We all go to extreme lengths to be appreciated. There is no industry where this is truer than fashion — particularly because fashion is an eclectic mix of beautiful people and eccentric styles purposefully curated with a purpose and message by the art director and photographer. But do we ever consider some topics to be too taboo even for the world of art?
In their recent fashion article "Last Words," the VICE Guide took time to create what are certainly strikingly gorgeous but slightly disturbing images of famous female women in history who had committed a rather creative and shocking suicide. These include the notorious deaths of short story writer and novelist Sylvia Plath, who stuck her head in a gas oven and died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and Virginia Woolf, English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the 20th century, who filled her coat pocket with stones and walked into the nearby Ouse river and drowned herself.
Fashion as an industry and fashion as an art normally have quite a bit of expressive freedom. However, there are a few lines which fashion can never cross, even with its own market. One of those mistakes is walking the fine line between shock and offense where it can easily drop the ball and promote something that is dangerous or violent. A particular favorite of the VICE Fashion shoot Last Words was that of American historian and journalist Iris Chang, pictured there in a car with a revolver to her face, mimicking her 2004 suicide by gunshot to the head. Graphic imagery often can be some of the worst fashion violations, and while no one is debating that free speech is a crucial civil right, it may not always look fashionable. However, the VICE Guide manages to walk the line of outrageous style brilliantly by avoiding any gruesome images post-mortem.
The question posed here is whether or not associating the deaths of these women with fashion, style, and ultimately sales may be disrespectful to their impact as historical figures. On the contrary, this writer firmly believes that presenting these figures in such visceral moments of their lives through carefully designed clothing, location, and action reminds us that their deaths were just as surprising and detrimental to the rest of the world as their work was inspiring and unforgettable. For the sake of challenging the boundaries of fashion, the taboo on culturally relevant deaths may have just been shattered in the VICE Guide to Fashion's Last Words issue.
Update: The Last Words issue was recently removed or is currently being updated on the website for unknown reasons.