For a student of fashion and a person well-versed enough in pornography, I am fucking garbage at this game. Earlier this week, Nss Magazine released their online “Fashion or Porn” quiz, much to the delight of fashion whores and perverts everywhere. It goes a little something like this: A tiny fraction of an image is revealed on a page – a gaping mouth, two breasts smashed together, someone administering a titty twister in extreme close-up – and you use your best judgment to determine whether it’s, you know, porn or fashion. Easy? Not really. Out of 40 images, I only achieved five correct guesses in a row, mostly because I had seen in them in previous plays. Play it yourself and you’ll find yourself mistakenly answering “PORN” instead of “FASHION” more often than not, punished with an Operation-like “wrong” buzzing noise and a wide shot of slooze’s shaved labia in gruesome detail. And even when you’re right, your “reward” is still said labia, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing what some stranger’s “O” face looks like.
Sure, the game is oddly addictive and grotesquely entertaining, some sort of deranged validation of your sexual know-how (Rosie Huntington-Whitley, I’d recognize those DSLs anywhere!). But it’s also meant to be revelatory, a social commentary on how depraved the fashion industry has become over the last few decades. The lines have blurred. You’ll just as soon find a girl — her mouth open in rapture, eyes rolling into the back of her head — selling a tee-shirt as you will see her getting rammed from behind by some guy with a tramp stamp. Simply take out the penetration and you’ve got yourself a Tom Ford for Gucci campaign. SEX SELLS!
The overt sexuality seen in fashion – demonstrated with mild accuracy by “Fashion or Porn” – is attributed by some to the widespread influence of the so-called “pornification” of pop culture. Porn, and our carte blanche access to it via the internet, has apparently tainted the pristine fashion sphere once occupied by dignified socialites with ankle-grazing circle skirts and ladies-who-lunch-but-don’t-fuck. Fashion, as a reflection of this generation’s desensitized eyeballs and overworked, over-rubbed nether regions, has succumbed to the lowest of the low to sell its wares: banging. Or so it goes.
The most glaring example of this theory would be the success of American Apparel (though its qualifications as “fashion” are up for debate), whose campaign images are used often in the “Fashion or Porn” game and will nearly always throw you off your porn-spotting A game. Their ads are an invention of the 21st century, influenced by the DIY quality of porn’s Internet era. But while American Apparel seems like the lowest common denominator of fashion campaigns, the sex is nothing new. Before American Apparel there was Bruce Weber for Abercrombie & Fitch. And don’t forget Guy Bourdin. The difference is, and always has been, if you’re doing it right.
There is certainly truth in the observation that the industry has become hyper-sexualized over the years. For a little compare and contrast, watch some (bloody boring) clips of Paris haute couture shows circa 1960s. These are sexless, functional affairs, where models wielding numbers like stamped cattle twirl between editors in a way that would give zero dudes a boner. Cut to today’s catwalks — with their runways slick like black latex, young women stomping around in heels that could pierce the flesh of any willing masochist, and an EDM soundtrack that reminds you of that time you got tied up in the basement of that Berlin club one summer (you know, in a good way) — it’s sex central. Bang-a-lang.
So what’s more exciting? Unless you’re a corpse or a eunuch, the answer is clearly today’s. All that skin and sass gets the blood moving. It makes you forget you’re just watching silk and satin sewed together by the hands of underpaid immigrants move down a floor made of laminated PVC with special high-gloss PET surface. In giving it a personality, even a slutty one, fashion becomes transcendental.
One might argue that we don’t need sex in fashion. “Clean it up!” some might say. “Put some pants on!” This is a stupid argument, because we don’t technically need fashion, period, sexed-up or otherwise. Fashion is a luxury. Fashion is a want. Everyone reading this article right now likely has enough shoes, jackets, shirts, and underpinnings to last them ‘til End Times. It is the choice – and the necessity – of moneyed nations to keep consuming. Sex simply makes that task less boring. It gives consumption a pulse.
The problem is not a “pornification” of our pop culture. The problem is this: The wealthier our nations become, the more distanced we are from our roots. At the end of the day — in spite of our $300 Japanese denim, our no-foam soy lattes, our steady access to electricity and running water – we are all animals, put on this planet to do nothing more than eat, sleep, procreate, and, if we’re lucky, survive. Having benefited from a handful of geniuses over the centuries who decided they’d pass on the third drink so they could wake up early and figure out how to put spaceships on the moon, the rest of us are left with an easier, superfluous life, a celebration of hedonism.
Is there too much sex in fashion? Maybe. But fuck it. Literally.