In case you had not noticed, 2008 was all about the babymodel. At least five controversies erupted involving underage female photographic models, all but one of them, interestingly, in Australia: the Bill Henson case, Annie Leibovitz's Miley Cyrus shoot for Vanity Fair, the Zippora Seven editorial in RUSSH magazine and the brouhaha over 14 year-old Polish IMG model Monika Jagaciak which lead to an under-16 ban at Australian Fashion Week. Shortly after that – following controversy over its own childrenswear advertising - Australian department store David Jones implemented an under-18 runway ban. With the mens FW0910 shows coming up in Milan and Paris, frockwriter thought it was high time to put a little focus on male modelling. And if not on technically underage male models, then at least the newbies. So meet up-and-coming Brit Josh Blount. According to his agency, London’s Select Model Management, Blount is 18 and has been modelling for just under a year. Are we likely to see him at the Milan/Paris shows? Not according to Select. A spokeswoman told frockwriter that Blount “is not ready” for the bigtime runway. But apparently Blount was ready for the following image. Warning NSFW.
This image of Blount is part of a Calvin Klein homage spread called “CK Teen Screen Grabs” that was shot by photographer Brett Lloyd and styled by Nicola Formichetti for British fashion website Ponystep – co-founded by BoomBox’s Richard Mortimer. The shot also features on Formichetti’s blog.
In an accompanying feature by Dean Mayo Davies, no mention is made of Bruce Weber’s groundbreaking homoerotic imagery for Calvin Klein Underwear in the early 1980s, or even Steven Meisel’s so-called “kiddy porn” campaign for CK Jeans in 1995, which was ultimately pulled by Klein after a conservative backlash. However the Ponystep CK homage looks to have been inspired by both.
But is the object in question in the above image, which appears to peep put of Blount's Calvins, indeed his erect phallus? Or is it his foot folded underneath his leg? Even when you click on the image to enlarge, the resolution is insufficient to be able to clarify.
"Oh I had not spotted that before" noted Select Model Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Bowman when frockwriter called to check - and sadly, offered her Blount's foot as a possible alternative.
After putting me on hold for approximately 30 seconds, Bowman rushed back, then replied, "Oh yes, that's right, it's his foot".
Either way, there is something predatory, and degrading, about these images (the complete portfolio of which can be seen here).
In the above image, which is entitled “NO_NERVES_DUDE”, Blount is kneeling in a corner, with his arms held behind his back. The word "FUCK" is scrawled in lipstick or other, in large type, on one leg, with the word "ME" written on the other.
In another image, entitled “XXX_CK_WET_DREAM”, another model hunches forward before the camera, with the letters “CK 4 EVA” and “PONY” written down his back:
This was of course a shoot designed for a website and as such is "not the same" as mainstream advertising imagery.
That said, in the light of a flood of homoerotic imagery which is pouring out of some model/fashion industry websites, frockwriter feels the need to make the following point.
Frockwriter is not homophobic. In fact we know and love many, many gay men.
We are just unaccustomed to having their gay porn magazines thrust in our face every time we hang out with them.
And yes, we know, Giorgio Armani has taken to advertising his own jocks with David Beckham’s crotch thrust in our face.
Louis Vuitton has just returned fire in its upcoming SS09 ad campaign, with a shot of Madonna, legs completely akimbo - her modesty saved by a pair of LV panties - holding up an LV tote with one foot.
There is a lot of sex in advertising. That's not the point.
Nor is the point necessarily the question of audience suitability. Even if a lot of these parties appear to be oblivious to the fact that they are not just talking to their own private men’s club and that the fashion audience viewing these sites is at once broad, and often, extremely young.
The key issue here is the duty of care to young male models who are entering the industry.
It is now almost de rigueur to see images of up-and-coming male models with either their shirts – and/or their trousers – off.
Of course, they are being shopped to potential customers. But then, so are the women. And the latter are, more often than not, wearing a pair of jeans and a singlet.
When it comes to the guys, it’s really starting to look like a meat market.
If Josh Blount is 18 then legally, he is able to make his own decisions about the type of imagery in which he appears. Is he gay? Is he straight? Does his sexuality really make any difference here?
These kids are young and inexperienced – and no doubt, also very eager to please, to get a legup in the industry.
In October, some readers may recall, 20 year-old former Dior Homme star Randy Johnston died of a heroin overdose. According to friends, Johnston had battled a substance abuse problem for some time.
Some of these friends claimed the fashion industry was partially to blame.
Drug addicts are found in all sectors and walks of life, however frockwriter remains haunted by the following comment posted by someone claiming to be the mother of a young male model, which was left on our updated Johnston post last month:
“This is close to home for me, my son is a model, scouted by an agency at 16 years old(and I wish he never had been) and working now all over the world, he had drugs offered to him at 16 at his first fashion show.He says that drugs are everywhere in the industry and de riguer at every party-- the agency bookers know definitely- they don't care unless it becomes a problem with someones ability to make $$, ie ,show up ontime.. but are happy with the effect on both girls and guys that helps them to work, ie,keeps them thin. Then along with the predatory sexual nature of many of the shoots of guys, (you mentioned ID etc), they lose their innocence very fast) I recommend any parent whose child is approached, to think long and hard about it. I wish I had known more, but once they are 19, 20 , you can't do much about it, the fashion industry has already taken their soul”.