Bennetton pays lip service to conflict

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The Independent Online
AFTER snogging nuns, copulating horses and dying Aids victims, the latest Benetton catalogue is expected to arouse its usual level of controversy.

Titled "Enemies", its cover features 24-year-old Israeli student Enyar Lazarus passionately kissing her Bedouin boyfriend, Musa Mazareb, 22. Inside are pictures of Arabs and Jews playing, loving and working together. It will be distributed by Newsweek and a network of publications around the globe in six million copies and 14 different languages.

"If journalists would be artists, and if politicians would be artists, probably the world would be different," said Benetton creative director Olivero Toscani, launching the catalogue in Jerusalem. Last year's catalogue was shot in Corleone, headquarters of the Sicilian Mafia. He denies exploiting suffering simply to sell knitwear.

"You can't do that," he said. "There are companies who employ minor labour in order to sell shoes. We don't do that. You can't accuse me of exploiting Aids to sell sweaters because you can't exploit Aids. Coca-Cola doesn't touch Aids."

Toscani, who has helped Benetton and its associate companies grow into the fourth largest conglomerate in Italy, says that Benetton's capitalism with a conscience is a model which others will follow. "The company of the future, the one that is to survive in the future, is the company that will have a social-political responsibility."

Shooting the pictures in Israel last autumn became a media event. "While I was shooting I had a lot of press following me because actually they were quite pleased to be in Jerusalem not for filming blood or bombs or killing, but something else."

Toscani makes no apologies for being overtly political. "Any image has got a political meaning, even a postcard," he said.