Tuesday, July 11, 2017

You mean to say that no one actually needs a Birkin Bag? Who knew?

Recently-fired British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers and I have something in common. Shortly after her firing, Chambers did a tell-all interview with Vestoj (a fashion journal – whatever that is) and confessed that she hasn’t read Vogue in years. While we have that in common, I can top her: I haven’t “read” Vogue in decades – actually make that haven’t “read” Vogue ever – unless you count thumbing through a copy out of boredom at the hairdressers.

Mostly, I just plain don’t follow fashion. My motto? Never in style, never out of style. And, over the years, my motto has held me in pretty good stead.

But Chambers – 25 years as fashion editor for British Vogue – has made a living as a dedicated follower of fashion. Thus her post-firing interview with Vestoj hit those who actually do care about fashion with all the force of a broken stiletto on the runway, or a wardrobe malfunction at Super Bowl. And for some reason (boredom at near-hairdresser level), I clicked on a HuffPo article on the brouhaha.

Among the revelations that Chambers made is this wow-er: She ran a “crap” cover shoot of a model wearing “a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt” even though she knew it was crap, because Michael Kors is a big advertiser. Shocked, I’m shocked…

michael kors vogue Kate moss

That said, if someone can explain to me why one Vogue cover is “crap” and another isn’t, I’m all eyes and ears. (That’s the “crap” cover on the left.)

There was more, breathless more:

Chambers also opened up about what she said are the harmful effects of reading and working for a publication like British Vogue, which she said she hadn’t actually read in years.

“There are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden, for not having the right kind of dinner party, setting the table in the right kind of way or meeting the right kind of people,” Chamber said.

I’m plenty anxiety-ridden. How can one not be ridden with at least a soup├žon of anxiety when we’ve got someone in the Oval Office who thinks it would be a grand idea to collaborate with the Russians on cybersecurity? But my guess is that even most of those who actually read Vogue aren’t turned into big old stress-balls over whether they set their table the right way. (Is the knife blade an innie or an outie???)

“Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years,” she confessed. “Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive.”

As I sit her in my LL Bean shorts and non-Michael Kors tee, partnered with a Red Sox fleece, I’m pretty sure that I would find most of what’s in Vogue irrelevant and ridiculously expensive. And probably ridiculous, to boot. But maybe it’s like when guys used to say they read Playboy for the articles. Only in reverse. Maybe women read Vogue for the pictures of ridiculous, irrelevant clothing.

She added that “in fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational? That’s the kind of fashion magazine I’d like to see.”

“We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes.” OMG. I am just full of shock and awe that Chambers would come right out and say something like this that none of us were aware of. No wonder the fashion industry is stunned. Who knew?

Here I’ve been saving my change so that someday I can afford a Birkin Bag – one of the cheap-o models that run around $12K; not the $200K crocodile ones – only to find out that fashion magazines have been bullying me into making wild-arse purchases like this. Man, I was thinking that a Birkin Bag was both “useful and aspirational”. How I’ve been played! Time to away to my fainting couch to cry me some big old crocodile tears…

Some praised Chambers for her honesty. Others went ballistic, with Vogue apparently pressuring Vestoj to take the online interview down. Which they did, at least temporarily succumbing to the same sort of pressure that got Chambers to do the “crap” Michael Kors cover.

“In terms of the reasons why it was removed, they are directly related to the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her interview,” Vestoj Editor-in-Chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg told the Times. “As you know, fashion magazines are rarely independent because their existence depends on relationships with powerful institutions and individuals, whether it’s for tickets to shows, access in order to conduct interviews or advertising revenue.” 

Cronberg added, “We hope Lucinda’s republished interview will spark a discussion which might, in her words, lead to a more ‘empowering and useful’ fashion media.”

What really shocks me here is not the fairly tame nature of Chambers’ remarks. Nor the reaction – pro and con – to them. It’s this: Chambers made her living for 35 years in the fashion biz, with 25 years as a Vogue editor. She’s just now realizing that marketing creates fake needs and desires? That no one really wears extreme fashion? That no one really needs high fashion period?

I get that she’s been fired, and that she’s pissed and figuring that, at this stage in her career, it’s okay to light a match to a bridge. But if it was all that terrible, why’d Chambers stick with it for 35 years? That’s the question I find myself asking.


Here’s the link to the Vestoj interview, which I found neither empowering nor useful. Not very interesting, either.

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