Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Three Strikes Vogue - You're Out!

Vogue, Vogue, Vogue... you've gone and done it again.  There was your January column about how our winter gear is so passé and should be thrown out when it's still zero degrees outside, dishing advice that our husbands should pay for our shirts to be pressed and to top it off your French edition featuring oversexualised images of children as highlighted by MJ at Fierce (you know, pornography uses the excuse that it's art too).

As if all this was not enough then your February UK edition has delivered yet more gems to demonstrate how fast you really are hurtling out of orbit in terms of your fashion relevance in the real world.

First up as the object of my derision is the More Cash than Dash column.  I bought this month's copy of Vogue after Emily of Sugar and Spice alerted me that it a featured an outfit totalling £550.  I digress to her excellent post about why their selected items do not a budget friendly suggestion make - think sleeveless trenchcoat and leather legwarmers at eyewatering prices.  May I suggest the more appropriate title of More Cash to Splash?

And while I'm at it can I also assure you that it is perfectly possible for your stylists and wardrobe team to walk into Primark or a charity shop without spontaneously combusting?  Really, millions of women in the UK do it all the time.  If I remember rightly your favourite cover girl Kate Moss learnt how to style clothes in her broke youth by habitually dipping into charity shops.  Didn't seem to do her sense of style any harm.

If you thought the suggestion that you should get your shirts pressed on hubby's account was offensive then cop your Vogue-weary eyeballs on these beauties from the article "Magic Touch" on female entrepreneurs investing in fashion.  If you think this is about celebrating self made career women then these come with a health warning: high blood pressure may result.

"...there is a new generation of sharp, ambitious fashion-savvy women who use their families' financial clout and impressive contacts to forge new careers by investing in others."

"...these women are already experts at micromanaging their [domestic] lives to perfection...They've simply added business to their checklist, and more surprisingly, with their husbands' blessing"

Surprising indeed.  I didn't think that things could get any worse but then yesterday morning I saw this post on That's Not My Age about an article I hadn't got around to reading yet.  Turning the pages of my own paper copy with some trepidation there it was in all its barrel scraping glory.  The horror! The horror!  This is Vogue's attempt to embrace diversity.  To describe black models as merely part of a separate model tribe rather than just acknowledging them as legitimate models in their own right. 

Image from February edition of Vogue UK, The Catwalk Report

Can we not just call them models rather than black models?  In the same way that magazines have tended to fetishize plus size models instead of incorporate them as a normal part of their fashion aesthetic, if you're a model and you happen to be black it seems you are relegated to being a kind of flavour of the month, like a pouty, smiley or tough look. Notice something else? All of the three latter characteristics are completely changeable for other models: the pouty ones can stop pouting, the smiley ones can frown instead and the tough girls can grow their hair out.  Not much you can do about your skin colour if it suddenly becomes unfashionable.  And as That's Not My Age succinctly put it on her blog: "Can models not be black and pouty, black and smiley, black and tough?"

Vogue is not the only culprit that has this kind of blind sightedness in the way they misrepresent or under represent women of an ethnic background other than white Caucasian.  Elle's December edition featured a "Model Power List" of the faces of 2010.  Of the twenty almost exclusively white models who made the list Naomi Campbell was the only non-white model featured.  Not a single Asian model was selected.  With the variety of ethnic backgrounds of models working out there now the inclusion of Naomi Campbell, who as a supermodel was also a statistical rarity, seems nothing more than a token gesture on the part of Elle.  No mention of Alex Wek or Jourdan Dunn, and fresh faced newcomers were abundantly represented so as long as they were white.  In this day and age this seems crazy.

How do magazines get it so wrong?  Surely that's what editors are for?  To weed out the inappropriate?  To provide balance without it seeming a blindly token act?  In part I believe the lack of diversity in the offices publishing these magazines is responsible, and I don't just mean in terms of ethnicity but also across different socio-economic groups and mindsets.  I got a very insightful comment from Jill of Street Style on my previous post about Vogue recounting her experience of trying to get some work at the magazine and I reproduce it here to illustrate a point:

"...I actually spent three hours once, sipping tea and reading magazines while waiting to meet HR at Conde Nast (a 'crisis' had developed, the sweet JUNIOR HR girl told me when we finally had our interview, because her boss couldn't get out of the meeting: two girls at Vogue had gotten into a cat fight and one was threatening to quit and HR had to intervene). All I wanted was a little freelance layout work, and I ended up doing my own layouts as an 'audition'...

