- “Je suis fatigué par le culte de la jeunesse”: Or, Walking on Ice in High Heels
In its December 2010–January 2011 issue, under the banner “Cadeaux,” Vogue Paris ran a glittering forty-page photo spread displaying a profusion of extravagant branded gifts that its readers were encouraged to give—or, more likely, to ask to receive—for the coming holiday celebrations: Fendi shoes, Chanel purses, Dior picture frames, Cartier diamond earrings, Jimmy Choo sandals, an emerald necklace by Harry Winston, a gold lamé dress from Balmain. In many ways, the spread was like the pages of advertisements that front every fashion magazine. The difference in the Vogue section was that it was anchored by a series of photographs featuring very young female models—some of them reportedly as young as six—wearing the dresses and shoes and jewellery being marketed. Directed by stylist Mélanie Huynh and photographed by Sharif Hamza, the girls were pictured lounging on beds, supine on couches, looking into mirrors and over their shoulders at the camera, and sprawling among the presents at the foot of a Christmas tree. Given the title and the evocation of the season in the spread, the implication seemed to be clear: these girls were also being staged as cadeaux for the adult readers of the magazine.
A storm of controversy on the Internet followed the publication of the issue, with many bloggers protesting the appearance of the girls in the images as exploitation. On the blog Boing Boing, for example, under the heading “Pedocouture,” Xeni Jardin reported that “[t]he December issue of French Vogue, edited by Tom Ford, features an extensive spread of child models presented more or less like whores.” Commenting on a Lovelyish blog post with the title “Paris Vogue’s Kiddie Editorial is a Pedobear Macro Waiting to Happen,” wideopenskies was equally unambiguous about her or his response: “This is disgusting. Children are meant to be happy and smiling. Look at those faces . . . like seasoned models being coerced into demonstrating [End Page 1] a somber expression for a photograph.” A post from elizabeth on the blog Frockwriter was more explicit as she responded to a previous comment suggesting that the girls could be read as playing dress-up: “this is NOT little girls playing dress up! it’s marketing luxury clothes with baby girls dressed like prostitutes, posed in porn come-hither situations . . . as if they were tiny sex toys. revolting! shame on you Vogue!” On the same blog, a writer identifying herself as A Mother extended these observations: “If any of these looks, coupled with that clothing/makeup, were from a grown woman in a nightclub, the message would be pretty clear. You cannot just separate that kind of body language from the usual meaning just because the body performing it is a child.” Another contributor to Lovelyish, using the pseudonym riot_as_rain, admitted that “sure the pictures are pretty, say waht [sic] you will,” but concluded that “the subjects are children. they aren’t meant to be ‘captured’ this way. . . . this is so wrong.” Like riot_as_rain, Cassandra on the blog The Fashionist admitted to some ambivalence about the pictures, but found her own ambivalence disturbing:
It is exactly the confusion of “proper” child and adult roles that [End Page 2] makes the images obscene, according to a writer who identified as Balanceanddiscernment on Frockwriter: “The reason it looks so obscene is that pretending a child is an adult is unnatural and unethical. It immorally puts the child in a place that they do not belong, can not [sic] benefit from and will find grave harm in.” On 17 December 2010, just weeks after the release of the holiday issue, editor Carine Roitfeld announced her departure from the position of Rédactrice en chef of the magazine, effective at the end of January 2011. Rumours that she had been fired spread quickly, although no official confirmation or denial from Condé Nast Publications was forthcoming.
From the time she assumed the position of chief editor in 2001, Roitfeld’s career at Vogue Paris was punctuated by scandals about images she published: a model tied up with curtain cord in...