I bought the 100th anniversary edition of the Vogue Paris to take a trip down memory lane. It was. (Remember the days when we would simply move on with our lives after seeing an offensive/outrageous advert? Instead of demanding everybody involved to be fired, including the DJ responsible for the music during the photo shoot? I’m thinking the notorious Benetton ads and such, or the Tom Ford for Gucci- one with pubic hair trimmed into a G?)
Vogue Paris is no longer Vogue Paris but Vogue France, because of some reason the good people at Condé Nast came up with during a recent reshuffle of people (maybe so as not to offend, I don’t know, the city of Villejuif, for letting readers somehow assume it’s not a global fashion capital like Paris, or maybe Fontenay-sous-Bois).
This recent move included the firing of Emanuelle Alt, the Editor in Chief of the then Vogue Paris. Now Vogue France, like any other country-specific Vogue edition (UK, Italy, the recently launched Scandinavian edition, for example) must seek final editorial approval from the NYC Corner Office, currently inhabited by Anna Wintour. This move, the explanation goes, will make the Vogue brand more inclusive and diverse.
I have written about this earlier because I take many things far too personally, but I take any meddling with art, literature and fashion particularly personally. I honestly don’t know how to square this vicious circle of cancel culture hitting art, and I’m consequently extremely happy I’m not in a position where I would have to take any decisions on this.
Now, fashion and Vogue. Nobody buys a Vogue as a shopping reference catalogue or a guide on how to live a politically correct, sustainable life.
It’s a fantastical take on all things outlandish one can wrap a human body in, supported by advertising money from luxury industry.
It was never intended as an instruction manual to actual life, even though some of its wartime editions did offer rather useful tips for how to make do when there was nothing to make do with.
It’s supposed to help us escape from the reality and make us dream. This, I suppose, is the purpose of any art (insofar as art ever needs a purpose).
The Vogue Paris Anniversary edition is packed full of iconic fashion photographs from the past decades, and looking at them feels almost criminal in today’s world.
Nudity, male gaze, cigarettes, guns, references to violent sex (even rape) and violence in general, cultural appropriation galore, no body-positivity in sight because it wasn’t invented back then, you name it, it’s there, and it feels massively politically incorrect on the first look, but so fucking delicious on the second. Everything is so casually wrong, with the almost ironic small print “Chaussures Louis Vuitton et Ann Demeulemeester” at the bottom of the page.
Outrage is a funny concept these days. Art is supposed to shake up conventions and offer an alternative view (if any), so it’s often, per very definition, outrageous. Except, these days it’s the artist who’s considered outrageous, whether dead or alive. We care more about what the artist has said or thought (whether in relation to their art or not, often specifically when whatever the artist has said, or indeed thought, has nothing to do with their art) than we actually care about the artwork.
What outrages us these days is not what’s presented to us to be outraged about (art, populist politicians, a mob storming the Capitol, things like this). What really gets us going is when we realise that there are still people prospering on this planet who do not share our exact world view. And they are wrong, and must not continue going about their lives without paying the price for being wrong. There’s no scale nor sentiment for what level of outrage is reasonable, proportionate or justified.
“Kate Middleton’s handbag designer has a dog walker whose neighbour is not vegan! Gather the mob and in 15 minutes flat destroy the entire family-run business because they do not respect whatever it is that must be respected on that day. It’s important, because of Kate’s platform.”
I’m digressing, slightly. While fashion is an art form, fashion industry obviously is a business. I believe that the success of the climate change fight will eventually depend on the industry and business sector playing ball. They are much more nimble when facing hurdles than the policy sector will ever be.
Consequently, a legislative proposal to ban fur from clothing, still today, would not fly and people on both sides of the table know it.
What does fly, however, is the businesses taking these decisions themselves based on smelling the sentiment, in this case money. It’s not that middle-aged French gazillionaires suddenly found their inner angsty vegans. No, they found a lot more money to be made by reforming the way they do fashion business.
Reforming a business that’s also art can be tricky, but as fashion evolves, so does fashion as art – always has. I’m all for tearing down old, useless practises in order to make room for new.
What I need less is to be coddled from controversial world views. This is where Vogue comes in again – its very purpose is to present fashion as an art form to us – as art.
(On the other hand: is there ever a way to separate fashion as business and fashion as art – especially when presented in one single publication?)
Ironically, Condé Nast also is a business that has to apply basic capitalist logic to all its operations. Therefore it’s no surprise that its management, too, is drunk on woke and wants to ride whatever still remains of its zeitgeisty wave.
Vogue is a global brand that’s always been the gold standard for anything avant-garde in fashion, so I’m not sure replacing editors in chief with PR-people and centralising Vogue’s artistic vision in the U.S. is the best solution.
It’s of course possible that the brand has become too commercial to be left with visionaries to run. This is what the French seem to think, at least, as they consider France to be one of the last bastions to fight the woke lunacy that mainly originates from the Anglo-American media. And, to add the obvious, they were furious at the magazine’s name-change that was dictated from the headquarters. What’s more fashion than Paris, seriously? Not France.
Fashion photography most likely has evolved along the business side of fashion: which brand still would want to be associated with a hunting rifle, a Marlboro Red and a naked, emaciated model in the same photograph?
I’m not saying the main purpose of Vogue is to depict deliberate obscenities in order to offend as many people as possible.
But art. Where do we draw the line? Should/could we, even?