The video has sparked outrage in France after Libération, the leftwing newspaper, published a letter signed by various high-profile lawyers and intellectuals accusing it of "assimilating luxury with the world's second most profitable criminal activity after drug trafficking". One signatory, Dominique Attias, a lawyer who is outspoken about gender issues in France, called it "an extremely shocking representation of women".
In the video, which was also hosted on the Guardian website, models including Georgia Jagger and Cara Delevingne wander through the dark streets of Paris wearing lingerie-inspired clothes, stopping to lean into car doors. The implication appears to be that they are prostitutes.
The video was made for Love magazine and styled by Katie Grand, the editor-in-chief and a collaborator of Louis Vuitton's creative director Marc Jacobs. It was directed by James Lima, who has also made films for Prada and Loewe. Speaking to the Guardian, Grand, who is one of the most influential stylists in fashion, apologised "if our film offended anyone", adding: "It certainly wasn't my intention to cause offence." Louis Vuitton has declined to comment on the film.
The controversy goes beyond this single issue to the heart of the fashion industry, which is often accused of making light of darker issues. The Libération letter says as much. "Do creators from the universe of luxury realise that they are promoting violence, pornography and sexual slavery?" it asks.
These themes have long been part of fashion's aesthetic. The Louis Vuitton video pays homage to the work of Helmut Newton, whose ultrasexualised images of women include a famous 1975 shot for Vogue Paris where one woman is naked and another dressed in a man's suit, suggesting a client and call girl relationship.
In the 1980s, designers such as Claude Montana explored fetishwear, a theme which Jacobs recently returned to. The Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 2011 show nodded to the 1974 film The Night Porter, which depicts Charlotte Rampling in a sadomasochistic relationship.
"This is very damaging," wrote Attias, "because we are trying to fight the idea, to which some young women in France subscribe, that prostitution is banal and just a way of getting money to buy clothes."
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