French Vogue has never been one to tiptoe around controversy. Recently it has published photos of supposedly pregnant models puffing cigarettes and leather-clad glamazons kissing with blood pouring from their mouths.
Now, though, the magazine may have gone too far for even the most dedicated followers of fashion. Its October edition features pictures of Dutch model Lara Stone in which the naturally pale-skinned blonde's face and body are painted black. The photo shoot, styled by the magazine's long-time editor, Carine Roitfeld, provoked outrage today as its subject spread through internet forums and fashion websites. The US blog Jezebel criticised the decision of Roitfeld and photographer Steven Klein to alter the model's skin colour, accusing them of cultural insensitivity.
"What Klein and Roitfeld should know … is that painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context," it said. "France and Australia may not have the United States' particular history of minstrel shows … but something about the act of portraying a white woman as black ought to sound an alarm, somewhere."
Dominique Sopo, president of the French organisation SOS Racisme, said that even if the shoot was not racist in intention it was certainly "tactless".
"If the aim was artistic, and not to pass off the model as a black girl, the fact that it produces such reactions shows that the world of images – advertising, fashion, whatever – is now paying for its long tradition of not allowing black people to show their bodies in public."