When I sent them, the HR girl emailed me within minutes: someone at Vogue was really interested and she'd get back to me. Whoever that was must have changed her mind. I never worked a day at Conde Nast.

The truth is very simple: it is harder to get into the sorority that is Vogue UK than it is to run for President. It's not just because I'm American: this is a very tight group and they only hire their 'kind': an intern will be the boss's friend's daughter.. and it is so not a meritocracy...


I don't feel bitter about it at all, and I sound angrier than I actually am: the HR girl was a very sweet, albeit posh little thing ... In fact I remember exactly what she was wearing: a pink twin set. Pencil skirt. Clear stockings. Court shoes. And pearls."

The problem with a magazine staffing only "their kind" is that only the viewpoint shared by this elitist group makes it into the editorial content.  This isn't limited to their narrow sense of fashion and taste but also how they view the world at large.  It may well be naïvety rather than malice behind such editorial gaffes but the message that is received is nonetheless very offensive.

Husband or Daddy an investment banker or from a wealthy family? Well £550 is going to seem like a pretty tight budget for just one outfit then isn't it?  Don't have to relate to people from different racial backgrounds to yourself on a regular basis?  Then it must seem totally acceptable to file them away under some condescending label that makes them slightly more understandable to you while you congratulate yourself on your token effort to celebrate diversity.

I recall a time when Vogue actually had a letters to the editor section, and occasionally you would get an irate reader dressing them down for some offensive feature that would at least let them know that they were out of line.  Mysteriously this section disappeared about ten years ago, effectively cutting off any avenue for reader interaction.  It meant they could publish what they felt like without any fear of repercussion by giving voice to their readers' reactions in subsequent issues.  I personally feel that since then the obnoxiousness of the content has increased exponentially.

Even if I never bought Vogue again I am now realising that there's nowhere to hide because I'll hear about such ire inducing articles via the blogosphere.  So Vogue please stop now.  Hire some real talent instead of somebody's well connected niece and start producing content that at the very least doesn't offend our sensibilities.  If I wanted to read about high society and the super wealthy there is Tatler.  If I buy Vogue I expect to read about fashion.  Period.  And girls, I don't know about you, but I can't really bring myself to take cutting edge fashion advice seriously anymore from a fashion magazine where HR is dressed in a pink twin set, pencil skirt, clear stockings, court shoes and pearls, can you?

43 comments:

  1. Those quotes--wow--they're offensive. A business woman myself, I'm more than a little pissed off. While this may be merely a midwestern thing, I have to work hard to be taken seriously as a professional woman in this environment, and even more so as I clearly enjoy the sartorial pleasures of life. So what's with a *woman's magazine* undervaluing the challenges, risks, and pressures that inform real-life business pursuits by women?

    I haven't bought the magazine, but yesterday I read online Vogue US's interview with Natalie Portman. I think it's recent. I was peeved. Portman was talking about her production company and producing a woman's take on the world, women, and sexuality--but the article itself felt incredibly narrow. It was like Vogue couldn't get outside the "male" take on female sexuality or power.

    Are magazines like this necessary anymore?

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  2. Interesting post.....I normally just buy In Style and Lucky. Occasionally I'll pick up Elle. I've gotten a Vogue about a year ago; but to be honest, I can't even relate. Stick thin models, over the top editorials, housing priced shoes...c'mon. Who lives in that world and is that even a world that I want to be a part of? Vogue doesn't own "style". Many fashion bloggers I've seen have it in spades and they didn't take a second mortgage on their houses to get it. Vogue, to me, has always seemed too "to the manor borne" for my taste. ~Serene

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  3. "Black Model" tribe. It is so ridiculously stupid, that you can't help but laugh at it. I think any non-white model knows that she's going to have an uphill battle in making it. But once they make it, these girls HAVE STAYING POWER. Unlike those pouty doe-eyed 14 year old girls that are interchangeable, entirely forgettable, and can't convey any sort of personality in a photo.

