In a recent editorial for Purple magazine, supermodel Freja Beha Erichsen posed completely naked. The spread left nothing of Erichsen’s body to the imagination. Erichsen is a staple in the fashion industry these days — she’s the face of Chanel’s current ad campaign and is first choice on the catwalks for labels like Dior and Prada. Erichsen’s appeal lies in her undeniable androgyny and Purple, known for its avant garde and often risqué photo shoots, took the opportunity to mix fashion with sex. As the magazine itself put it, Erichsen’s “unabashed androgyny is living proof that you can be one of the most important models in current fashion without having to hide your body or your sexuality, and without having to conform to a stereotypically female look.”
Magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar focus on fashion as a means of dressing. Magazines like Purple or Love, Conde Nast’s new release, focus on fashion as an experience. Erichsen’s supermodel persona encompasses both aspects of fashion. Her body is her canvas. Purple’s naked photo shoot attempted to examine why that body has become so influential.
But I was immediately put off by the exhibition that the magazine was making out of fashion. Purple’s editors seemed to be screaming, “Look how cutting edge and progressive fashion is — mainstream designers are featuring a girl that looks like a boy! And our magazine is featuring that girl TOTALLY NAKED!” Though their statement alongside the photos that Erichsen wasn’t hiding her sexuality or conforming to a “stereotypically female look” is legitimate, Purple’s spread doesn’t prove that point. It only serves to further confirm fashion’s obsession with appearances and the female body in just one form: skinny and flat-chested.
Purple had it wrong: Erichsen’s look isn’t new at all. It’s just more extreme, and fashion has never asked women of her body type to hide their bodies or their sexuality. In fact, fashion encourages and celebrates the supermodels who put both things on display. From the nude Kate Moss Interview magazine editorial to the 2008 Vogue Italia feature in which the model donned nothing but obscenely bright makeup and strappy purple wedges, models have been taking off their clothes in the name of couture for years. Another naked supermodel isn’t a sign that fashion is moving forward. Purple’s exploitation of a woman’s body as a means to incite shock and awe in its readers under the guise of a liberating look at female sexuality only pushed fashion’s progress further back.