The March 2011 issue of Elle France stars top Brazilian model Caroline Trentini in an epic 80-page editorial shot on location in Rio de Janeiro. Photographed by the renowned French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino and styled by Friquette Thévenet, Tamara Taichman, and Anne-Marie Brouillet, the editorial, titled “Be Happy,” shows Trentini modeling the various trends of the Spring 2011 fashion collections. The spread includes 70 images depicting 68 different outfits. Overall the editorial is fairly straightforward and tame – there is no explicit sexual content, no nudity, no dramatic lighting nor makeup.
Images published in fashion magazines are frequently studied as a representation of social norms and cultural ideologies. Through close analysis of the March 2011 edition of French Elle I uncovered pertinent features of French culture and ideology. Roland Barthes’ three classifications of fashion photography categorize the editorial as a romantic narrative targeting a French audience. The application of Georg Simmel’s theories on fashion reveals fashion to be a tool of class distinction in French ideology. Furthermore, the concepts outlined by Thorstein Veblen reinforce these class divisions and reveals that fashion is used as a representational instrument of economic power in French culture. Ellen Furlough’s essay on Club Med exposes the importance of vacation in French culture, which is echoed through the exotic location of the photo spread.
Last, the application of Hallin and Mancini’s depiction of the United Kingdom as more commercially charged than France revealed the strong value the French place on being cultural. This point is further supported by Agnes Rocamora’s article about the emphasis on high culture in French fashion magazines, and through the comparison of French Elle to UK Elle. As Rocamora argues in her article, “Over to You: Writing Readers in French Vogue,” French fashion magazines strive to be more than a media “simply devoted to the pursuit of material goods… and appearances” (Rocamora 2). The publications attempt to be more cultural over all, so they can be perceived as a serious medium. Rocamora explains that because fashion is generally considered to be a “minor art” rather than a high art, fashion magazines are deemed to be of low status. Thus French magazines resist this status through their endorsement of fashion as a high art. She uses Vogue’s juxtaposition of fashion images and articles with pieces on “high culture” and “noble” subjects like the ballet or the sciences as an example (Rocamora 3). In the March 2011 issue of Elle France the desire to be received as a cultural, serious publication is demonstrated through the advertisements for “high culture” and “noble” subjects (Rocamora 3). The magazine includes one advertisement for ballet via the Repetto shoe company, one advertisement for the L’Oreal Foundation’s support of women in sciences, and an advertisement for travel via Airlinair. In addition there are five advertisements for books, and an advertisement for the Sunday paper. In her essay Rocamora emphasizes the importance of literature in French culture, and the inclusion of advertisements for literary items in French Vogue echoes this point. In comparison, UK Elle does not contain any of these types of advertisements.
These ideals of class distinction, importance of vacation, and emphasis on the culturally rich are all facets of a uniquely French ideology.