Enlightened by Vogue India

Hereat TLH we’ve have lengthy discussions about the potentialcommodification of religious symbols and also about problematicmedia representation of groups of people. So, I thought that therecent hoopla over the questionable photo shoot in the August issue of Vogue India would be a colorful addition to those discussions. The New York Times reported that,

Vogue India’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.[link]

In one picture, a older poor woman holds a small child wearing a Fendi bib (cost = $100), in another pose a family preparing for their daily commute, sits on a motorbike with the mother riding the traditional sidesaddle way… oh and with her Herms Birkin bag (cost = $10,000) on her wrist. Then of course, there is the turbaned man who models a Burberry umbrella (cost = $200). The photo spread itself is definitely striking. However, knowing that many Indians live on less than a dollar a day is even more striking when put in context with these exorbitant goods. The debate has raised questions from both sides of the table. Those that believe the photo shoot was distateful and that it exploits the poor by using them as props. Then there are others who believe this juxtaposition of wealthagainst poverty is a reality in India andexactly what people need to see.

The views of Vogue’s critics are best summed up by Pavan K. Varma, a former diplomat and author of ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’,

There’s nothing “fun or funny” about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen, she said in a telephone interview. “There are farmer suicides here, for God’s sake” she said, referring to thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade because of debt.

And in defense, the editor of Vogue India, Priya Tanna,responds,

“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.

Oh well now that I know that Voguedoesn’t care to worry itself withsaving the world (it’s very unfashionable you know), I can sleep better. So is this a much a do about nothing or are people rightfully enraged? Many luxury companies don’t take the time to think about impoverished populations living out of sight. In this photo shoot, for example, Vogue doesn’t even bother to identify the subjects – the brands are named in the captionsand simply stateif they are worn by a “lady” or a “man.”


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14 Responses to “Enlightened by Vogue India”

  1. Anandica says:

    Great Post!

    I was excited when I learnt that Vogue was going to bring India to the forefront of the fashion world, by having an Indian Vogue edition. But after reading the magazine, I feel they're trying to be too "western", and losing sight of what India's fashion world really has to offer the world. In the American Vogue magazine a couple of months ago, a similar spread was done in Africa, and many letters of disgust were send to the Editor. With more and more American designers, such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Paul Smith, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and YSL opening in India, it will create even more division of economies between the lower and upper classes.

    I wasn't happy when I learnt that Wal-Mart was going to be opening in India, because the consequence will be much worse on the small businesses over there than even the U.S.

    Indian fashion designers need to aggressively begin marketing their work to the West, instead of allowing the Western designers to travel to India and use the low-cost resources to make enormous amounts of money. There is a great deal of opportunity for India to push their talents across the world, and take credit for the creativity they have to offer.

  2. "fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful"

    Hmmm…

    So if fashion isn't a rich man's privilege, how will poor people afford it? Will it be government subsidized? Like other useless and harmful products in other countries (e.g. meat and oil subsidies in this country).

    Fashion has it's place like any aesthetic art, but when it comes to practicalities and necessities of life, it is worthless.

    The same shirt manufactured in China can cost from $5 – $500 depending on the logo or tag stitched on it. It's like real estate, you don't pay for a more energy efficient or long lasting house, you pay for location. These industries are practically criminal if you ask me.

    The photos themselves don't seem distasteful to me, the idea of selling such products for such prices is far more distasteful to me. I hope those people at least kept the clothing articles and got paid for the photos, but I have a suspicion that neither may have been done.

  3. Anandica says:

    Great Post!
    I was excited when I learnt that Vogue was going to bring India to the forefront of the fashion world, by having an Indian Vogue edition. But after reading the magazine, I feel they’re trying to be too “western”, and losing sight of what India’s fashion world really has to offer the world. In the American Vogue magazine a couple of months ago, a similar spread was done in Africa, and many letters of disgust were send to the Editor. With more and more American designers, such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Paul Smith, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and YSL opening in India, it will create even more division of economies between the lower and upper classes.
    I wasn’t happy when I learnt that Wal-Mart was going to be opening in India, because the consequence will be much worse on the small businesses over there than even the U.S.
    Indian fashion designers need to aggressively begin marketing their work to the West, instead of allowing the Western designers to travel to India and use the low-cost resources to make enormous amounts of money. There is a great deal of opportunity for India to push their talents across the world, and take credit for the creativity they have to offer.

  4. “fashion is no longer a rich mans privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful”
    Hmmm…
    So if fashion isn’t a rich man’s privilege, how will poor people afford it? Will it be government subsidized? Like other useless and harmful products in other countries (e.g. meat and oil subsidies in this country).

    Fashion has it’s place like any aesthetic art, but when it comes to practicalities and necessities of life, it is worthless.
    The same shirt manufactured in China can cost from $5 – $500 depending on the logo or tag stitched on it. It’s like real estate, you don’t pay for a more energy efficient or long lasting house, you pay for location. These industries are practically criminal if you ask me.
    The photos themselves don’t seem distasteful to me, the idea of selling such products for such prices is far more distasteful to me. I hope those people at least kept the clothing articles and got paid for the photos, but I have a suspicion that neither may have been done.

  5. Kaptaan says:

    Prabhu,

    You already provided the answer in your comment! I would suggest that 'poor' people buy the 5$ shirt that is the same as the 500$ shirt. Then they will be able to afford 'fashion' as it were.

    Also, unlike in countries such as India, at least in the US of A a poor person who gets an education can lift him or herself out of poverty by getting an education and a job. The USA is the greatest country in the world and countries like India prove that time and time again.

