Richard Avedon | Nadja Auermann | 'In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort'

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Richard Avedon’s Divine Fashion Decadence

These spectacularly decadent photos of a fable photographed and created for The New Yorker by famed photographer Richard Avedon, in collaboration with Doon Arbus and featuring model Nadja Auermann, were featured in the Nov 6, 1995 issue.

We can read many meanings into these brilliant images, but more than anything they represent a farewell of sorts between Avedon and the fashion journalism that made him a top-tier celebrity. The series of 27 pages of designer-clothes photos are shocking and disruptive visually, existing as an undeniable social commentary on the world of couture and luxury living, Bonfire of the Vanities-style.

The Richard Avedon Mr. and Mrs. Comfort photos for The New Yorker represent a revulsion against the very high society world that embraced him. They are a violent cariacature of a world of thin women and rich men who are — at the end of the day — dust like the rest of us mortals.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates understand this reality of life. Fashionistas, especially those married to rich financiers, often fancy themselves as cut from a different cloth.

A sensuality-drenched the skelton of Mr Comfort appears thwarted by Mrs Comfort, who has abandoned sex for stilletos, even if red is a primary color in the fashion selections.  The many sexual references and poses to the Garden of Eden are physically marked ‘Stricly No Entry’.

Unable to enjoy pleasures of the senses, Mr and Mrs Comfort resort to the pleasure of materialism, as a substitute for carnality and intimacy. The splendor of their surroundings is reminiscent of the splendor of Rome and the Vatican, where excess is defined only as it relates to flesh but not pomp and circumstance.

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Global Fashion Patriarchy

It’s over a year now since the infamous Ralph Lauren photoshop debacle on Filippa Hamilton’s body caused us to consider the still prevalent relationship between fashion, body image and physicality. Grappling with the reality of women’s sexual oppression worldwide and the patriarchy’s need to control female sexuality, we are convinced after deep soul searching, that fashion is a willing collaborator in the process of thwarting female sensual desire. 

The global institutions of power, money and inheritance are threatened by female sexuality now and ever since the advent of private property and men’s understanding of their role in procreation. Organized religious monotheism collaborated with Aristotle, creating a script that hasn’t changed much since the time of Christ.

Many of the world’s top fashion brands are collaborators in repressing female sexuality, substituting shopping for sensuality.

Rather than easing up on women, the fashion patriarchy — male and female — has dumped size 6 women like Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington — as being too fat. Lara Stone has obsessed with being the plus-size model as a size 4. Granted, the supermodels are making a renaissance, but their size 6, sensual bodies were undeniably trashed for a less powerful view of women than the one emerging in the 1990s.

Medically-speaking, today’s fashion industry has led the way in advocating a female body image so thin and frail that breasts, hips and muscles are forbidden. Women should be men.

If women give up our reproductive powers, becoming so thin that our bones are brittle, mensturation stops and pregnancy is difficult, then women will have turned over our sensuality to the king makers, once an for all.

Richard Avedon’s monumental ‘In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort’ images capture the essence of the fashion patriarchy’s view of women and sensuality. It’s one that rich, thin women embraced wholeheartedly and with fashion passion.

It’s ironic that this beauty standard of unimaginably thin-women prevailed in the midst of a global obesity epidemic, led by the United States and our testosterone-infused financial prowess.

Body image has always defined social class and status, but Richard Avedon correctly anticipated an exaggeration byond belief of the old adage that a woman can never be too rich or too thin. Not bad for a civil rights, Vietnam War protester protecting his soul in the land of couture-fashion temptations.

In producing the gorgeous if troubling ‘In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort’ images, Richard Avedon left a lasting social commentary on the industry he served so well. Anne