Porno chic

Does a prostitute on the cover of the Spanish edition of ‘V’ magazine shock us? What we once considered to be outrageous doesn’t bother us anymore. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first publication of the most perverse album of the twentieth century.

My name is Dita. I will be your lover tonight. Turn off the light, I will be your fairy… I am not a witch, I am the instructor of love. I will change your life, I am like a poisonous flower. Give in and do what I tell you…” With these words Madonna seduces us in her book published 20 years ago, Sex. In the book she showed pornographic pictures, which are a taboo to this day – perverse, simulating sexual acts of women and men in various configurations that make Terry Richardson’s photography look like mild eroticism. Madonna herself plays the role of Dita Mistress, a character inspired by a German actress from the 30s – Dita Parlo. The publication filled with pornography caused public outrage. It didn’t prevent it however from becoming a big cultural event. Aside from unknown models, Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rosselini and the daughter of Diane von Furstenberg, Tatiana, took part in making the book. Steven Meisel took the pictures, while Glenn O’Brian, a fashion journalist, was the editor.



It was a breakthrough, the beginning of what we now call the porno chic phenomenon. In her book Sex, as well as in her lyrics, music videos, during her concerts, she referred to the convention of proper pornography to the point that no one has reached before. She became a new sex symbol; a dominating woman that knows what she wants and says it out loud, while the world she created was a product of her sexual fantasies. Under the cover of eroticism she presented content relevant to pornography. Music video to Justify My Love, because of the fact that it promoted sadomasochism and bisexuality, wasn’t approved by MTV. Madonna, however, supposedly took advantage of the controversy that arose around the video.  Justify My Love was the first single ever released on a VHS. It was marked with an ‘adult only’ content and quickly became a bestseller. When asked during an interview, if she released the music video on a videotape on purpose – in order to increase the profit, she answered: ‘Yes, and so what?’. Now Justify My Love is considered one of the sexiest music videos ever made.


How is porno chic different from pornography? Porno chic is a loose interpretation, a flirt with pornography, a kind of a parody and pastiche. While in pornography everything is really happening, porno chic is pleasing to the eye, and it’s a nicely packed game that’s supposed to draw our attention, if only for a moment. Porno chic is not pornography; it’s more like the image of pornography in the non-pornographic culture and art. It’s also a test of how far one can go. It can be assumed that Helmut Newton was one of the creators of porno chic; showing fashion in a very bold way as early as in the 60s. His acts filled with eroticism, courageous with sadomasochistic and fetishist themes, had a style more suitable for magazines dedicated to men than for the pages of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. But it wasn’t until Madonna, that pornography became fashionable. Owing to her, pornography was no longer censored and people started to treat it as one of the subjects of modern culture. Artists began to draw from it as well. One of the first ones was an American, Jeff Koons. In early 90s he created a series Made in Heaven. The series consisted of shocking and very kitsch photographs and sculptures from glass and plastic presenting him and his then wife Ilona Steller (an Italian porn actress better known as Cicciolina) in the positions of the Kamasutra. Their marriage lasted only a year, while the break-up and the fight for the custody of their son were widely commented on in the media and made the artist reluctant to speak of his work, sometimes refusing its reproduction. In the book Jeff Koons Handbook, he said: ‘Pornography is alienation. My work doesn’t include any isolated vocabulary. It relates to sex as a tool of communication.’


In the 80s, due to the emergence of AIDS, sexual contacts were associated with something dangerous and unacceptable. The 90s brought a thaw. People started to re-discover their physicality, which, like in the 70, was again a positive experience. Fashion industry noticed these changes and started to use nudity as a marketing tool. Porno chic became the favourite style of designer Tom Ford, his right hand – stylist Carine Roitfeld and photographer Mario Testino. In 1994 Tom noticed a photo shoot that Carine and Mario made for the Parisian Glamour. He invited them to work with him on the campaign for his second collection designed for the Italian fashion house Gucci. ‘We were the perfect team. Tom Ford designed collections; Mario took pictures, while I was the muse who embodied the Gucci woman. I don’t know how to design a skirt or choose fabric, but I know what shoes to wear with it, what the make up should be like and how the model should place her hands or hips.

Although the fashion industry seems to be very virtuous this season (only Tom Ford showed models in very sexual context in the advertisement of his perfume Neroli Portofino), porno chic is popular again. The reason for this is within the film industry. After Z miłości by Anna Jadowska, that tells a story of a marriage, which, due to financial situation, decide to play in a porn movie; in February we had the opportunity to see two strong pictures involving the theme of sexuality. The first one, Shame by Steve McQueen, which was awarded in Venice, is a portrait of a New Yorker addicted to pornography. At the first glance he has got everything, but obsessed with sexual addiction, he cannot function normally. In Shame sex is shown as a virtual stimulant that you cannot get away from. McQueen says: ‘Our times are soaked with sex. What is happening on the Internet is insane. In order to see breasts, boys from my generation shyly peeked at the highest shelf in the shop where they were buying candy. Today all you have to do is double click on the keyboard of your computer to see all the fetishes in the world in HD.’ Małgorzata Szumowska also talks about sex addiction in her movie Sponsoring. The characters, young call girls, sleep with older men for money. ‘It’s like smoking cigarettes. Once you start, you can’t stop’ says one of them. Charlotte and Alicja study in Paris and they like their ‘work’, they derive pleasure from it as well as financial benefits. Szumowska doesn’t demonize them, which is a new approach to the oldest profession in the world. They are intelligent, attractive, and strong. They had a choice and consciously followed this path. It’s easy to identify with them. Next year is the premiere of Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story. It’s a story of the main character in the Deep Throat, the first pornographic movie released for cinema distribution. Sarah Jessica Parker and Sharon Stone will play in the movie. Lars von Trier on the other hand, is planning to make The Nymphomaniac in two versions: the literal, hard version and the lighter, soft version that will appear in the cinemas. Interesting, how far is the director planning to go? Pornography must be a serious violation of social and moral norms. Otherwise it looses its strength and becomes chic no more.