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  4. "Even if I never bought Vogue again I am now realising that there's nowhere to hide because I'll hear about such ire inducing articles via the blogosphere."

    but at least you could hold your head high for not supporting such offensive, elitist blather.

    the mindset of being fascinated by the rich and well-connected simply because they are rich and well-connected seems to be breaking up, more than a little due to the availability of diverse viewpoints out there on the 'nets. and not a moment too soon!

    you should get hazard pay for documenting and analyzing this garbage so the rest of use can avoid it (& for letting us voice our concurring opinions). thank you for this well-written article with it's well-supported argument!!! steph

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  5. There's nothing I can add that could possibly be any different to what you've already, very eloquently said.
    It's like reading a magazine from the 1950's what with "their families' financial clout", "Their husband's blessing"and sticking black women into a "tribe" no wonder the girls who work for them dress like post war debutantes.
    I was reading athis month's Easy Living in the opticians today and snorted out loud with their "Fashion On The Cheap" advice of wearing a £16 cocktail ring on each finger...cheap? My coats don't cost that much.
    Bring on the revolution. xxx

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  6. You are brilliant, you know that?! I have enjoyed this post so much. Vogue UK has gone so downhill with Shulman at the helm - it's all syrupy now and like one big Enid Blyton novel for grown-ups, with its picnic blankets, completely outdated notion of the English rose and hapless but wallet-happy husbands. You are so right about the heinous compartmentalisation of non-Caucasian models. 'Tribal' as a trend (and it's one of Vogue's favourite buzzwords) always makes me feel queasy. I thought Vogue was meant to be a bunch of Oxbridge graduates but have they heard of post-colonialism? Oh, and not marrying? I could go on but my blood is boiling when I think of it all!

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  7. First, thank you so much for the shoutout! :)

    Model Tribes??? Are we serious?? Since when did non-white models become a tribe?? There are sooo many modesl of differing ethnicities that are beautiful! You would think Vogue would catch a hint by now! But that's what happens when you're living in a fashion bubble for so long and then we fashion bloggers come along and upset the status quo. I feel it will take them a mighty long time to get to reality, unless their profit margin starts shrinking before then.

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  8. Veshoevius--keep this up and they'll be calling you for a magazine makeover!!

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  9. They've overstepped the boundary from laughable and harmless to offensive. I'm particularly appalled by the tribal reference. In my experience they've been bizarrely out of touch, and I'm sick of their frankly nauseating method of interviewing.

    You've reminded me why I stopped buying Vogue several years ago; there was one article about weight, and how it limited fashion options. "But," - the author specified - "I'm not talking about the size 18s. Let them eat rice cakes and shop at Marks and Spencers. I'm talking about the fun-loving, Helmut Lang-wearing size 14s...". There's no denying fashion is sizeist, but to be so blatant...

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  10. Thank you for the shout out!

    You have again, written a wonderfully eloquent post about the contradiction that seems to be Vogue. I read Polly Vernon's last column for the Observer (I think it was!) about how it is legitimate to enjoy shopping and fashion as a hobby - just as it is to enjoy food or sport. But it is magazines like Vogue that continue to portray fashion-interested women as air-heads who live, first off their daddys and then their husbands. This isn't real!! We fashion-obsessed shopaholics (or is that just me?!!) earn our own money to spend on our outfits and it doesn't run to £550 for an outfit either!

    I'll stop ranting!!

    Great post :)

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  11. great applauds! i someimes feel that vogue is aimed to snobbish people livin in an imaginary world...

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  12. Bravo! I can do nothing other than nod vigorously at your post and agree with everyone's comments.

    This is precisely why I like reading blogs more than fashion magazines: diversity (both in aesthetic and budget) and a willingness to embrace multiple sartorial viewpoints.

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  13. Since I also just cancelled my subscription I can only say: We are on one wavelength! They are totally out of touch (which is no surprise if all their interns/later employees are daughters of wealthy families). And to think that many of the greatest designers and stylists come from very humble background... It's sad. Alexandra Schulman really looks and sounds like a sensible person. Does she get dictated from the the top bosses?

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  14. This is one of the many reasons I've stopped reading both Elle and Vogue (the UK editions at least... and the fact that both Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham are this month's cover models doesn't make me want to pick up another copy either). I've always wondered about their almost colonial mindset but Jill's explanation sheds a lot of light. And I was a little stunned when I finally read the Vogue Paris edition yesterday... I could (almost) handle the nudity of the 75 year old woman, but the children were unnecessary. I wonder if Tom Ford is to blame...

