It is a truly horrid thing when people choose to pierce the utopia created by artistic effort with downright crudity
July 13, 2022 12:29 pm(Updated 12:30 pm)
Last Friday the 26-year-old actress Florence Pugh wore a hot pink, full-skirted gown with a wispy neck ruff to the Valentino haute couture show for autumn/winter 22/23 in Rome. Job duly done, Pugh posted a picture of herself on her Instagram with the caption “Thank you again, my beautiful team, for making my pink princess dreams come true.”
None of this is unusual in itself. Designer fashion labels align themselves with actors whose general vibe they feel represent their brand and it is part of an actor’s job to be seen doing things like wearing high fashion in public. Plus, it’s probably fun.
The thing that was unusual about this dress-up outing (but only slightly, if you are at all familiar with designer fashion), was that Pugh’s nipples were very visible through the sheer fabric of the dress. This caused pandemonium.
On catwalks, models’ nipples are quite often on show. They are visible in sheer shirts or macramé waistcoats or in things insouciantly unbuttoned and it’s just all swept along as part of the arty flamboyance of the whole gig.
But this is because the whole of the fashion world is a utopian space, which operates on its own specific rules. The entire industry often reminds me of the cult of goddess-worship found everywhere in history, from mud-dwelling early people to Rome to Greece and beyond.
Designer fashion, with its core emphasis on gazing upon a desirable image and its literal raising up of the female form by the use of catwalks, ticks a lot of ancient goddess-cult boxes; it’s just writ very large and monetised hard.
Within this place the feminine form – all of it – is considered, untouched, from afar in a semi-worshipful trance by lower beings. Literally lower, sitting on chairs, only allowed to regard the sacred divas from a safe distance.
Outside this place a woman’s body – all of it – is nothing but a problem. In the fuss around Pugh’s dress I can’t think of a better example of the conflict that arises when utopianism meets reality, when you move from the hushed temple into the baying mob on the street.
This was evidenced incredibly neatly when some Instagram users, reported to be men, left mean comments under the photos of the revealing dress. “So many of you [men] wanted to aggressively let me know how disappointed you were by my ‘tiny t*ts’ or how I should be embarrassed by being so ‘flat-chested’”, wrote Pugh in a subsequent post.
“Respect people,” she ordered. “Respect bodies. Respect all women. Respect humans.”
Pugh declared that she knew the dress would divide opinion and wants us to know that she views the comments left by the men as merely tragic and “vulgar” – vulgarity being, of course, the greatest crime in fashion.
And I’m sure she is fine about it all. Fashion may seem stupid and vapid to some, but it is a business and Pugh is part of it. And if an element of the deal between Pugh and Valentino was to get some publicity for this old-school and faintly uncool brand, then they must be laughing and clinking champagne glasses at this outcome. Absolutely no one was looking at the massive coverage of the Valentino/Pugh kerfuffle and thinking about Dior, say, or Alicia Vikander.
In fact, if someone told me that the whole thing was a stunt I’d say it was a very clever one.
But let’s say it wasn’t a stunt and that these cruel comments from these men were genuine. It must have been upsetting. It is a truly horrid thing, when men – or women – choose to pierce the utopia created by artistic effort or intellectual thought with downright crudity.
Larkin captured this in his poem “Sunny Prestatyn”, in which a poster featuring a model posing in “white satin” to advertise the North Wales coastal town, is gradually horribly defaced until she is “snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed” and sitting astride “a tuberous cock and balls”. Finally she is stabbed with something directly through the mouth. “She She was too good for this life,” observes Larkin.
This clash of worlds was also used to famous bathetic effect in the first series of Sex and the City when Carrie Bradshaw is waiting with her friends and glasses of champagne to celebrate a picture of herself in her “naked dress” (what passed for high fashion in the late 90s), on the side of a bus to advertise her newspaper column.
The bus duly wheezes around the corner and Carrie and her friends discover that the poster has been on show for less than a day and already a penis has been scrawled next to her mouth. In her utopian, fashionable, intellectual space, Carrie is a modern, strong, sexy woman. But this goddess-cult prism is instantly and carelessly pricked in reality by, well, a prick.
What can be done? I don’t know. I don’t take a utopian view on anything because I find it too depressing to be confronted by crude reality over and over again. But I am old and tired, whereas Pugh is young and energetic.
Perhaps her orders for everyone to respect each other will get through.