Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

Beware: This post is rated NSFW.  There are nude/partially nude/sexually explicit images below.  Continue at your own risk.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

The impetus for this post was a recent visit to one of my favorite fashion editorial sites, ZAC Fashion.  I clicked over to see what the latest uploads were and found myself staring at a page rife with nudity and sexual imagery.  I don’t usually have a problem with nudity, but as I stared at the page I found myself wondering “why?”.  What was the point of it all?  What does it have to do with fashion?

Nudity in art is nothing new.  The Venus di Milo, Michelangelo’s David, Goya’s La Maja Desnuda, and Edouard Manet’s Olympia are just a few famous examples that date back centuries.  There are many photographers that are known for their work with nudes, including one of my favorites, Ellen von Unwerth.  Yet the prevalence of nudity in fashion is something new, especially in the United States.

Helmut Newton

There is no denying that media depictions of nudity and sex have long been more accepted in certain parts of Europe.   As a result,  nudity has been present in publications like Vogue Paris and Vogue Italia for years.  Famed photographer Helmut Newton was among the first to shoot semi-nudes and nudes for Vogue Paris, as well as other publications, and his influence over today’s editorials is undeniable.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

Various works by Photographer Helmut Newton (images via connect.in.com)

Nudity in art, especially in photographic form, is about the intimacy of a moment.  Newton had an undeniable knack for capturing the sensuality of an image while celebrating the human form.   He did not shoot nudity for nudity’s sake, but instead focused on creating a moment.  An emotion.  He focused on the stark contrast between clothed and unclothed.  Yet some element of fashion was always present in his work, even in the “stilettos-and-nothing-else” look he was famed for.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

Sie kommen! (They're Coming!), Vogue Paris 1981 (Helmut Newton)

Sie kommen! is likely Newton’s most famed work for a fashion magazine.  In 1981, Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Francine Crescent showcased Newton’s work in an 8-page spread in the magazines’ November issue.   His fascination with nude versus dressed imagery is clear here.

Modern Influence

We can’t really talk about nudity and sexuality in fashion photography without mentioning Guy Bourdin.  Bourdin was a contemporary of Helmut Newton’s who had a similar impact on fashion photography.   In many ways you could say their works were polar opposites. Newton is known for capturing monochromatic, intimate images of imagined private lives (oftentimes sadomasochistic).  Bourdin’s work was highly stylized and saturated with color.  They both chose to tell stories with their cameras and the fashion was often secondary.  Yet it was always present in some form.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW) Left to Right (top): Kate Winslet by Steven Meisel for Vanity Fair, Doutzen Kroes by Mario Testino for V Magazine Swimsuit Issue Left to Right (bottom):  Charlotte Rampling as Venus in Furs by Helmut Newton (2002)Photo by Guy Bourdin

You can clearly see the influence of Newton and Bourdin in the fur-focused editorials above.  But Steven Meisel and Mario Testino aren’t the only photographers to take a page from their book.  It turns out that the oft-controversial Terry Richardson takes after the two of them as well.  A LOT.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW) Left to Right (top): Blake Lively and Leighton Meester by Terry Richardson for Rolling Stone, Photograph by Helmut Newton Left to Right (bottom): Crystal Renn by Terry Richardson for Vogue Paris, Photo by Guy Bourdin

If I didn’t know better I’d say that last shot with the sauerkraut and sausages was by Terry Richardson, that is how similar his aesthetic is to Guy Bourdin’s.

Still not convinced that Newton and Bourdin have influenced today’s fashion photographers?  Then check this out:

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW) Left to right (top): Dolce Vita by Steven Klein for W Magazine, Dolce Vita by Steven Klein for W Magazine (top), Photo by Guy Bourdin (bottom), Steven Meisel for Calvin Klein (s/S 2009) Left to Right (bottom): Photo by Helmut Newton, Steven Klein for Dolce and Gabanna (1997) (top), Eva Mendes for Calvin Klein by Steven Klein (2009), Abby Brothers by Michael Donovan (2011)

Pretty convincing, right?   It looks like sexuality and nudity in fashion has been around much longer than one might think  What’s interesting is that quite a few of the ads above are counted amongst the most controversial in recent years.

What about editorials that are 99% nude models focusing on an accessory here or there?  Do you think those are something new?

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW) Left to Right: Photo by Helmut Newton, Tom Ford for Tom Ford (A/W 2009), Koray Birand for Elle Turkey, and Edita Vilkeviciute by Mert and Marcus (A/W 2011)

Nope, not new.  Helmut Newton did it first my photographing a nude woman rocking a pair of heels.  Advertorials for perfume are another venue where nudity often comes into play today and Tom Ford’s ads are some of the most controversial.  While I was researching this post I came across an image by Guy Bourdin that actually made me gasp out loud.

