Poor black women and messy drag queens: A discursive map of the scandalous event of “Haute Mess”
In 2012, Vogue Italia became embroiled in an online scandal about “Haute Mess,” the centrepiece fashion spread from its March issue. Shot in a fast-food diner, the models in the spread wore garish clothing, stacks of jewellery, long heavily pattered acrylic nails, outré makeup, and extreme weaves (hairpieces that are similar to wigs). In response to “Haute Mess,” several prominent online magazines accused Vogue Italia of cultural appropriation. These claims hinged on the shoot’s hairstyling, as some of the extreme weaves featured on the models in “Haute Mess” resembled weaves worn by anonymous black women in photographs that circulate online, on websites such as NoWayGirl.com. This thesis examines the scandalous event of “Haute Mess,” exploring the relationships between the shoot itself, the online discussion about it, Vogue Italia’s framing of it, and the photographs of weaves worn by anonymous black women that resemble those hairstyles in “Haute Mess.” Following Michel Foucault’s work on the archive, and Lauren Berlant’s “histories of the present,” this thesis questions the status of the event as given, and sets out to unpick its seams. This process involves mapping the emergence of two distinct categories of knowledge about marginalised bodies from this event: the ‘Poor Black Woman’ and the ‘Messy Drag Queen.’ By tracing the formation of these figures, this thesis argues that this event functions as a concentrated instance of the production of knowledge about marginalised bodies. In relation to this production of knowledge, the scandalous event of “Haute Mess” frames the Poor Black Woman and Messy Drag Queen in binary terms, as authentic and inauthentic, respectively. In order to circumvent this binary, this thesis seeks a way to engage with this event beyond appeals to authenticity.