Vogue India‘s August issue consisted of a 16-page spread of high-end, status symbol designer pieces modeled not by the wealthiest fraction of India’s population who could actually afford such luxuries, but by average Indian citizens. These citizens, though they comprise about half of India’s population, live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. That said, it is unsurprising that Vogue India and its August spread has split India down the middle, the opposing teams being Displeasure versus “What’s the big deal?”
On the one hand there’s Kanika Gahlaut, a columnist for the newspaper Mail Today based in New Delhi. She represents the displeased. According to her, the editorial spread was “not just tacky, but downright distasteful” and “an example of vulgarity.” Furthermore, “there is nothing ‘fun or funny’ about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen. There are farmer suicides here,'” she said in a phone interview, referencing the thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves over the course of the last decade as a result of their debt.
On the other hand, there’s Priya Tanna, Vogue India‘s Editor-in-Chief, who had two words for all Vogue spread critics: “Lighten up.” Vogue‘s mantra is about realizing the “power of fashion” and, these days, “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful… You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously.”
Now… My thoughts:
First and foremost, I did not find the Vogue spread distasteful, and I do not think that those offended by the spread need to “lighten up.” So, I guess you can count me out of both Kanika and Priya’s camp. In fact, my immediate reaction to the spread was, “So? What else is new?”
Vogue India has merely started a phenomenon, if it hasn’t started already, that has long been present here in the United States, particularly in the Black and Hispanic communities It’s a phenomenon characterized by odd pairings: Fusion hair weaves and chronic student loan debt; white, creaseless Air Force Ones in every color and unpaid child support; a 2009 (insert car of your choice) and an out-of-service cell phone; the latest game system and involuntary unemployment.
I am an African American woman well aware of my ancestral history, and I understand that due to racism, historically most harmfully manifested in American legislation, African Americans (and other minority groups) have had to play catch up behind their Caucasian counterparts for centuries now in an effort to obtain a substantial position within the world in which they live. That said, how much longer will we, as a collective, remain hanging from the bottom rung of the American socioeconomic ladder while continuously pointing fingers at the system?
It is the media’s duty to entice it’s target audiences to buy goods and/or services, but we can’t always afford to be tranced by the “Keep up with the Joneses” tag lines, nor should saying “I spent a hundred bucks on this, just to be like – you ain’t up on this” be cute any longer, yet based on my experiences, those lyrics, courtesy of Mr. Kanye West, still reflect a powerful mentality in ethnic communities.
If fashion is a cause more worthy of our attention and energies than financial well-being, planfulness, and socioeconomic progress, then here’s to the beginning of our demise as a people. Yes, fashion is a powerful entity, and so is style, but neither are defined by designer brands which are inconsistently trendy. And, calling such brands ‘status symbols’ has resulted in many living paycheck to paycheck to create and maintain an addicting illusion of wealth and status most harmful to themselves. Thus, the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor. All in the name of short-term gratification. All in the name of fashion?
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