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW) Left to Right (top):  Tom Ford by Terry Richardson (2007), Photo by Guy Bourdon, Tom Ford by Terry Richardson (2007), Tom Ford by Tom Ford (2011)

Even though the model’s thighs/privates are covered in the Bourdin version, the idea is still there.  I think it’s safe to say Tom Ford is aware of Guy Bourdin’s work.  Terry too.

Final Thoughts

It is clear that both Newton and Bourdin used nudity and sexuality as a form of artistic expression – it just so happens their medium was fashion photography.

So how does that artistic expression translate to fashion today?  To me, fashion editorials are about selling a lifestyle.  I don’t have a problem with nudity and sex in fashion editorials when they are used to evoke an emotion.  Eroticism, sensuality, intimacy.  Even shock.  If it’s done well, it’s quiet effective.

But gratuitous nudity – nudity for nudity’s sake alone – makes less of an impact and elicits a negative response, from me at least.  When is it a form of expression, and when is it art?

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

Art... or not?

Left to Right (top): Leigh Yeager by Jeff Tse (pic 1 and 2). Left to Right (bottom): Elsa Hosk by Andreas Kock, Elisabet Garcia by François Berthier

Is a net considered a piece of clothing?  What about no clothing/accessories at all?  Is that fashion?

When does it cross the line to soft pornography?

photoshoot photography history 2 fashion controversy art and fashion  Sex and Nudity in Fashion Editorials (NSFW)

Kirstin Varley by Rankin for S Magazine (via The Fashion Spot)

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Do you think there is too much sex and nudity in fashion editorials?

Do you think it’s a trend that will pass, or do you think it’s here to stay?

 

All images linked to original sources in description.

Header image: Abby Brothers by Michael Donovan (2011), Lara Stone by Riccardo Tisci (2011), Elsa Hosk by Andreas Kock (2011), Nicole Trunfio by Aram Bedrossian (2011)

{ 19 comments… add one }

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    • david yubeta March 21, 2013, 5:17 AM

      photography and captures are exquisite, erotic, seductive, the models work it! thanks. I love fashion and mostly black and white photos. tell such a story!

      Reply
    • maria de lourdes August 2, 2011, 5:31 PM

      well,when you see in the comments women calling this “art” and: ” i don´t have problem with nudity” indicates how raunch sexist culture is doing well…to the ones who says” i don´t have problem..”,how about men nudity? is it as commom as women nudity? why they never show dicks around,specially when it comes to female magazines? ah,that´s right..that would be “obscene” not art!

      If many of us women say ok to such exploitive scenes it´s more than undersatandable why we are not taken seriously in relation to male violence (specially rape).

      Reply
    • Claire July 29, 2011, 7:58 AM

      Helmut Newton’s nude women are, on the whole (in this post at least) strong, defiant and solidly placed. All the others are emoting “looook at me, all naked before you” or acting sucking on a phallus. Multiple similarly-built similarly presented women sucking tongues and not-cocks and offering the viewer their body as an observable treat don’t entice me to buy things, and I don’t think that, counted together in the volume in which they exist, they contribute to a healthy collective/individual subconscious.

      Is the Kirsten Varley by Rankin set trying to sell something? What? The dark shape in the second image? At the very least, pictures in which her facial expression change could have been chosen.

      Reply
    • Leia July 28, 2011, 5:58 PM

      I do think there’s a lot of sex in fashion editorials. I suppose ads are supposed to convey a feeling, and make the viewer want to emulate that feeling – i.e. if you wear this perfume you will be sexy / have a lot of very good sex with very good looking people. I don’t know if that’s a strategy that actually works, and to be honest, sometimes the in-your-face nudity is a bit uncalled for. I may be a prude, and though I have nothing against sexuality/sexiness, I think there’s a line between art and porn, and that line is too often crossed.

      Reply
    • Aussie Blue July 28, 2011, 4:03 PM

      Companies know that sex will sell. I however purposely avoid spending my money on products by designers who market in this distasteful manner. I want to see clothes, not nudity. No Tom Ford or Dulce for me.

      Megan Joy

      Reply
    • Fajr | Stylish Thought July 27, 2011, 11:29 PM

      Very informative post. I normally don’t have a problem with nudity in fashion but some ads tow the line between expression and pornography. I understand that sex sells, but sometimes I struggle with how a nude woman is going to make me want to buy a pair of shoes or handbag. If anything it just puzzles me as to why the company couldn’t be more creative and market me intelligently instead of with a naked lady.

