Black and White Smoke: The Negative Effects of Cigarettes in Fashion Photography


When I type ‘smoking’ into Pinterest, an infinite scroll of black and white photographs are staring back at me, seductive and elegant, the furthest they could possibly be from the yellow-stained disgusting truth. Cigarettes work well on photographs. Especially lately.

The mixture of old photographs of artists and models and images of nostalgic 21st century beauties posing with lit cigarettes that are currently trending in the fashion world both on and offline present tobacco as the ultimate style accessory. Smoke supposedly adds instant chic, credibility and above all, edge. The cigarette has gone viral and has snuck back into fashion.

Who’s to blame? Did Kate Moss et al. posing with cigarettes on Louis Vuitton’s FW11 catwalk have anything to do with it? Was it Audrey Tautou chain smoking in Coco Avant Chanel, herself the spokesmodel of the label’s No. 5 fragrance?  Is it the 90s’ fault for giving us Kurt and Kate? At present, many street style bloggers and selfie instagrammers are leaving a thick trail of smoke behind them as they scan the streets for beautiful backdrops, catching a glimpse of themselves through the eyes of the other, their cigarette a constant friend that gives support, style and validity. It becomes apparent that smoking has performed a full fashion cycle.

Before smoking was banned in public, it was socially acceptable to light up. People would smoke in restaurants, at night clubs, in the library, at the cinema, on the train, at work, during lectures, after intercourse; cigarettes were everywhere! Then health warnings kind of ruined all the filthy fun and all of a sudden smoking was considered a huge social faux pas. Interestingly, this happened at a time when the generation of youngsters declared their love for the 1980s. This was a decade in which supermodels spent hours grooming and exercising their healthy bodies instead of living on a diet of fags and coffee.

But time moves on and so does the fashion cycle. Since smoking has had such bad press, it has suddenly just become cool again. Smoking is a bit punk, really. If you light up despite the fact that its health warning had been hammered into you when you still thought cigarettes were disgusting, you’re a rebel. Now as a young adult, you are old enough to decide to not give a damn about the risks yet still young enough to not have to worry about them. How sexy is that?!

Smoking, like fashion, is also primarily concerned with the now. Fashion might combine the past and the future in its garments because it seeks inspiration from the past and is concerned with hitting future trends, but it is also by its very definition the current zeitgeist. When you smoke, you might have started because you’d been inspired by something in the past, a nostalgic image you were chasing, yet in the future you know within yourself that this has got to stop at one point sooner rather than later. With every time you light up, you are living in the now, pushing away any thoughts of future quitting. You are kidding yourself into thinking that you can freeze time.

Fashion photographs manage to do just that. The fashion image is always about the now. The model becomes a doll like portraiture of a human, devoid of time and aging. Here, smoking is never the haggered grey face with crinkled lips, it is about being eternally young and beautiful. A preservation of age and beauty, in the ephemerality of fashion and life itself. A picture of a beautiful twenty something with a fag hanging off her plump lips will always win over an image of the same person still very much smoking a few decades later. You’d somehow wish they would all stop once they’ve grown out of chasing every fashion trend.

This article was published online at The Style Con on 6th December 2013.

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