The Phaserl


“To Die For” : A Study on the Disturbing Culture of Death in the Fashion World

from Vigilant Citizen:

An article submitted to the peer reviewed Scan Journal of Macquarie University takes a deeper look at the culture of death prevalent in the fashion world and studies “corpse chick” – the disturbing trend of posing models as glamorous corpses.

If you’ve been reading the Symbolic Pics of the Month series on this site, you are probably aware of the culture of death prevalent in the fashion world where death, violence and dehumanization are glamorized in photoshoots. This trend has been going on for years and is so disturbing that it caused outrage at numerous occasions.

The prevalence of death culture in fashion is so noticeable that it became the subject of an article in the peer-reviewed Scan Magazine of Macquarie University, a journal that analyzes media, arts an culture.

Here is the article in its integrity, complete with references. It is a perfect in-depth complement to the material that has been exposed on Vigilant Citizen for years.

To Die For: Skull Style and Corpse Chic in Fashion Design, Imagery, and Branding

By Jacque Lynn Foltyn


Is fashion something to die for? If one examines the content of fashion magazines, websites, videos, blogs, and fashion itself, the answer is a resounding “yes”. Death is a fashion star, used to sell clothing, accessories, brands, celebrity, magazines, style-based television programming and websites, and cross-media collaborative efforts. From Alexander McQueen and Ralph Lauren to Target and H&M, skulls, crossbones, and skeleton motifs have taken over fashion. Death is the darling of not only the fashion set but also of the masses – and their dogs, who wear skull bedecked cardigans and collars and lounge on skeleton embossed beds. In mainstream fashion and lifestyle magazines, models, actors, stylists, and socialites not only model skull style, they model ‘death’ itself, in gruesome pantomimes of murder, suicide, and eco-disaster. These “corpse chic” (Foltyn, 2008b, 2009) narratives are ‘ripped from the headlines’, but are also inspired by literature, music, cinema, and true-crime television genres; they are the basis for photos shoots for the reality TV program America’s Top Model. In the twenty-first century, and in more ways than one, fashion, to paraphrase Karl Lagerfeld, is not only “ephemeral” and “unfair”; it is “dangerous” (2006).

This article explores the fashioning of death as a mainstream advertising strategy, branding ploy, artistic expression and style trend, and examines its continuity with other representations of death, past and present. Since fashion is about consumption and conformity (Veblen 1902; Simmel 1957); reflects the preoccupations of contemporary culture; can be linked to specific historical and political contexts (Kaiser 1990); and speaks to the characteristics of modern culture itself (Blumer 1969; Baudrillard 1998; Evans 2003), it is argued here that skull style and corpse chic reveal current attitudes about not just contemporary society but about celebrity, beauty, fashion, and death. In turn, this article considers the following questions: Why is death a fashion star? Why are the fashion-obsessed, death-obsessed? Why are beautiful models and actors posing as cadavers? What does the popularity of skull style and corpse chic say about who we are? What does this trend of viewing and wearing death as a fashion statement say about our relation to the Grim Reaper? Finally, how can we reconcile living in a culture in which death is, on the one hand, denied (Becker 1973) and hidden away (Walter 1991), while on the other is a constant grisly presence in our information culture and entertainment society – even something that we wear?

To answer these questions, this article first considers examples, influences, and precursors of skull style and corpse chic, collected through historical research and qualitative methodologies (observation, interviews, content analysis, and visual sociology); and then moves on to a discussion of the larger socio-cultural significance of this deathly fashion trend.

Designing Death: Skull Style

In February 2010, Le Bel Age Boutique, a fashion store in San Diego, had an unusual window display: bone models (see Figure 1). “I call them ‘couture skeletons’”, said Valerie Lee Ferrari, the store’s proprietor. Ferrari explained that while her initial motivation in creating the plastic skeletons had been to celebrate Halloween, she had been influenced by the gothic movement and wanted to create a mannequin with “an edge”. Noting that the fan base for the couture skeletons had become so large that she was now manufacturing and selling them, Ferrari remarked: “I display them as a kind of “puppet theatre. They take on a life of their own. People ‘get’ them or not”. She drolly added, “Death as a style influence is very much in the air” (Interview February 3, 2010).

The year-round popularity of Ferrari’s couture skeletons is a sign of the contemporary importance of death as a design motif and creative feature of fashion media and marketing. The human skeleton has arrived in the mainstream world of fashion and is no longer a rare artistic expression. This was not the case in November 1995, when The New Yorker published Richard Avedon’s ‘In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort’ (see Figure 2). A ghoulish, strangely beautiful marriage of fashion, art, commerce, and death, Avedon’s ‘ode’ featured supermodel Nadja Auermann and a male skeleton partner, dressed in designer fashions, and in a cinema-style narrative. It had scenes of courtship and of the couple copulating, arguing, sitting on toilets, and playing with a cadaver baby.

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