Adverisements for Fur
By: Sarah Wheels, Arya Samuelson, and Jen Byers
Fur has traditionally been marketed as a luxury item to wealthy women. It is notoriously expensive because it is rare and requires a lot of labor to make. Wearers of fur coats endured a period in the late 2000's in which they were attacked by animal rights activists. These coats are a symbol of the elite class and of a misuse of animal products by members of this class. Two photo editorials from Vogue Hommes International (Conde Naste Publishing, 2007), and Vogue Paris (Conde Naste Publishing, 2008) attempt to reclaim fur as a luxury item and market coats to both men and women. Undoubtedly, Western conceptions of gender and gender stereotypes influenced the content of these advertisements and the messages conveyed by each.
Link to Racism and Sexism in Advertising
|Male Bodies and Fur
The first photographs, black and white portraits of a men in dark fur coats, becomes the basis for our analysis of gendered ads for fur. The editorial entitled “Fur Men” (Mario Testino; Vogue Hommes Intl; 2007) plays with our assumption that fur is a feminine good. These photos show men in what seem to be a feminine poses. The first photo shows a male model whose arms frame his face. His chest is exposed, and his slim figure is presented at an angle, which emphasizes the curve of his waist. The second photo shows a man with an androgynous face with a whisp of hair that makes him seem feminine. Despite this, bodily signifiers like their exposed pubic hair, prominent abdominal muscles, and the way that their heads face us and their eyes challenge the camera reinforce their maleness. In addition, light is directed onto the contours of their chests, which are sculpted. In the second photo, the model puts his hands on his hips, emphaszing the V-shape of his groin. These men pose with confidence. Fur, which is generally understood as a woman’s luxury item, is here appropriated as a man’s accessory, but this ad suggests that that is only true if his manliness is affirmed in overt ways.
This photo editorial focuses our attention on these men’s pubic hair, which in this context functions to naturalize men wearing fur coats. Essentially, the message becomes: Men are furry, so, fur coats complement their bodies. These men “own” their fur, so to speak. This sentiment is expressed even in the title of the shoot, which seems to be a dual play on words: first of all, “Fur Men” seems to be a play on “Cave Men,” since cave men with red-meat-and-large-sticks are often regarded as exhibiting quintessential masculinity. Second, “Fur Men,” plays on “For Men,” as if to combine the two into “Fur for Men.”
The female pose combined with a hyper-masculine body results in a message aimed at a mixed audience. Vogue Hommes International shows men modeling high fashion, and thus caters to both a male and female audience. The model’s overt “manliness” can thus be understood as a way of alluring both female viewers (who would be presumably attracted to the model) and male viewers who would be inspired to purchase fur now that their concerns about its being unmanly have been addressed. The magazine is surely also catering to a gay male and transgender audience who might appreciate its attempt to "gender-bend."
|Female Bodies and Fur
Another photo editorial entitled "Fur is Dead" (Mario Testino; Vogue Paris; 2008) employs traditional assumptions about fur as a feminine type of clothing. The models in this editorial are posed very unlike the men in the first. They are positioned vulnerably, and their hands are busy putting on the clothing. In this sort of meta-editorial, these models are portraying models who are dressing for the runway/a different shoot. The photos are voyeuristic, since the clothing rack and the actions of the models suggest that they are in the process of getting dressed, perhaps backstage. They do not look at the camera; one looks fiercely at something off-camera to the right and the other looks down at her hands. The voyeuristic nature of these photos is very opposite the viewer-ready nature of the male photos. The men seem assured and the focus is on the masculine aspects of their bodies, which are posed toward the camera. The women seem pained, busy, exposed and helpless and are posed so that they do not face the camera at all. The men dominate the frame of the photo with their bodies whereas the women do not take up as much space in the pictures.
The second photo (in which the model fumbles with the zipper) contrasts the dark colors of the enormous fur jacket and her stiletto boots with the paleness of her skin. In neither of the photos, for that matter, is there the slightest hint of the “furriness” of their bodies, even though neither model wears pants. Whereas the male models’ pubic hair seemed to be a way of affirming the “natural’ basis for the fur they were modeling, for the women the fur seems to be totally “unnatural.” This may partially account for the luxuriousness of the fur, however; that it is presented as something that women must acquire, rather than something they can have naturally. The phrase "can have” is appropriate since women do have body hair; it’s just that shaving it is generally regarded by the media and by advertisements as the appropriate female response to body hair. Perhaps the fur of fashion is a way of making up for the natural fur that women are encouraged to eliminate.
The fur coats seem heavy and contribute to the awkwardness of the pose. It seems to tip over the model in the second photo and expose her breast. In the first photo the fur seems to pull her in the opposite direction as she attempts to zip her shoe. The fur dominates the body here, whereas the men are able to hold up the fur without being consumed by it.
This photo presents a model is walking down the street, being accosted by anti-fur protesters. The look on her face is stoic and cold, entirely ignoring them, as if they do not effect or both her. She looks strong, emotionally and physically, taking long strides and focusing her gaze straight ahead, as if telling the protestors to "Go away. Don't bother me." Her fur and heels seem to bulk up her figures, making her appear taller and wider, physically imposing as if to physically manifest her "tough" attitude. She is very much presented as an urban woman, able to fend for herself and keep herself on track, even when confronted with potentially violent disapproval.
Surprisingly, this photo comes from Mario Testino's "Fur is Dead" editorial, and is placed alongside the two previous photos. This model is the same half-naked vulnerable girl in the back stage section. This depiction of the dual personality of the model, the urban woman outside and the fumbling, vulnerable child inside, contrast directly. Within in the "Fur is Dead" campaign, the model is portrayed as Janus-faced, being forced to occupy a role of strong indifference or confidence outside, and passive submission inside. On the city blocks, the fur and heels seem to protect or enhance the woman's appearance, whereas inside, the fur and heels weigh her down, making her look clumsy, and her bracelets seem to act as handcuffs, making her look weak and like a prisoner of fashion.
Women versus Men
These differences present a strange relationship between women and the fashion industry, where women must adopt a two-faced attitude: strong on the outside, soft and vulnerable on the inside. This attitude is contrasted to the men's editorial, where the men are posed on a blank background, completely removed from any sort of setting. The men's poses only vary slightly from person-to-person, and the models are posed alone and outside of any greater context. If the double-pictured female model has to fragment herself and appear as both strong and vulnerable, the male model has to present himself in one, hyper-eclectic manner consistently. While the female must be strong outside, vulnerable inside, the male must be both feminine and masculine, rugged, but also soft simultaneously. This ideal forces the female to dramatically compartmentalize herself, while her male counterpart must fuze all of himself into one fixed physicality.
These editorials were photographed at a time when anti-fur campaigns railed against fur used in fashion, though they targeted use of fur in women's fashion more frequently than they do men's. Women in fur are seen to use fur strictly as a fashionable accessory, where men are more likely to be seen wearing fur to keep them warm as they trek outside to do hard, manly labor and explore the wilderness. For example, these ad campaigns came at a time of a sort of fur-renaissance in fashion, during a trend called "bohemian luxury," which combines the earthy, free-spirited aspects of the bohemian trend with a constructed opulence of fur, jewels, and wealth. This trend seemingly sprung up as a statement against the anti-fur stance having to do with the save the environment/world, green political movements of the late 2000s. The female 'outside' pose seems to relate the fashion industry's response to the anti-fur flack or general outside opinion, while the dressing room model represents fashion's constant vulnerability because, to be successful, fashion must present itself to the outside world.