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Sex and religion stir controversy at men's fashion fair

Crucifix hoarding and Toscani's female genital pics draw fire

13 January, 17:27
Sex and religion stir controversy at men's fashion fair (ANSA) - Florence, January 13 - A cloud of controversy over the use of sexual and religious images in advertising dusted up Italy's most important men's fashion trade fair this week in Florence. Pitti Uomo is known for glamorous clothing and VIP-studded parties, but this week's edition of the bi-annual fair will be remembered more for calling exhibitors to the carpet than for its red carpet events, thanks to provocative sexual and religious imagery.

In a country where scantily clad women and come-hither poses are staples of advertising and prime-time television, advertising photographer Oliviero Toscani managed to whip up outrage over the sexual content of his latest promotional campaign: a calendar featuring 12 female genitals for a consortium of leather tanners called Consorzio Vera Pelle Conciata al Vegetale (Consortium for Genuine Vegetable Tanned Leather). Toscani established his fame for shocking imagery with campaigns for Benetton in the 1990s, AIDS awareness, and against anorexia. The calendar is being presented at Pitti Uomo and is distributed with this month's issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

Italy's equal opportunity minister, Mara Carfagna, responded to an outcry from women's organizations calling for a code violation review by the advertising industry's self-sanctioning body Istituto dell'Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria (IAP). Carfagna herself is an ex-soubrette who once posed topless for a calendar.

"In Italy, a double standard reigns," countered the director of the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine Carlo Antonelli.

"For the last 30 years, our media's representation of the female body, in popular men's magazines and calendars, has been outrageous, barbaric and troglodytic. Toscani removes everything, leaving only pure nature. "(It is) a political vagina that old feminists stuck in (another) era should acknowledge rather than criticize." The Equal Opportunity Commission for the City of Florence has appealed to the IAP for the "interruption of advertising (promoting the) calendar and the withdrawal of its presentation." Meanwhile, religious imagery at Pitti Uomo angered Tuscany's regional president Enrico Rossi, who declared its use "offensive toward Christians and bad taste." He demanded to know, "What utility do companies find in this continuous search for transgression?" Fashion maker and exhibitor Maison Cantarelli put up a stand that looks like a church interior, complete with altar, confessional, benches, and even a fake priest. Over the altar hangs a painting of a crucified man in a tailored wool suit. The wool textile depicted is the same used for the religious garment of the fake priest. Also under fire was an advertising hoarding for Bologna textile king Carlo Chionna featuring a man on a cross and reading, "Forgive them for they know not what they wear." "If this is the way to promote Italian style and fashion, it means that 'Made In Italy' creativity is dead," declared the president of Pubblicita' Progresso, a non-profit organization for social advertising, Alberto Contri.

A spokesman for the fair's organizer, Pitti Immagine, responded to criticisms of both the sexual and religious imagery at Pitti Uomo.

"Pitti Immagine is not responsible for the communication initiatives that single exhibitors carry out for their own stand or for advertising posters or for events that other organize in the city on the occasion of the Pitti Uomo fair," said Lapo Cianchi, director of communications for Pitti Immagine. He added, "the Florentine city commission's request in recent days for the withdrawal of the calendar presentation was frankly out of proportion." Controversy was capped on Wednesday afternoon when a man performed an impromptu strip-tease at the entrance of the Renaissance Medici fort hosting the fair. The man, Gabriele Paolini, was protesting abortion and pedophilia, and demanded harsher penalties for pedophiles.