    Fab blog by the way. I loved your last post on Southwark, especially considering I currently live in that area :)

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  15. @Aesthetic Alterations - "So what's with a *woman's magazine* undervaluing the challenges, risks, and pressures that inform real-life business pursuits by women?"
    I know it's crazy isn't it? Doubtless these fortunate types of women that don't need to face these types of real challenges exist, but if you read Vogue regularly you get the impression that they think that these type of women are the ONLY ones who exist.

    @Vintage Vix - your comment cracked me up!

    @Mrs Bossa - I seem to recall dimly that article about "fun-loving, Helmut Lang-wearing size 14s" and being incredulous at the time too!

    @Comtesse de Ferveur - "Vogue UK has gone so downhill with Shulman at the helm - it's all syrupy now and like one big Enid Blyton novel for grown-ups, with its picnic blankets, completely outdated notion of the English rose and hapless but wallet-happy husbands"
    You know until I read this I could never really put my finger on the thing that disturbed me about Vogue but you have hit the nail on the head. I had a big ah ha moment when I read it. Brilliant comment and yeah post-colonialism seems an alien concept to them.

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  16. @The Elegant Bohemian - to the manor born LOL!

    @Terri - I doubt it!

    @tinyjunco - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't need danger money, I just need to search for inspiration in new sources.

    @Shopgirl - We fashion-obsessed shopaholics (or is that just me?!!) - no it is not just you (hand up)

    @MJ - I too think the process of change will be glacial unfortunately but hopefully the internet will accelerate it somewhat.

    @Penny Dreadful @Marta @Jessica @SabinePsynopsis
    Thank you ladies - it's nice to know there are supporters out there!

    @Haute World - thank you - lucky you living in Southwark!

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  17. @That's not my age - thank you for posting about the model tribes thing in the first place and bringing how ridiculous it was to my attention. You inspired me to do this post.

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  18. Preach it, sister! What I think is just as sad is that despite this being 2011.... traditional western beauty ideals are STILL imposed on all races. 'Ethnic features' are considered a bad thing.

    Look at celebrities such as Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez. Regardless of their skin tone, their features/bone structures are totally Caucasian like. Therefore they can be considered pretty, and sexy. Whereas a female celebrity who also flaunts her sexuality but is more ethnic looking is branded as a crazy or gross chick.

    But for the sake of pretending to be open minded, image based industries such as fashion will occasionally promote a token
    'ethnic girl' such as Alek Wek. Who is drop dead gorgeous, but will never be marketed as the bombshell the way Georgia May Jagger is.

    And don't even get me started on how these beauty standards are thrust upon the rest of the world! In Togo, heavier women have always been part of their cultural ideal. It's been this way for centuries, and for the most part they've lived the same lifestyle as their ancestors have. But shortly after television was introduced, glorifying slender women and demonizing the larger frame, within one year 11% of women had eating disorders!

    And don't even get me started on how women in Asia are getting eyelid surgery to give themselves rounder eyes, like those they see in the ads for imported western products they're constantly bombarded with.

    As someone who comes from a multi cultural heritage, this sort of thing is very upsetting to me.

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  19. thanks so much for suggesting the IFB linking!
    I got a cherry-on-top thanks to your suggestion!!!
    xXx
    Reva

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  20. Very very well said. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and I agree with everything you said!

    I hate when they define their models by race. 'Black models' etc.. I don't introduce people by 'this is my asian friend' why do they feel the need to draw the attention to the obvious. We do have eyes to see color after all! I also notice they are selective about their racism. If a model with black skin has long straight hair and a sharp, thin nose she isn't placed under black label. She is placed with all the other models in collages. However if she has natural hair and a wider nose.. she is considered to be 'black'.

    The only magazine that disgusts me more is Tatler.
    The whole thing is dedicated to ass kissing bachelor & bachelorette lists.. (all the people in these lists are related to the editor, of Royal connection, went to Eaton.. all resemble horses.) All the people in these lists end up modelling in the magazine.
    Not one dress looks attractive as it ends up on some buck toothed 12 year old countess who has no idea how to pose for a photo.. the whole fashion element lost!
    In that magazine they act as if it's an achievement for a woman to have ANY job. Makes my blood boil!!