      Reply
    • Jamillah July 26, 2011, 9:15 AM

      I don’t have a problem with nudity in fashion or in other art forms. Nudes are actually one of my favorite subjects in paintings and in photography. But I’m not happy about the roles women play in some of this nudity. I think depicting women as sexual is different than depicting them as a sexual object and the latter imagery really doesn’t sit well with me especially in advertising.

      Reply
    • UN-stitched July 25, 2011, 11:04 PM

      Excellent post, B! I like your observation about nudity in photographic art being about creating a moment. But how does one make nudity in fashion editorials fresh? It feels very overdone and boring to me, ie, does the woman’s hair always have to be slightly curled and tousled? On the other hand – wow, that guy’s bum is lovely to look at! It really provokes a reaction that is intended to stimulate, but when it’s more of the mind that targeted, I think the effect is better.
      Christine
      http://un-stitched.com

      Reply
    • For Those About To Shop July 25, 2011, 2:11 PM

      Nudity is almost always used to demean and exploit women and reduce us to objects rather than people. This holds true for so-called fine art, too, including the classic paintings you see in the great art museums of the world. My local art gallery (AGO) has a well-placed brochure that asks the question “Why are 99% of nudes female?” This is a mainstream art gallery I’m talking about so my ideas are not left-field feminism. Male art historian, John Berger, also addressed this topic in Ways of Seeing. Nudity is an insidious way of controlling women’s sexuality. What do these models’ fathers think? My father would kill himself if he ever saw me pose like this. Truly.

      Reply
    • Cynthia July 25, 2011, 8:40 AM

      So. Maybe it’s because I have experienced being thrown into the dating pool at several intervals between the late 80s and now, but, I am really disappointed and disgusted by this kind of advertising, by the prevalence of porn everywhere, and by what it’s doing to people’s sexual attitudes and expectations of women. Cheesed up soft-porn ads don’t attract me to a brand — they repel me. There are nudes as art but this is not that.

      Reply
    • Kirstin Marie July 25, 2011, 8:22 AM

      I’ve seen many of the photos & advertisements you’ve included in your post today, and there’s absolutely no doubt about the sexuality and nudity intended to assist in selling whatever product the add is about. I’ve noticed that not only in fashion, but in pretty much everything these days, involves sex in some way. As many advertisers and marketers would say, “Sex sells”. However, I do feel that too much of this kind of content runs a fine line, coming too close to other industries (if you know what I mean). Now, that being said, I don’t find a bit of nudity or sex in fashion wrong, as long as it doesn’t come off perverse, but rather, beautiful, as many artists have done many, many years before our time. Excellent post, B. :)

      Reply
    • Anna July 24, 2011, 11:17 AM

      2 years ago I attended a one week course about fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London. The teachers asked us to make 3 collages with photos that we liked and 3 with photos we didn’t like. One of the “didn’t like” collage was full of photos with nudes or sex related.
      I can’t say I’m shocked when seeing nude and sex in fashion magazines, but then again I don’t see the point! Tom Ford said that sex sells, and that’s probably the only part of his philosophy that I don’t like.
      Yes, some of the photos can be deemed as forms of art, but when you see to many of them it’s not novel anymore. It doens’t provoke the same emotions, because you’re used to it.

      Reply
    • Franca July 23, 2011, 6:24 PM

      I’m very comfortable with nudity, and from that point of view I like a lot of these photos as art. Like the woman on the beach and the Helmut Newtons with the women standing and looking straight into the camera I love.

      I am much less comfortable with the ones that almost depict sex acts or poses that are explicitly sexual and porn based. For me, it’s just such a reductive view of sex. The participants (mostly women, or course) are so objectified, they are not presented as people, but as symbols to which we the viewers have pavlovian responses of being turned on or shocked or whatever. And I admit I have these reactions. But there is no emotional content at all and that is what is missing for me. I’d love to see more depictions of sex as it is in real life, i.e. sometimes exciting, sometimes romantic, but also sometimes silly, or awkward. Something that elicits emotions. That I would consider art.

      Also for me there is no question that a fashion editorial where the only fashion item used anywhere is some spiky heels is not in my opinion a fashion editorial. Fashion photography should feature some clothes, in my opinion.
      Franca latest blog post: Feature on Thrifty and Shameless

      Reply
    • GRIT & GLAMOUR July 23, 2011, 9:15 AM

      As a fan of Tom Ford and fashion, I’ve seen a lot of these images before, and I can’t not agree when people say they’re a bit much. For some, it’s a lot to deal with, especially in the U.S. where nudity doesn’t enjoy the same kind of exposure, no pun intended. I kind of like that, though, that full frontal nudity is not permitted in advertising. It leaves SOMETHING to the imagination, which is nice given that everything else is fair game for discussion and viewing.

