The relationship between Fashion and Death

“Why cannot I do it? You show how ignorant you are of the power of Fashion.” – Giacomo Leopardi, 1824.

For many, little may come to mind when considering the relationship between Fashion and Death. However, although initially these two subjects may seem to have little in common, they actually intertwine in many aspects, such as the death of animals in the fur and leather industry, female death in advertising, fatality caused by body image issues, and the significance of clothes after death, such as the way corpses are dressed or the value we place on black formal wear for funerals. The Italian poet, philosopher and essayist Giacomo Leopardi produced a dialogue between Fashion and Death in 1824, within which ‘fashion’ claims herself and Death ‘both equally profit by the incessant change and destruction of things’. This illustrates that the connection between Fashion and Death has been acknowledged and explored before, however in modern society there are increasing ways that the two unite. Contemporary Fashion designers often take inspiration from the morbid, such as Alexander Mcqueen’s dark imagery of skulls and the blood red lining of his graduate collection inspired by Jack the Ripper, or Rei Kawakubo in her ‘Ceremony of Separation’ collection for Comme Des Garçons, which moved some of the audience to tears due to the emotionally charged connotations of loss. In addition to designers, photographers such as Tim Walker often combines death-like imagery and fashion to create surreal and compelling photographs.

However fashion advertising I feel is the most shocking area that uses death to promote fashion. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of fashion campaigns which seem to attempt to profit from the abuse and death of women. The advertorials often glamourise this, in an attempt to make it appealingly ‘racy’ or ‘dangerous’. This treatment of women is so rife in advertising that it becomes easy not to notice, as the belittlement and abuse of women in advertising becomes the “norm”. One example is found in a campaign for the menswear brand Duncan Quinn in 2008. The campaign disturbingly displays a man with a sharp suit and sly smile holding a tie that has been knotted around a women’s neck, who is scantily clad, laying across the bonnet of a car. The pure aggression in this photograph sends a clear message of the juxtaposition in power between the vulnerable women wearing underwear and powerful tall men wearing suits within this campaign.

Another example is the Vogue Paris Hommes cover, photographed by Terry Richardson, who is other news, was recently banned from working for Vogue. The cover shows a male model holding female model Stephanie Seymour by the throat whilst simultaneously seeming to kiss her , presenting violence as passion rather than abuse. Even more disturbingly, Terry Richardson has been accused by multiple models, such as Rie Rasausson, that he has asked models to engage in undesired sexual behaviours and poses during fashion shoots, including sexual acts with Terry himself.

Again violence is used to sell in Guy Bourdin’s campaign for shoe company Charles Jourdan, within which shoes were fitted on lifeless bodies or on legs strapped to train tracks. On another shoot Bourdin doused two models in glue and pearls, apparently both women blacked out due to the intensity of the amount of their face which was entirely covered. When an editor told Bourdin that models could die in such conditions, he simply replied that such a death would be ‘beautiful.

Global brand Dolce and Gabbana also includes the abuse of women within their campaigns, such as their 2007 advertorial which depicted a single woman lying on the floor, with four males around her, one is even holding her down. This ad was accused of simulating a ‘gang rape’ scene, however the brand argued it was meant to be a ‘sexual fantasy’, lacking to acknowledge the serious tones of rape and abuse in the campaign.


Interestingly, artist Yolanda Dominguez made a short film showing how children responded to these types of fashion advertising, in an effort to bring to light the affects that campaigns can subliminally have on the way we think about and view women. In the film, the children explain how the models may be feeling, what they look like and what they might be doing. When the children are shown the female advertisements their answers all seem to be very similar.


They say the model appears ‘ill’ or ‘drunk’ and even ‘dead’. However when they are shown male advertisements the answers juxtapose to the answers they previously gave. They say they look like ‘heroes’, ‘bosses’ and even as if there at ‘university’.


One boy even expresses his own desire to go to University in response to seeing the advertorial, whilst a girl expresses how she would not like to be the girl when shown a female campaign. I feel this video highlights the extreme juxtaposition in how gender is presented in fashion, through the eyes of young children. This reveals that subliminal messaging may have a huge affect on children, whenever they are exposed to advertisements on billboards, buses and magazines.


I think it’s clear that things need to change in the fashion industry. As although it is one of the only industries that is almost completely dominated by women, we still find we are presenting females in a way that seems to be affected by the ‘male-gaze’. However with Vogue and other reputable fashion magazines refusing to work with Terry Richardson, an enabler of this type of fashion photography, we are hopefully stepping in the right direction.


What do you think about the way we present the death and violence of women in fashion advertising? Let me know in the comments below!


Useful Links that aided the writing of this article:


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