I don’t usually write about fashion (and this post is only peripherally about that subject) but I do find photographs often to be compelling political and visual statements. So, today’s post. In order to understand the context of this image, I should quote some of this NY Times article about the Paris fashion week:
OUTSIDE the Ritz Paris on the Place Vendôme, where paparazzi congregate whenever celebrities are in town for Fashion Week, a striking alabaster-skinned woman posed on her way into the hotel one morning in March.
She wore navy silk pajamas with white piping, a teal topcoat draped over her shoulders, oversize cat-eye sunglasses and a loosely tied babushka over her hair, giving her the mysterious, nearly plastic, impression of a 1950s Hollywood movie star. Hours later, she emerged in a pale blue halter dress covered with spots, and posed once again. The next morning, it was a Chanel suit in black tweed and a matching beret, worn askew.
Her name is Ulyana Sergeenko, and though she is not yet internationally famous, she is certainly well known among the fashion designers of this particular part of the world. She is one of their best customers, the wife of a Russian insurance billionaire, a former model, a star of street-style photographers and a burgeoning designer and photographer herself.
The photograph could itself be taken from a fashion magazine, where it might project a satiric perspective on the glamor-girl paparazzi symbiotic relationship. But what strikes me is the imperiousness, even brutality of the model with her impossibly erect, almost military posture. Knowing that she is wife of a Russian oligarch tells us much of what we need to know about what went into amassing that fortune that clothes her. In the picture, a woman bystander looks at the woman’s dress and ignores entirely the person in it. The model turns her head and eyes, sheathed in those movie-star sunglasses, toward the paparazzi photographer. The look on her face…what is it? Not hate. But haughtiness definitely. Disdain perhaps.
The Times article notes that Vogue cheers on this woman and the other members of her clique of the fabulously wealth, saying they have “unbounded personal style.” Certainly unbounded personal wealth earned on the backs of Russia’s struggling classes. But why should anyone care about such obscene wealth and the distractions it finds to amuse itself? These are the .1% of the 1%. They are visitors from another planet, and not very friendly or nice ones at that.
marc b. says
i refer to these people as ‘fancy feast’, in reference to the cat food commercial in which a well-groomed persian cat is called to dinner by the ringing of a lead crystal cat food bowl. it thinks it’s something other than a cat, but it isn’t, and when ‘you’ believe that you have transcended your own species, that is recipe for pathology.
For those who have everything, the only meaningful gesture is one that says nothing at all. That’s what high fashion is about: Nothing.
Just a heads-up on an error in the article, Richard. You mistakenly claim that the oligarch’s money was ‘earned’ on the backs of Russia’s struggling peasantry. It was, in fact, stolen from them and was in no way earned.
Russia still has a way to go though, to catch up with the Arab dictators when it comes to whole-sale theft of public resources.
Saudi Arabia’s royal family will pass into legend as perpetrators of the biggest theft ever committed in human history. It’s worth noting as well, that their blood-soaked princes and princesses get similar attention from the obsequious fashion press whenever they step out of their gauche super cars bedecked in the crassest merchandise available.
Ditto Little Abdullah of Jordan whose hateful Queen Consort Rania routinely poses for the western press and pontificates about her favourite holiday destinations while ‘her people’ (please…) are destitute. It’s okay though – she’s ever so pretty.
It takes a thoroughly tacky woman to make Chanel look gaudy. She manages, though.
marc b. says
good point, omar. ‘earning’ ‘on the backs of’ is an oxymoronic phrase in any event. not enough oligarchs have gotten the ‘khodorkovsky treatment’ in my opinion.
Richard Silverstein says
Good point & good to keep in mind.
Piotr Berman says
I am not sure if “brutalism” entails pouting at paparazzi.
By the way, can Uliana visit Israel? I read that posing to photographs is illegal there if your BMI is under 18.5.
RE: “The look on her face…what is it?” ~ R.S.
MY GUESS: The “look” of Botox®, Dysport® and beaucoup extra-pouty lip injections.
ALSO SEE: “A Bush & Botox World: Travels Through Bush’s America”, by Saul Landau – http://www.amazon.com/Bush-Botox-World-Travels-Counterpunch/dp/1904859615