The Internet went into riot-mode early this week when Vice released a fashion spread entitled “Last Words” (which has since been removed from its website) from its Women in Fiction issue. The theme? Female writers who had committed suicide, depicted at the moment of their demise–while simultaneously showcasing the latest designer clothing. Pure class.
Jezebel‘s Jenna Sauers spoke to Paige Morgan, the model who portrayed beat poet Elise Cowen in the editorial, to find out whether the faces of the controversial shoot knew what they were getting into. The revelations made in their conversation speak as much to Vice‘s lack of judgment as it does to the treatment of models in the fashion industry as a whole.
According to Morgan, a 26-year-old who freelance models without an agency (and happens to be a journalism student), she wasn’t fully aware of the spread’s implications until she was already on set: “[The job ad] did mention that the theme was female writers that committed suicide–but it did not mention that they intended to do photographs of the actual acts of their deaths,” she tells Sauers. Having suffered from depression herself, Morgan admits she was “uncomfortable” when she was eventually informed of the shoot’s theme, but felt she wasn’t at leisure to question it:
“Unfortunately, I know very well that it’s not my place or my job to ask, ‘Well, what are you doing with this? Are you putting fashion credits on it? What’s the title of this editorial going to be?’ If they were to give me an answer at all, it would probably be, ‘Get out.’ At that point, even in New York City, the community is fairly small. And then it’s going to be, ‘She’s difficult, she’s unreliable, she showed up day of and walked out.’”
When asked whether she’d take the job now, knowing the full nature of the shoot, Morgan again speaks to the powerlessness of models: “If it had been that same or a similar image accompanying a retrospective of [Cowan's] life, or a discussion of her work–I might have still done it… unfortunately models aren’t given that much context.”
“[As a model,] you pose how you’re told to pose, you wear what you’re told to wear, you pose with who you’re told to pose with — even in situations where someone is physically unsafe, or enduring sexual harassment, if you say, ‘Stop, this is unsafe,’ most often the person who bears the brunt of that is the model. The model is the person who has the least amount of power in the situation… In this industry, any sort of objection to a job is seen as you being ‘difficult,’ or you just purposefully creating ‘drama.’”
Along with having her name now permanently attached to the uproar-causing shoot, Morgan received no compensation whatsoever for the job–which is apparently de rigueur for editorial models. Might Morgan end up blacklisted from the industry, and go down a martyr for speaking up about the general mistreatment of models off the runway? If it helps advance models’ rights, it might just be the best thing to result from this whole Vice fiasco.