Home > Slide Shows/Photo Galleries > There’s Fashion in Death: Vogue Magazine and its Fascination with the Death of Ophelia

There’s Fashion in Death: Vogue Magazine and its Fascination with the Death of Ophelia

By: Erica Bianca Romero- University of the Philippines Diliman

Disclaimer: No image posted here belongs to me, unless specified otherwise.

One of, if not the most memorable scene associated with Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is her death scene. Interestingly, in this part of the play, readers do not actually hear her death in the voice of Ophelia herself; rather, the tragedy was told by Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, which might have been one of the contributing factors as to why the reason behind her death remains a mystery. The insisting question surrounding her (whether she died of an accident or a suicide) makes the character more enigmatic. Perhaps it is why the death of Ophelia has undeniably been sensationalized, romanticized, and at times fetishized in a number of platforms. This particular image of Ophelia (above or near the water, and her flowers tangled around her) finds its way in movies, paintings, adaptations, and other interpretations.

It is then not surprising that the fashion industry would glamorize Ophelia’s death. Vogue, to be more specific, is a fashion magazine which has utilized this particular image over the years. A quick search would give one more than a handful of this magazine’s published photos of a girl in white floating in water with flowers. Concepts of photo shoots might have been more subtle with their references as the years passed by; nevertheless, a girl in a lying (sometimes provocative) position, the water, and the flowers are images often inseparable in specific shoots. The examples given below are a combination of those that directly reference Ophelia and those that appear under the tag: Ophelia and Vogue- meaning they might not have been explicitly citing Ophelia as inspiration but are simply categorized as such, giving the impression that the fashion industry and/or its enthusiasts have a consciousness of this image as something associated with Shakespeare’s Ophelia.

The following pictures openly cite Ophelia as inspiration:

saoirse ronan in the cult of beauty, photographed by steven meisel vogue us dec

Inspired by John Everett Millais’ 1851 painting of Ophelia, photographer Steven Meisel casted actress Saoirse Ronan for Vogue’s December 2011 issue.

saoirse ronan 2

Saoirse Ronan- Vogue December 2011

fay wray as ophelia vogue 1930 photo by edward steichen

This 1930 picture of actress Fay Wray as Ophelia photographed by Edward Steichen is perhaps the earliest Vogue photoshoot inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic character.

wang ji won 2

This is model Wang Ji-Won in a Vogue Korea photoshoot entitled: “Oh My Ophelia.”

wang ji won oh my ohpelia by oh joong seok vogue girl korea

It appeared in Vogue Korea’s April 2007 issue.

“Oh, My Ophelia”: Wang Ji-Won by Oh Joong Seok for Vogue Girl Korea is said to be a take on Millais’ painting of Ophelia.

This is a later photoshoot, also from Vogue Korea called

This is a later photoshoot, also from Vogue Korea called “Amore Ophelia.”

“Amore Ophelia”, Hyea-Won Kang for Vogue Korea July 2013

“Amore Ophelia”, Hyea-Won Kang for Vogue Korea July 2013

The pictures that follow, although not directly referencing Ophelia, are still viewed as Ophelia-inspired by reviewers and fashion writers; this is a testament to how this image has an existing presence in the world-renowned magazine:

Vogue UK December 2012 issue for Dolce and Gabbana

Model Lara Stone in Vogue UK’s December 2012 issue for Dolce and Gabbana is described by Swide.com as a modern day Ophelia

Alana Zimmer in Vogue China's 2014 issue

Alana Zimmer in Vogue China’s 2014 issue

Photograph by Ben Hassett

Photograph by Ben Hassett

Eniko Mihalik in the 2012 issue of Vogue Italia

Eniko Mihalik in the 2012 issue of Vogue Italia

Actress Rooney Mara in Vogue US' 2011 issue

Actress Rooney Mara in Vogue US’ 2011 issue

Photo taken by Mert Alan and Marcus Piggott

Photo taken by Mert Alan and Marcus Piggott

In addition to these, there is an online gallery of Ophelia-inspired pictures collected by Alessia Glaviano, Senior Photo Editor of Vogue Italia and it can be found in Vogue Italia’s official site: http://www.vogue.it/en/people-are-talking-about/art-photo-design/2012/01/ophelia-from-photovogue#ad-image157542


