Today there been a storm of controversy over images of Claudia Schiffer taken two years ago by the legendary Karl Lagerfeld for a Dom Perignon ad campaign gracing the cover of German fashion magazine Stern Fotografie to celebrate its 60 year anniversary.
Now this image has been called tasteless and has been accused of invoking images of ‘blacking up’ where white performers even as recent as the 70s would don black make up and afros to mimic and mock black ethnicity.
To me I don’t find this image is offensive and I feel it wasn’t meant to insult but I would be lying if I said it didn’t hit a few nerves as a black woman.
When I see the image the first thing that springs to mind is the outfit and necklace are bang on for Dynasty fabulousity. They remind me of my mum in the 80s, as a diplomat’s wife she would often kiss me goodbye before being whisked off to some glamourous charity ball at the Dorchester. However, the hair reminds me of a black Barbie doll my mother bought me in the 80s. She was scared I had no positive reaffirming images of black feminine beauty and had it shipped over. My black Barbie had this exaggerated afro and was dressed in a red lace slip, which made her look like a disco singing (‘Street Life’ comes to mind) hooker and this is the problem. As a little black girl and even today we are devoid of seeing many powerful images of black beauty. Yes we have the phone tossing amazon that is Naomi Campbell and younger models (literally!) such as Chanel Iman, however this image just smacks of, “Oh look at Claudia dressed up as a black woman! Oh she is an exotic curiosity”, which I find a bit odd and slightly unnerving.
Back in the day when I was a hot little number hitting the dance floor in clubs doing my thing dancing to ironically jungle music, I would often have young men come up to me from Italy and other European cities where multiculturalism wasn’t as developed in the UK and whisper in my ear that I was like a beautiful panther, which after laughing in their faces I found offensive. This image reminds of that, where people accept and acknowledge black beauty, it’s what I call the Grace Jones effect- where she is a beautiful creature rather than just being beautiful for beauty’s sake, it’s beauty with a black label on. I will be happy when people don’t feel the need to do these kind of images and try and make statements like the Claudia one- even as an artistic expression but here’s hoping. I would love to know what you all think please leave comments.