"Change of fashion is the tax levied by the industry of the poor on the vanity of the rich."-Sebastien-Roch Nicolas De Chamfort
Time magazine's Pop Chart probably put it best: "Vogue India photo shoot puts pricey accessories on impoverished people. American Vogue still putting pricey accessories on malnourished people."
Snarky. And comments like that are just the tip of the iceberg surrounding the latest fashion debate.
The Vogue India editorial spread in the recent issue stirred up quite the controversy last week. The photo spread featured luxury items like a Burberry umbrella, a Fendi bib and a Hermes Birkin bag. Items that are not terribly shocking to see in a Vogue shoot. However, what has the media buzzing was the combination of such high end products with impoverished unnamed citizens. A woman carrying a young poverty stricken child wearing a $200 Fendi bib. A poor family piled onto a moped driven by the tired mother sporting a Birkin bag. A toothless, barefoot man (referred to as just "man" in the magazine) holding a Burberry umbrella. A bold statement combining some of the world's poorest people with some of the most expensive fashion items. But did it takes thing too far? Depends on who you ask.
Critics call it exploitation of the poor and simply poor marketing. Many Indians survive well below the poverty line at less than $1.25 a day, causing newspaper columnists like Kanika Gahlaut to refer to the layout as "not just tacky but downright distasteful." She adds that using a rural mud hut as a backdrop for Burberry and Alexander McQueen accessories was not "fun or funny" when hundreds of Indian farmers commit suicide every year as a result of failed crops and debts. Other critics like Pavan K. Varma, author of The Great Indian Middle Class says with the emerging wealthy in the subcontinent, those with money who are readers of the Vogue India, are becoming blind to poverty. He says, "To use people like this shows a complete callousness to genuine suffering. These people have been used as commodities to sell fashion."
Vogue India's response to the critics has been to "lighten up". Editor Priya Tanna replied with her controversial statement, "You have to remember with fashion, you can't take it that seriously. We weren't trying to make a political statement or save the world." She also referred to the issue as a way to "showcase beautiful objects of fashion in an interesting and engaging context" and that "fashion is no longer a rich man's privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful." The magazine also stated that "models' were paid a significant amount. We doubt it was enough to afford the Burberry umbrella.
And others like fashion designer David Abraham have come to the glossy mag's defense stating that "wealth next to poverty is just a reality in India." And editorials in defense of Vogue have pointed out that the photos simply point out the poverty issues that exist as India becomes a huge market for high fashion.
What do you think? Do you agree with Vogue India's editor that its just fashion and critics need to lighten up? Or did the magazine and editor take things too far with exploiting the poor?
image source: Vogue India