Look Who We Have Coming to Vogue

Vogue India’s August issue features designer bibs (like the Fendi bib the child in the photo is wearing), handbags, clutches, umbrellas–all modeled by the aam aadmi. Of course, considering that prices for  brands like Hermes Birkin and Burberry can range between $200 and $10,000, this is the only time they will ever get near them. Luxury brands have usually been accused of ignoring the average person in India. This, apparently, is Vogue’s answer to that. Vogue’s logic according to this story:

Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s message to critics of the August shoot: “Lighten up,” she said in a telephone interview. Vogue is about realizing the “power of fashion” she said, and the shoot was saying that “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,” she said.

“You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously,” Ms. Tanna said. “We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world,” she said. (emphasis mine)

Seems to me like she’s contradicting herself a bit there. Are we supposed to believe in the ‘power of fashion’ which is going to elevate these poor people and save their lives with $100 Fendi bibs? Or are we supposed to ‘lighten up’ about poverty and have a good chuckle?

One way of looking at it is that this was an earning opportunity for these people. In which case, I’m curious to know whether they were paid as much as regular models or not. I haven’t seen the magazine so I don’t know if the editors have put this in some sort of context or are tying this up with any social programmes. But it’s a little telling that the shoot does not name the models / people in the captions. Only the brands of the accessories.

What do you think?


Filed under Culture, Media

18 responses to “Look Who We Have Coming to Vogue

  1. iz

    Go see my site. You’ve been awarded.

  2. Hmm. Did they get paid as much as any other cover model would have done?

    (And if the average Indian is as dentally handicapped as the article says, perhaps they need to model something else.)

    I think these kinds of covers are exploitative. Nobody really believes the product is made more attractive by being modeled by the aam aadmi; someone somewhere is getting a do-gooder glow from it and they’re the only ones benefitting.

  3. iz: aww, thank you!

    Space Bar: My question exactly. Somehow, I doubt it. With this one, I get the feeling someone at creative thought this was a cool idea, different and eye-catching. They don’t even seem to have their do-gooder spiel fine-tuned. Bizarre.

  4. Do you remember the cover of their first issue and the ruckus it created? Personally, I quite like Vogue India, as far as magazines go. But I don’t think their glossing over of shady political statements (and they ARE statements — I think all of us who work in media and advertising know just how much thought goes into every photoshoot) is very respectable. It’s possible to be controversial and groundbreaking without having to resort to insensitivities. This kind of reminds me of that scavenger-models incident, actually.

  5. It’s very typical for western fashion magazines to publish shoots in which white, shiny, blonde, leggy models are pictured looking god-like next to poor ethnic minorities – which is bad enough – but this went even further. It’s embarrassing. The editor says “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege” – but none of these people would be able to afford to buy into this kind of fashion. And why do they need to wear Hermes or Dolce and Gabbana to prove they’re beautiful? She chose her words very badly…

  6. Sharanya: Yes, it did remind me of that too. Except that I find the nameless, wordless quality of the people in these photos is more repugnant. If you’re going to use people as models in a crass and insensitive ad campaign, a least give them the respect of treating them like regular models, which means name them. It sort of underlines the fact that they are being viewed more as curiousities than anything else.

    Luiza: Yes, that’s what makes the so-called political stance mouthed by the editor very hollow. How many people, let alone people in the lower income bracket such as those who have been featured, can afford a 8000 rupee bag? I mean, it’s fine that it exists and that some people are buying. But to pretend it’s anything other than an elitist item aimed at a select class of people is laughable.

  7. Totally cringeworthy…

  8. nits

    Hi Anu – long time, hope you are well. I hate this shoot. I know this has been making the rounds in the blogs since the article came out and those that say this is “thought-provoking” are unfortunately falling for Vogue’s spin on it. It’s disgusting to me. Although I don’t fully commit to the “medium is the message” axiom, in this case how can it not hold true? Knowing Vogue’s raison d’etre (sell luxury products) and audience (billionares and billionaire wanna-bes), who exactly are they enlightening? It’s just the middle class (if at all) that’s enraged on the sidelines and some art director somewhere fancying this to be more than a fashion shoot.
    Either way it makes me sick.