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  21. @luvgmt.com - you raise so many interesting and valid points Sarah Jayne and I couldn't agree with you more. I do notice that difference too in the marketing of Alek Wek, who is treated as more of a quirk than the ingratiating slobbering over girls like Georgia. Your examples of how women of other ethnicities are harming themselves to conform to western ideals of beauty is depressing.

    @Retro Reva - you're welcome!

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  22. @Tali - thank you for your wonderful comment. I am with you on absolutely everything you have described about Tatler!! You've pretty much pointed out everything that I hate about it!

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  23. Hi I'm a style blogger who only buys magazines when they offer me something shiny to make it worth my while...terrible maybe, I'm a student and have a limited budget.

    I have a teacher who when we had to make a formal group presentation kept insisting the ladies wear "twin-set and pearls" I kept privately mocking him for being so out of touch. Apparently he isn't out of touch, he's in touch with his inner Vogue UK HR girl.

    I loved this dissection of Vogue, I have to wonder, were there any good articles at all?

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  24. I read about half of this and got so outraged I wanted to stop to comment. First of all,

    WHAT THE F!#K?!

    Are they serious? Putting models into "tribes" and then calling one of the tribes "black girls?"

    I don't know what race politics are like in Europe, but my American mind is just boggled at this point.

    First of all, that's just not right. It's so not right. It's a very well known fact that many fashion magazine fetishize black WOMEN (NOT GIRLS!) as exotic and even compare them to animals. So to say tribe is just ....SO WRONG. What is this? The 1930s. Seriously Vogue, get it together.

    This is hot mess--Vogue. Worth unsubscribing for. I did the same when I realized Marie Claire was over the top in being ridiculous.

    Great editorial as always. Please submit to A la mode--this was awesome! AWESOME!

    Ok, i'm going to go read the rest now.

    --Courtney
    http://thosegraces.com

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  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  26. Very interesting! The models part sort of reminds me of doctor seuss - black models, pouty models, tough models, smiley models! Following your blog now.

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  27. !!! wow !!! I'm pretty sure I will not buy another vogue magazine, that is EXTREMELY offensive...TRIBES?? YOUR HUSBANDS BLESSING?? that is just ridiculous. now following you,
    -- www.itsanewkate.blogspot.com

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  28. FANTASTIC POST! I just discovered it via IFB links ala mode, and think this is the best post of the week. Period. Spot on.
    the Citizen Rosebud

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  29. You know even if we put the offensive parts on one side, the magazine is simple boring. There hasn't been one interesting feature I have read in a long time, the editorials are tiresome too. I think they really need some fresh ideas and fresh faces on their staff but of course this will never happen as you say due to the imbred nature of the 'cult of vogue'. Great post, you should mail Vogue a copy ;-)

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  30. Glad IFB spotted your post, because it is very interesting to see someone here who don't blindly worship Vogue. Great honest article.

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  31. I completely agree. I stopped buying Vogue a year ago. I've simply been sorely disappointed with the perpetuation of cultural mores, stereotypes and blatant stupidity in these magazines. Oh well. I save more money that can be destined for worthier causes!

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  32. Well said darling...and I'd personally love to be one of those new people to give a grounded opinion!

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  33. Really interesting post. I do read Vogue, but mainly for the photography(preferably Tim Walker). They occasionally have interesting styling or articles, however it is disappointing when a bland isssue comes throught the door.
    I agree with the model tribes thing - I was pretty shocked when I saw the 'black models' category! However, I did find the last page of that supplement interesting, purely on a personal level. It talked about backless dresses being the new 'big thing' - I recently had spinal surgery, so now have a long scar running down my back, as well as slightly uneven shoulder blades. I am currently designing a backless dress to highlight this.
    And as big advocate of charity shops and affordable vintage clothing, I would love the chance to do a proper 'more dash than cash'. I have to say I wouldn't use Primark though, purely for ethical reasons.
    It seems that Britain is lacking a really innovative fashion magazine that doesn't market itself as being 'edgy' or is full of Juergan Teller style photography. Maybe there is one out there - please let me know if you have heard of it!

    http://clothescamerasandcoffee.blogspot.com/

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  34. February's UK Vogue was the first copy I'd ever bought, and certainly the last, as exactly the same things rankled me too! How they can get away with having all of the black models in a "tribe" I'll never know, it amazes me that not one person in the office picked that up!

