atrophied Trophy Wife. (As opposed to Stepford Wife, Trophy Wife doesn’t serve coffee—the maid does—and will do anything to maintain the rock on her finger.)

For me, it represents the return of my friends’ moms, who, while we were in junior high school, focused mostly on grooming and keeping the kids out of the living room.

Confined and repressed, spending their days dressing and driving, they’d develop odd tempers and weird habits. In short, these were the women Betty Friedan had described 10 years earlier in The Feminine Mystique as having the “problem that had no name.” These women needed to develop themselves outside of the housewife role.

Yet the women in this Versace campaign would seem to be a richer variant. They fit into the late ’60s, early ’70s acquisitive yet thwarted, manipulative control-freak culture of Betsy Bloomingdale and Nancy Reagan. These types got a big thrill out of smuggling newly bought designer clothes through customs without declaring them.

Certainly, the pictures are artfully composed, as shot by Steven Meisel. I can appreciate the amazing museum time capsule quality of the house and furnishings.

It’s the perfect backdrop for these scary, blank-yet-imperious-looking women. Perhaps this ad strikes such a chord because some women have already come full circle.

After watching their mothers work and embody so many roles, some younger women might begin to dream of a sublimated life, existing as a living display of a husband’s wealth and power. Even the stars of Sex and the City use sex as the oldest bargaining chip around.

Is this series an about-face for Versace? The house was previously known for a more slut-like sensibility. It is a change, but not really a makeover. Versace is just being honest: The look has evolved to a much higher level of hooker. Versace




Steven Meisel