  9. Priyanka

    I concur with many of the sentiments expressed above and also find it disturbing that this photo-feature was part of the Vogue issue that was ostensibly celebrating Indian Independence! I was also curious to know about the manner in which this feature was conducted. How were the models approached? How did they perceive their participation in the shoot? While examining the images, there seems to be a sense of fancy-dress at play for both the models and the ones ‘dressing’ them up. What message is the magazine attempting to communicate to its readers while using nameless and in some cases, faceless models? We are more likely to notice and appreciate a Hermes Birkin bag or Alexander McQueen belt when worn/used by them, rather than the Preity Zintas, whose persona is too overwhelming for the featured products in question?

  10. I’m disgusted but not surprised. There’s a fine, often unnoticed, line between creative expression and exploitation and people CHOOSE to overlook it. But then again, I wonder: if the ‘models’ got money and instant gratification from it (however little it may have been), how justified am I in objecting to it? (Not that it’s going to stop me from ranting, of course. 😉 I’m already on my high horse and trotting.)

  11. I wonder if they spared as much dosh as they would for Gisele(or any bronzed Brazillian).
    Then of course, they are selling pickled cows as art pieces and amassing enough money to equal East Timor’s GDP in the process even as millions go without any sign or semblance of reall food. Creativity has never been “looser”. It seems like a terrible downward spiral.
    Btw..Hurray for us! We may be bombed, torn apart, jumping potholes the size of Grand Canyon, getting openly molested on the streets, facing generally a serious amount of hell on earth but at least our poor get a Vogue centrespread.
    More power to Wintour’s tribe! Ha.

  12. Becky: 😦 yes, unfortunately.

    nits: “some art director somewhere fancying this to be more than a fashion shoot”…i was thinking about this today at some point while stuck at a traffic signal and wondering if some guy actually thought he was doing his bit to promote social consciousness. I mean, if the intention was there (misplaced and stupidly done as it may be), I feel a little bit sorry for him. The shoot is hateworthy though.

    Priyanka: Yes, fancy dress / play acting does seem to be a strong element here. Which is what is disturbing, I think — the fact that it’s a bit like a curiosity show. And if that’s the message, that’s really quite awful. We find newer ways of using the poor every day.

    OJ: “There’s a fine, often unnoticed, line between creative expression and exploitation and people CHOOSE to overlook it.” I agree with you and am always wondering about this myself. I think what makes it harder though in this case is that it’s not just about creative expression but also about consumer appeal. And the consumer being at the opposite end of the spectrum of those being used for the appeal.

    iconoplastic: Yes, I’m really curious too about whether they paid the models the regular rates. The fact that Priya Tanna / their PR statement said nothing about providing earning opportunities for the models is a little suspicious. I’ve been in PR and it’s the first line of defence the company could have taken. The fact that they haven’t means what? That they didn’t pay them enough?

  13. ? It really is that big a deal? Bigger than the existence of a 100 rupee magazine in a country where millions earn half that in a day? Bigger than all those other causes worth some blogosphere time and space?

  14. Small Talk: Not a bigger deal than the things you mentioned but in my opinion, neither are ninety percent of the other things we talk about in the blogosphere. It caught my eye–and my mind. That’s all.

  15. shweta

    with due respect (or the lack of it) to vogue’s india editor…not only was that a very shallow statement but an extremely stupid one. its like mumbai models ONLY buying designer X’s designer bags kyunki har bag ki sale se 1 paisa charity ko jayega and desh ka utthan hoga. so the baby whose family probably struggles to make $100 in a month can wear and carry off a Fendi bib just like a Manhattan biggie’s bundle of delight…here’s to shallowness personified

  16. d

    Call it shallow, call it exploitative, call it tasteless. All true. Sad fact is, its probably one of the most talked about fashion shoots in recent times, generating much debate and newsprint. I am sure the Vogue art director or whoever thought this up has got himself/herself a raise!

  17. Really it is a marvelous article………Keep on publishing like these themes…………..

  18. It is a result of some kind of imaginary power………The real mind set leads to success………..

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