Image via British Vogue.
The fashion world was scandalized this week over an interview with British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers, whose ousting in May after 36 years afforded her the opportunity to speak freely and candidly about all the shit she hates about the industry. One of those things: this cover she put together herself.
Explaining the industry’s fixation on perfection, and reflecting on her failures, Chambers admitted that some of her own shoots were “crappy.” She told Vestoj, an annual “platform for critical thinking on fashion”:
The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway. Ok, whatever. But there were others… There were others that were great.
That “big advertiser” comment underscores one of the themes of her complaint about the fashion industry in its most toxic iteration (which is to say, the biggest iteration): that the bulk of editors, writers, and influencers who should be committed to reporting truth to their readerships are actually compromised because of the link between advertisers and access. “Fashion moves like a shoal of fish,” she said. “It’s cyclical and reactionary.”
Chambers’s interview reads as a salient and too often unspoken critique of the way capitalism has poisoned the fashion industry, not just via magazines’ beholdenness to advertisers (how you get an Alexa Chung Vogue cover that looks like an old issue of Lucky on an off-month) but also by the way big corporations are increasingly draining the creativity from fashion—whether by pressuring designers to create market-friendly garments or requiring them to create six or more seasons per year, draining the natural incubation time good collections take to ideate.
She also illuminated the way back-patting and glad-handing, vile yet key components of basically any capitalistic industry, end up in untalented, crappy people getting work. This is basically, in her estimation, because everyone is freaking thirsty!!!:
…in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident – no one wants to be the one to say ‘… but they’re crap.’ Honestly Anja, you can go quite far just with that. Fashion is full of anxious people. No one wants to be the one missing out.
This sad and parched element of industry politics, Chambers said, bleeds into the media that trickles down to us regulars. When dreamy aspiration morphs into elitist unattainability, it becomes a very explicit feminist issue:
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. Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years. 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. What magazines want today is the latest, the exclusive. It’s a shame that magazines have lost the authority they once had. They’ve stopped being useful.
Chambers, for what it’s worth, told Vestoj she was unceremoniously let go in May by British Vogue’s new editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, and alleges no other staffers, including HR, knew of his decision before he fired her. Enninful gave no comment to the New York Times when asked about Chambers’s interview, but Vogue released a statement which read, “It’s usual for an incoming editor to make some changes to the team.” (This is in fact true with any publication, and not uncommon.) “Any changes made are done with the full knowledge of senior management,” it continued.
Vestoj initially published and then removed Chambers’s interview, before then republishing it with an editor’s note. Editor-in-chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, who also conducted the interview, told the Times that the interview was first removed because of “the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her interview… 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.” When even academic journals fall victim to these pressures, perhaps it’s time to rethink the whole game!