      Fashion, in my opinion, is art—so to take an artistic approach, to be controversial, is to be expected. I’m not a huge fan of some of the imagery above, but I’m not going to freak out about it. I think if photographers are going to push buttons, they have to do it knowingly, and for a good reason or cause. I agree that nudity for the sake of it is just being gratuitous, and frankly insults our intelligence. Nudity in art has been around even before the invention of photography…think of all those nude statues my the Greeks and Romans carved waaaaaaay back then! It’s never going away, because nudity and sex are key human motivators, desires. There’s nothing wrong with it in fashion photography, as long as it is relevant to the story being told visually.
      GRIT & GLAMOUR latest blog post: Seduced: Shoppable Gucci Fall 2011 Video

      Reply
    • A Brit Greek July 23, 2011, 1:21 AM

      Another brilliant topic of discussion B! I’m not really phased by sex/nudity in fashion mags/advertorials etc, it’s been around for yonks, but like Casee, I’m a little sick of it all. It’s nothing new anymore and i’m offended that the advertising/marketing execs think they can carry on using sex (or nudity) to sell to us, we’re not that stupid!
      There’s a fine line of when an artistic shot becomes a tacky, sleazy shot. Maybe I should ask Jeff Tse what his thoughts are on this subject and whether it was his idea to shoot Leigh like that!

      Have a lovely weekend.
      x.o.x.o
      A Brit Greek latest blog post: Friday Night Hot Hair: Tousled beach waves

      Reply
    • Casee Marie July 23, 2011, 1:03 AM

      So well done with this post. It’s a heavy topic, but sometimes the heaviest topics can generate the most thought-provoking discussions.

      I do think there’s too much sex and nudity in fashion editorials. I have to say, though, that I’m more offended by depictions of lewd acts than I am by outright nudity. Remember that shot of Crystal that Tom did for Paris Vogue this year where she had a guy’s head between her legs? (I think it was Tom who shot that, not Terry?) I was struck with more offense from that image than anything presented in this post. Terry is the perfect example of what I mean, even when the models are fully clothed I feel like his shots always come across as sleazy. Nudity isn’t always sleazy. I quite like a lot of Ellen von Unwerth’s stuff. I feel like even some of her explicit photos have a sense of dignity to them. It just becomes a matter of how the nudity is working with the fashion – assuming there is any, otherwise it becomes something like Kim Kardashian for W where it feels more like a focus on the female form (I loved that one, by the way).

      But with that being said, when it comes down to the nudity in fashion adverts it’s just such a big why. What relevance does it have? For me it’s just gotten to a point of annoyance: I want to see something creative in an advertisement, something fresh, and if a company won’t cater to my ideals in their advertising then I’m apt to assume they won’t cater to my ideals with their products either. I guess I’m somewhat contradictory, though, because when it comes to perfume and the occasional accessory (such as Edita by Mert and Marcus) I don’t judge as much. Although I will say it wasn’t a bright moment for me when I started flipping through a mag recently in mixed company and landed on that latest Tom Ford ad. And all they knew of Tom Ford was that I’m crazy about him. So yeah, awkward. I’m not phased by nudity unless I’m in the company of other people, then I think I get flustered wondering if those people are offended. And in that moment I definitely thought, Really, why must this be here?

      But anyway, those are my thoughts. (Aren’t you glad you asked?) Not sure if they made any sense, but there they are!

      Reply
    • Terri July 22, 2011, 9:13 PM

      perhaps some sort of anti-fashion message is implicit here. Perhaps the body is the beautiful thing…and clothing obscures it. Just a theory.
      Terri latest blog post: EBEW: Tightwad Edition

      Reply
    • GRIT & GLAMOUR July 23, 2011, 9:16 AM

      That’s a very interesting observation! And would make sense in the case of Tom Ford’s perfume ads!
      GRIT & GLAMOUR latest blog post: Seduced: Shoppable Gucci Fall 2011 Video

      Reply
    • Serene July 22, 2011, 7:52 PM

      Really turned off by these kind of pictorials and ads. I just don’t see much fashion in it at all and CLEARLY, much of it is simply soft porn used to sell a product. I wish that women would not agree to have themselves presented this way. ~Serene

      Reply