Louis Vuitton and Love Magazine are in trouble with various anti-sex-work organizations and politicians for a new “fashion film” in which models like Cara Delevingne and Georgia May Jagger play (badly) at being prostitutes. Quelle surprise!
Filmed in the streets of Paris, the film is an extension of the inspiration creative director Marc Jacobs clearly took from the sex industry (and glamorized portrayals thereof like Belle Du Jour) for the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2013/2014 line, which features chunky fur coats and underwear as outerwear. Looking like a cross between strung out Amelie and Grizabella the Glamour Cat, Delevingne and friends writhe in alleyways taking their clothes off for free before getting into cars and…the rest, you are left to imagine. You find out via flashbacks that they were wearing the same clothes in the Louis Vuitton show just a few days prior. Was it all a dream? Are models prostitutes? I don’t know. Art!
When I first learned of this film’s existence, I thought it would be a good example of two supposedly progressive ideals bumping up against one another: the desire of fashion to “push the limits” with its “art,” on the one hand, and those second-wave feminists who want to “help” adult sex workers by rescuing them from their livelihood, on the other. I must be psychic, because some “abolitionists” (people who advocate the end of sex work, often at the expense of sex workers) published a letter in the French paper “Liberation” saying that the film presented “an extremely shocking representation of women.” Furthermore, they wrote that it “portrayed women’s bodies as an object” (are they just learning of the fashion industry’s existence?) and “prostitution as something that is playful and enjoyable. This is very damaging because we are trying to fight the idea, to which some young women in France subscribe, that prostitution is banal and just a way of getting money to buy clothes.”
Here’s where they run into trouble: most of the women in the sex industry are not just bored young ladies looking for a little extra pocket money. But what if some of them are? So long as you support a capitalist system whereby people are forced to sacrifice their time and bodily autonomy in exchange for food and shelter, you have no business telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do to survive, or even (in the case of the most privileged sex workers) live well. It’s true that being a prostitute and hating your job is more damaging to a person than being a janitor and hating your job, but at root, those are both problems caused by capitalism, and not sex work in particular. (I am referring, of course, to adults who enter the industry “by choice,” as much as any autonomous choice is possible within society, not those who are trafficked as minors.) Plus, it’s fine to be angry about the objectification of women, but that is hardly confined to the sex industry. But you don’t see these people protesting every single fashion campaign that gets published, which strikes me as somewhat hypocritical.
Which is not to say that I think Louis Vuitton’s “fashion film” is awesome! Just because the fashion industry is aware enough of its own foibles to vaguely compare itself with the sex industry does not excuse said foibles. It’s also a ridiculous (and somewhat dead-eyed and stereotyped?) portrayal of what prostitutes do. But as always, I’d love to hear what some actual sex workers think of it.