I saw it myself and then a few of you blew up the tip line (thanks, Taara), my twitter and my skypager; on Sunday, the Grey Lady featured an article about Vogue India’s…interesting choice of models, for one of their recent editorial shoots. The “creative” (and by creative, I mean not at all) direction the magazine (which I still can’t procure in DC) stumbled through raised your threaded-eyebrows as well as some of your hackles, and rightly so.
Giving impoverished people $10,000 bags, Burberry bumbershoots and Fendi bibs for their children reeks of an appalling level of arrogance, an utterly clueless infatuation with “edginess”, and a heartless disregard for those for whom India does not yet shine. But let me tell you how I really feel, as I fisk the NYT article freely:
NEW DELHI â€” An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes â€” who is wearing a Fendi bib (retail price, about $100).
A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way â€” except that she has a HermÃ¨s Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.
Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).
Welcome to the new India â€” at least as Vogue sees it.
Way to keep it classy, VI. Also, just so you know, the text on that picture says, “Baby’s Day Out: It’s never too early to start living in style.”
Vogue Indiaâ€™s August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.
Many fashion magazines (and this is lamentable, in my opinion) prefer to use celebrities instead of models to display designer wares; surely some contact-lens-sporting ingenue would have happily offered her services? And also, agreed to appear in this “vision” of label whoring? Actually, they could have kept the spread only moderately offensive by replicating what many of their vestern sister publications do, and having said “model” out amid the grittiness of poor people, who, if we are to believe VI, are the new black. That’s hot.
Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in India was amused.
Not just India. Everywhere people have functioning hearts and brains.
The editorial spread was â€œnot just tacky but downright distastefulâ€ said Kanika Gahlaut, a columnist for the daily newspaper Mail Today that is based here, who denounced it as an â€œexample of vulgarity.â€
Thereâ€™s nothing â€œfun or funnyâ€ about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen, she said in a telephone interview. â€œThere are farmer suicides here, for Godâ€™s sakeâ€ she said, referring to thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade because of debt.
Um, like, Kanika? Who, like, cares? If I can’t see it, it, like, doesn’t exist. So yay, no farmer suicides! Yum, this sand tastes good!
Vogue India editor Priya Tannaâ€™s message to critics of the August shoot: â€œLighten up,â€ she said in a telephone interview. Vogue is about realizing the â€œpower of fashionâ€ she said, and the shoot was saying that â€œfashion is no longer a rich manâ€™s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,â€ she said.
takes earrings off and smears vaseline on face
Bia…don’t even GET me started on how you be hawkin’ that shameful skin lightenin’ bullshit in your magazine. Hie thee to iTunes and get thee some Tupac. The joint’s called “Keep ya head up”. It would’ve been an apposite selection for your shoot, but I’m more interested in imprinting the following on your mind, one time: “The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice, I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots…”
â€œYou have to remember with fashion, you canâ€™t take it that seriously,â€ Ms. Tanna said. â€œWe werenâ€™t trying to make a political statement or save the world,â€ she said.
What kind of statement were you attempting to make? That it’s AWESOME to exploit poor people? That having a gaping black hole in your chest where your heart should be is teh new hawtness?
Tell me, Ms. Tanna, did these “models” get fed by craft services or whatever the hell usually provides caffeine, barf bags and celery sticks to those who are working hard? And isn’t it amazing that many models the world over starve themselves to attain unrealistic physical dimensions while many of your models don’t even have the chance to make such a heart-breaking choice? They starve because they don’t have enough. But don’t let that ugly truth get in the way of your vulgar logo-hawking.
Nearly half of Indiaâ€™s population â€” about 456 million people â€” live on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank figures released last week. But as any well-briefed luxury goods executive or private banker knows, India also has a fast-growing wealthy class and emerging middle class that make it one of the worldâ€™s most attractive new places to sell high-end products.
The juxtaposition between poverty and growing wealth presents an unsavory dilemma for luxury goods makers jumping into India: How does one sell something like a $1,000 handbag in a country where most people will never amass that sum of money in their lives, and many are starving? The answer is not clear cut, though Vogueâ€™s approach may not be the way to go.
Look, I’m no fool. I know that there have always been filthy rich people in India who consume conspicuously while sighing with relief that they have gates around their compounds to keep out the even filthier beggars.
I know that the West isn’t much different either, that people in Manhattan who wait two years on a list for the chance to drop $14,000 on a Birkin often don’t feel guilt about such an acquisition nor some need to balance out such a purchase with a commensurate contribution to help those whom they, too, step over or otherwise ignore.
This isn’t new, in either part of the world. But that doesn’t make this creative “vision” right.
The subjects of the Vogue shoot are the people that luxury goods manufacturers might hope to one day become their customers. Companies are attracted to emerging markets like India because of the millions of people who are â€œcoming from no income and rising quite fast,â€ said Nick Debnam, chairman of KPMGâ€™s consumer markets practice in the Asia-Pacific region.
Uh…call me a cynical elitist, but I doubt that any of the people featured in that editorial shoot are going to drop rs. 4500 on a logo-ridden snippet of cloth, for their babies to puke on…they just might have other needs to prioritize. Shocking, but true!
The idea of being able to afford something but not buying it because you do not want to flaunt your money reflects a â€œvery Western attitude,â€ he said. In China and other emerging markets, â€œif youâ€™ve made it, you want everyone to know that youâ€™ve made it,â€ and luxury brands are the easiest way to do that, he said.
Jigga wha? Many people in the West happily flaunt their purchasing power, even if they’re miring themselves in debt to do so. Meanwhile, most of my cautious, traditional, “sober” and “boring” DBD Aunties and Uncles drove Toyotas, never bought designer clothes, lived in modestly-decorated homes…and then paid for their children’s educations in full AND socked away hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. I never attributed that lifestyle to their “western attitude”. Ever. I was always taught that that was part of their “Indian-ness”. Remind me to call my Mom and chew her out for misguiding me like that…
This bit is what angered me the most, too:
Not taking a close enough look at the â€œreal peopleâ€ is drawing criticism for Vogue, too. â€œThe magazine does not even bother to identify the subjectsâ€ of the photos, said Ms. Gahlaut, the columnist. Instead, Vogue names the brands of the accessories in the captions, and says they are worn by a lady or a man.
They’re just props. Why recognize their humanity or ask their names? Oh, right…because decency should always be in fashion.