This article originally appeared on page 6 of the Spring 2023 issue of Coulture Magazine.
When Rihanna released “Rated R” in 2009, she unveiled it knowing everyone would have something to say. The intense end to her relationship with Chris Brown a year prior had made controversy compulsory for the Barbadian rockstar, and any and every opinion about her had been printed, broadcasted and pressed. Aesthetically and sonically, the album was mettlesome and intransigent, with Rihanna donning what she described as “military couture” and melting genuinely into lyrics such as “I see you aiming at my pedestal.” The translation of this new image and sound? Say it and say it to my face — because you were going to talk behind my back anyway. Listening to the album, you can hear that it’s laced with Rihanna’s humbling of the idea that a 21-year-old singer is only as good as the things said about her and not the things she says about herself. And yet, she’s left a hint that perhaps she’d rather her feelings about the world’s perception of her agency be left open to the listener’s interpretation. That’s because regardless, she’ll still be “the hottest bitch in heels right here,” and her music, her art will remain a vessel for provocation. There’s a reason why the grit of “Rated R” became my personal musical score when creating this issue.
The two main inspirations for my final edition of Coulture, the late editor of Vogue Italia Franca Sozzani and the incomparable fashion photographer Steven Meisel, have both created images that speak to Rihanna’s predilection for intellectual agitation. During Sozzani’s tenure at Vogue Italia, the photographer-editor duo were frequent collaborators and used fashion as a prism for parsing the world’s most apprehensive and consequential topics. And repeatedly, they received backlash from readers and pundits who considered couture commentary on the Gulf Oil Spill, drug rehabilitation and mariticide (to name a few of the issues they editorialized) inappropriate and fashion an inapt medium for examining sociocultural maladies. In short, fashion wasn’t serious enough to have an opinion and it was souring to use clothing to elicit cogitation.
In my time at Coulture, I’ve noticed that several people have assumed the opposite of our pages. That the magazine is, for all intents and purposes, fun and games because it is not a news serial, an academic journal or a collection of stultifying essays about politics. The problem, however, is that Coulture is precisely all of those things. And it is only because that same caliber of depth is delivered via garments that Coulture, and most fashion content, is typically perceived as bereft of gravity.
So in conceptualizing the editorials and articles in issue 15, we sought to pick up on delicate pieces of the contemporary condition, such as reproductive justice, HIV and colonialism, in ways that were simultaneously blatant and insidious. We wanted to make sure our readers thought. Whether it’s overthinking, barely thinking or thinking concentrically, our desire was that UNC come away from this issue craving an internal dialogue inspired by fashion imagery and writing. Yet, truthfully, both Coulture and fashion have always been acute. It just depends on whose definition of acute we’re going to use and how sweeping that person’s comprehension is. As in a fashion image, it is not so much about where the wind is coming from, but instead about recognizing that because it’s a fashion image… the wind must be blowing. Catch my drift?
I am immensely proud of all of the work in this maze of thoughts and how the writing, such as Forbes Fowler and Olivia Dela Cruz’s sibling articles on religion and culture, and imagery, like the blazing Serena Williams inspired shoot shot by Ira Wilder, Savion Washington and Calli Westra, deliciously catch this issue’s thesis. There were certainly a few ideas for this issue that internally (and wonderfully and rightfully) were met with skepticism and concern about the taste with which they’d be executed. But in having meetings to ensure quality met intention, I recognized that we ourselves were validating and confirming that fashion will eternally be mental nourishment.
I’m certainly no Franca Sozzani, and while Coulture does have a gaggle of Meisels in its photography team, I’m confident that I’m leaving my time with the magazine on a Herculean note (and not just because this is the magazine’s biggest issue). As there is no way that you’ll be able to close the pages of this book without grasping that the best opinion is to have an opinion. And the best thoughts require you to think.
Much love, always.
Clay B. Morris, Editor-in-Chief ’22-’23
“We can’t all agree; if we all did, where would controversy be? If there is no controversy, there is no opinion.” – Franca Sozzani