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  35. I've been thoroughly disappointed with Vogue! And even more so after reading this post. The experience the woman had with HR at Conde Nast does clear up why the magazine perpetuates ideas that are not just offensive, but are almost laughable in their extremity. It's 2011 and we still are categorizing races???

    Great, insightful post!

    xx.
    Judy

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  36. As usual, I think you are spot on and I just love reading your rants! I can actually feel your words reaching up and slapping the people at Vogue!
    Like I said in my comment to your last Vogue post, I stopped reading Vogue ages ago as overall, I found the content false,dull and devoid of any real personality. It is clearly aimed at a target demographic, which is, the type of people currently working at Vogue right now.
    As for the ludacris bargain outfit for 550.... all I can say is (well something rude)
    Ive recently switched careers which resulted in a rather large switch in pay. i can no longer afford to shop like I used to but I regularly get entire outfits (great outfits!) in Primark.. for 30 bucks... in your face Vogue.

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  37. I found so much of what you highlighted really offensive. I don't have anything new to add as other have contributed so well but there is a lovely magazine called Oh Comely that hasn't been around for long, it's a breath of fresh air and worth checking out x

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  38. I realise I am a little late with this but I have just stumbled upon the links a la mode...

    First of all, the write up is a great one and deserved the feature so congratulations on the recognition. Your argument is not only a strong one but also, as the comments attests to, a universal one. Vogue really do seem to reside in a 1940s post-war valley with their Tatler neighbours. Not only are they out of touch with majority of the 'modern woman', they also have a knack of offending this very same group often. It is laughable that they could see nothing wrong in identifying Black models as a current fad and part of a tribe. Seriously!? In this day & age??

    I do not expect every single magazine to represent me but I most definitely do not expect to be excluded either.

    Reading magazines such as Tatler & Vogue leave me feeling exactly that. As if the message they are championing is that they are not for people 'like me'.

    Thanks for bringing this article to all our attention.

    Milly xx

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  39. wow. just... wow. I wanted to comment on your first Vogue post, but I didn't so I'll comment on both.

    First, I made the decision not to buy Vogue years ago. I sat in Borders auditioning magazines (as used to be my habit), and in Vogue I read an article written by an older socialite about growing up around people more famous and wealthy than her. I was like... really? Vogue thinks I want to read about rich people talking about being rich? I never gave Vogue a second thought after that. I mean, clearly I'm not the target customer.

    And that "black girls" tribe really gets my goat. OOOOOH it gets my goat! Seriously? black girls are in the same category as girls with short haircuts?! As you said, Black girls can have short hair, can smile, etc. And it's also so personally disappointing. Is that all people think when they see me? They don't see my smile, or my personality or my hair or my personal style... just my skin color? I like to think a feature like that wouldn't fly in the U.S., but the modeling industry is wack across the pond as well.

    I subscribe to Elle and somehow that all-white model call slipped my notice. But to Elle's credit, they consistently write thoughtful articles that actually apply to real women's lives.

    http://fashionistalab.com

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  40. I stopped subscribing to US Vogue some time ago for various reasons (partly it was economics; I lived abroad and my mailing costs were too much for such little reward). I decided I'd buy March and September issues only, and the occasional French or UK edition. But then last September's (US) which was quite a letdown in a myriad of ways. I've not purchased a single Vogue since.

    I mainly gave up on Vogue because I was sick and tired of celebrities grazing the covers; and if that isn't enough, Vogue is always compelled to include a long, detailed article of said celebrity and how they're, say, juggling career and child-rearing (wow!) how they feel about botox (really? who cares!) what they eat, blah blah blah....Enough! No offense to celebrities who have become successful at what they do, but Vogue used to be about fashion, and fashion people and models, and...style. Now it's too much about Hollywood people and the film industry. If I wanted celebs, I'd buy People or In Style.
    Other than the celeb thing, I usually forgave Vogue for all the other offenses...til now: Children "oversexualised", dressed as adults?...black models described as a "tribe"?
    Until Vogue US, UK and France can get their acts together, I am done.
    Great post. I'm off to read your follow-up now!

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  41. the "Black Girls" tribe is completely ridiculous and infuriating

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