Amore Ophelia. Digital Image. Pinterest. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Borrelli-Persson, Laird. “The Return of Romance, Ophelia-Style.” Vogue. 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Glaviano, Alessia. “Ophelia from Photo Vogue.” Vogue. 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Hassett, Ben. Hidden Guardian. Digital Image. Pinterest. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Meisel, Steven. The Cult of Beauty. Digital Image. Partnoveau. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Mert & Marcus. Playing With Fire. Digital Image. Fashiononerogue. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Mcginley Ryan. Bloom. Digital Image. Swide. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Oh, Joong Seok. Oh My Ophelia. Digital Image. Pinterest. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Steichen, Edward. Ophelia. Digital Image. Pinterest. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Von Unwert, Ellen. So Full of Dreams. Digital Image. Fashionising. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

  1. hgrdimapilis
    December 2, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I find this most interesting because of how the females are represented. Vogue magazine has a reputation for objectifying women as beautiful empty shells. Choosing Ophelia of all the possible Shakespearean heroines makes one wonder if this reputation has anything to do with it. First of all, why would anyone consider death by drowning a beautiful thing? Drowning, in essence, is suffocating through submersion in water, and suffocation takes a bit longer to die. Ophelia suffered longer than an average stab to the chest would. Not to mention, drowning leaves the body exceedingly pale, including the skin, cornea, and lips, so unlike the images in this post. In my opinion, I think that Ophelia, more than her death scene has already transcended from the pages of Hamlet to something like an icon. She was beautiful and innocent and the riverbanks make a good background scene. Are those all that matter now?

    – Hannah Grace Dimapilis, 2014-73730

  2. mlleange1105
    December 3, 2015 at 6:07 am

    The fashion industry really made dying in water or drowning very glamorous, especially with the examples above where even in water the finest of clothing and the colorful make-up puts up a colorful contrast to a DYING scene. It is quite troubling how the image or the fetish of a dying woman is presented to be beautiful. Not to mention, the fact that the photos were from Vogue, a fashion magazine where commonly women look to for inspiration in regards to appearances and clothing, the photographers and stylists are basically sanctioning to women that the image of an emaciated, dying madwoman is beauty. It is also interesting to note that the trend transcends race and culture, and propagates on an international level.

  3. December 3, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Omg girl this so legit. I adore the makeup, the poses, the hair, the flowing dresses, and is that Saoirse Ronan? Yaaasss Lovely Bones, slay. I love high fashion so much that I would model for free if only I were as gorgeous as these women. Anyway the fashion industry often does set unhealthy depictions of what the “ideal” woman should look like, and this Ophelia trend is no exception. Like the other commenting users, I am also wary of this morbid fashion trend. I see a potential for this to be subverted though, because you know what all these makeup, hairstyles, and dresses remind me of? Drag queens. As creatures of vanity and humor, these men could easily strike poses for the camera in such a way that says “Fuck you, Vogue! We enjoy being Ophelia. Oh yes, objectify our lithe, effeminate, dying bodies.” This would show how ridiculous the trend is.

  4. janchloepojas
    December 6, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    While we are on the topic of fashion, modeling and Ophelia, I remember early this year, a whole lot of women who work as models shared their manner of life and lifestyle. Most of them said that they are skinny and slim because modelling companies have a certain weight, height and waistline requirement when hiring models that if they don’t refrain and discipline themselves with diet, they won’t have any calls and projects. They sacrifice even up to the point of barely eating anything, fainting and acquiring serious illnesses in between work and life. As I see it, these models are already objectified in the profession that they have and again objectified with the kind of things that they are being asked to do. As much as how pretty these photos look, there is more to it than how we see it.
    I love going on to Pinterest to look for inspirations and I have seen a lot of Ophelia portrayed in high fashion, her death being a popular scene amongst magazines shoots. It is really odd to have a dying scene be viewed this way and it reflects the kind of society we have now.

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