Still of Crystal Renn from the Backstage Footage of the Dolce & Gabbana Story for Vogue Nippon (2011)

Vogue Nippon (Japanese Vogue) Editor-at-Large Anna Dello Russo delivers a new perspective on Orientalism in her latest shoot with model Crystal Renn. Outfitted in standard high fashion looks by Dolce & Gabbana, Renn’s eyes are epicanthicized with the use of good old-fashioned household tape.

Still of Crystal Renn with tape from the Backstage Footage of the Dolce & Gabbana Story for Vogue Nippon (2011)

The shoot itself is barley distinguishable from any other magazine; the clothes and setting are pedestrian, with the only bit of interest coming from the racist yellow-face element. It’s not even a kitschy take on Japanese fashion, to boot. Nary an obi belt or kimono-inspired gown in sight. In fact, a lot of the looks take note from traditional European costume tropes. So why the eyes?

Dovima with Sacha, Cloche and Suit by Balenciaga, Café des Deux Magots, Paris, photo by Richard Avedon (August 1955)

Maybe it’s not even meant to be mimicking physical attributes of East Asians. A lot of fabulous 1950s models like Dovima and Dorian Leigh sported rather pointy, feline eyes at the height of their popularity. Perhaps it’s just an homage to “classic” beauty. Though considering it’s for the Japanese edition of Vogue, and the fact that Dello Russo is a bit eccentric to begin with, it’s probably silly to suggest such an innocuous reasoning.

It wouldn’t make it any less offensive if the spread was a little more Japanified (in fact it would probably make it worse) but as it stands now, the option to pull back Renn’s eyes make absolutely no sense. If Russo wanted a Japanese look, why not hire a Japanese model? Why first litter the pages of a Japanese fashion magazine with white girls, and then try to make a white girl look Japanese?

In my earlier assessments of the menswear collections, I surmised that the fallback on fetishized racial stereotypes and appropriations emerged from the rigorous schedule of creativity the fashion industry demands. In relation to fashion media, the constant output of content may be a contributing factor, but supplementing the genesis of these shocking images most likely stems from the fact that editors need a reader (or viewer) to have an immediate, visceral response to their work in order to capture and maintain attention.

The internet, as it so often does, exploded in the wake of this faux-Japanese styling, just as it has with similar controversial spreads. If nothing else, we’ve fed into publicizing this quasi-grotesque display of racial insensitivity, as well as the magazine, which cynics (myself included) would assume is all they wanted to begin with.

Lara Stone for the October 2009 Issue of French Vogue (photo by Steven Klein)

But it merits discussion. Sure, if we just don’t look it might all go away, but since the fashion industry has a pretty non-progressive attitude towards race and larger conventions of beauty in general, if we don’t complain, we’ll perpetuate the stereotypes. It may pain us to propagate offensive imagery like Lara Stone’s black face spread in French Vogue or have a discussion about the slightly condescending annual “Black” Issue of Vogue Italia, or show a white model’s eyes taped back for the sake of exoticism, but we’ll continue to see this if we don’t say something.

And, ultimately, it’s such a lazy approach to creativity. Deadlines or not, shouldn’t we encourage these arbiters of taste to produce more visually stimulating shoots rather than the editorial equivalent of shock jocking? Anna Dello Russo, please, put down the tape and pick up something a little more interesting.

To see more footage of the Vogue Nippon Dolce & Gabanna shoot check out the video below:

YouTube video

Alexander Cavaluzzo is a Pop Poet, Cultural Critic and Sartorial Scholar. He received his BS in Art History from FIT and his MA in Arts Politics at NYU. His interests focus on the intersection of fashion,...

4 replies on “Tape It Till You Make It: Orientalism and the Race Issue in Fashion”

  1. Although this is definitely a major issue in fashion, it apparently does not apply to this particular shoot. There was an interview with Renn posted yesterday, talking about her very frequent use of brow taping to shape here eyebrows without having to permanently change them. It references multiple shoots where this has been done without any intention of making her seem like she’s from another ethnic background.

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