Earlier this month, there were calls for France’s advertising watchdog to ban an advertising campaign from appearing on the streets of Paris.
The campaign, for luxury fashion label Saint Laurent, appeared on posters scattered around Paris during fashion week and just prior to International Women’s Day.
The images sparked outrage among Parisians, feminist groups and others on social media, who claimed the images were degrading to women and may even “incite rape”.
Here are some of the controversial campaign photographs, taken by Inez & Vinoodh:
I’m so desensitised (thanks internet!) that these images don’t shock or disturb me (which is a little bit disturbing in itself). Provocative ad campaigns are nothing new in the fashion world (this isn’t even the first time a Saint Laurent campaign has been banned).
I do agree, however, that these images are inappropriate for a billboard campaign, which is designed to be seen by the general public, including children.
People walking around a city don’t have a choice in whether they see billboards or not. Parents don’t have a say in whether their kids see billboard images on their way to school, for example.
And these Saint Laurent images don’t exactly send an empowering message to young girls. Nor are they likely to foster a culture of respect for women among young men (though you could argue there are very few fashion campaigns that achieve either of those things).
Context is important for these sorts of images.
The average person walking down the street wouldn’t know the intent behind these images or how they’re supposed to be interpreted. To anyone who’s not a fashion follower, these images can’t look anything but misogynistic.
The right context for these images is in the pages of a fashion magazine. The reader of a fashion magazine has an expectation that they might see provocative images but they view these images in the context of the selling of fashion.
Fashion followers are familiar with Saint Laurent’s brand: young, grungy, edgy, pushing the definition of high fashion and the boundaries of good taste. Viewed in the context of this brand, these images make a lot more sense (though still deserve to be questioned).
I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t all just a publicity stunt and the team at Saint Laurent knew the images were inappropriate for a billboard campaign but they wanted the campaign to be banned, or at least to stir up controversy, which it certainly has done.
Or it was an experiment: Saint Laurent once again testing boundaries.
Whatever it was, I don’t think it was an accident.
What do you think the brand was trying to achieve with these images? Did they succeed?
Do you agree with the ban? Can a fashion photograph ‘incite rape’?
To what extent do fashion images affect the way society sees and treats women?