    American companies like Walmart going to India are a god send for the poor and low castes in India. They have American values of merit based performance measurement and pay. If they follow American standards then it will break the oppression of the lower classes in that country. Eventually, Indian companies will have to break out of their casteist and class based tendancies. The improvement in standards of operation of the Indian economy and companies would only help the poor and low classes get a fair shot over time at leaving poverty and discrimination behind.

    regards,

    Kaptaan

  6. Kaptaan says:

    Prabhu,

    You already provided the answer in your comment! I would suggest that ‘poor’ people buy the 5$ shirt that is the same as the 500$ shirt. Then they will be able to afford ‘fashion’ as it were.

    Also, unlike in countries such as India, at least in the US of A a poor person who gets an education can lift him or herself out of poverty by getting an education and a job. The USA is the greatest country in the world and countries like India prove that time and time again.

    American companies like Walmart going to India are a god send for the poor and low castes in India. They have American values of merit based performance measurement and pay. If they follow American standards then it will break the oppression of the lower classes in that country. Eventually, Indian companies will have to break out of their casteist and class based tendancies. The improvement in standards of operation of the Indian economy and companies would only help the poor and low classes get a fair shot over time at leaving poverty and discrimination behind.

    regards,
    Kaptaan

  7. Jane says:

    Kaptaan:

    How can you believe that America is that socially mobile. Its actually one of the least socially mobile societies in the West. And as for Walmart being a fair employer, they crush any attempts to form unions and pay a pretty dismal wage themselves. Its really arrogant to think that American companies setting up in India will solve any their poverty problems.

    As for the photo shoot, it looks as though the people in it enjoyed taking part, but that really isn't the point. I do think that a bit more sensitivity and social responsibility of big fashion brands and magazines could do a lot to help relieve poverty by demanding decent conditions and pay in the factories that produce these goods. It does make me think that to dress up the very people that get paid a pittance to make these item in them is like the joke is on them. Shame Vogue couldn't have followed it up with an article about ethical fashion.

  8. Jane says:

    Kaptaan:
    How can you believe that America is that socially mobile. Its actually one of the least socially mobile societies in the West. And as for Walmart being a fair employer, they crush any attempts to form unions and pay a pretty dismal wage themselves. Its really arrogant to think that American companies setting up in India will solve any their poverty problems.

    As for the photo shoot, it looks as though the people in it enjoyed taking part, but that really isn’t the point. I do think that a bit more sensitivity and social responsibility of big fashion brands and magazines could do a lot to help relieve poverty by demanding decent conditions and pay in the factories that produce these goods. It does make me think that to dress up the very people that get paid a pittance to make these item in them is like the joke is on them. Shame Vogue couldn’t have followed it up with an article about ethical fashion.

  9. Sundari says:

    In fashion, it is often the message behind a photo which is more important that who the model is or what s/he's modeling. That's why the concept behind the photos is being considered distasteful and somewhat condescending. Do we think the men, women, and children being photographed know they are being used as props? Perhaps the joy we seem to see on their faces comes simply from being photographed and not knowing that VI will be making loads of money off of them. I agree that a supplemental article discussing some of the issues that are being exploited in the photo shoot would have been nice. But that can only be expected from a magazine that cares about such things… and VI clearly does not.

  10. Sundari says:

    In fashion, it is often the message behind a photo which is more important that who the model is or what s/he’s modeling. That’s why the concept behind the photos is being considered distasteful and somewhat condescending. Do we think the men, women, and children being photographed know they are being used as props? Perhaps the joy we seem to see on their faces comes simply from being photographed and not knowing that VI will be making loads of money off of them. I agree that a supplemental article discussing some of the issues that are being exploited in the photo shoot would have been nice. But that can only be expected from a magazine that cares about such things… and VI clearly does not.

  11. whatsinaname says:

    “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,”

    UH? is that why they gave a poor chappy a burberry umberella?

    'Oh well now that I know that Vogue doesn’t care to worry itself with saving the world (it’s very unfashionable you know), I can sleep better.'

    haha… well phrased

    'So is this a much a do about nothing or are people rightfully enraged?'

    People are right to be enraged

  12. whatsinaname says:

    fashion is no longer a rich mans privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,

    UH? is that why they gave a poor chappy a burberry umberella?

    ‘Oh well now that I know that Vogue doesnt care to worry itself with saving the world (its very unfashionable you know), I can sleep better.’

    haha… well phrased

    ‘So is this a much a do about nothing or are people rightfully enraged?’

    People are right to be enraged

  13. push says:

    Hmm. Why is such a scene being made out of this?
    The people shown in the pictures are not naked and starving. Why is the shoot perceived in such a negative manner? I don't think the people in the shoot even CARE to get a fancy bag or shoe. They have their own sense of style. They'd prefer clothing they like and are used to.
    I really liked the shoot when I saw it. It was awesome. It was almost like giving fashion to people who don't get awed by it, or care for it. It almost made me feel stupid for lusting after stupid expensive things.
    They know MUCH better to than to be bothered about keeping a bag or a shoe.

  14. push says:

    Hmm. Why is such a scene being made out of this?
    The people shown in the pictures are not naked and starving. Why is the shoot perceived in such a negative manner? I don't think the people in the shoot even CARE to get a fancy bag or shoe. They have their own sense of style. They'd prefer clothing they like and are used to.
    I really liked the shoot when I saw it. It was awesome. It was almost like giving fashion to people who don't get awed by it, or care for it. It almost made me feel stupid for lusting after stupid expensive things.
    They know MUCH better to than to be bothered about keeping a bag or a shoe.