2 Sep 2008

Poverty vs. High Fashion: how naive fashion can be

Vogue India editor Priya Tanna's message to critics of the August shoot: "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," Tanna said. "We weren't trying to make a political statement or save the world," she said. International Herald Tribune 2008/09/01

Of course, the chief editor, the fashion editor, the photographer, the models and even the costumers and make-up artists don't have the intention to make any "political" statement in those pictures. What they think and want is only to give an image that can highlight the beauty of those fashion products, especially when they are all made in the style of so-called "ethnic". However, what is very wrong in these pictures is their very bizarre and even sick sense of beauty. Do they really think the contrast between poverty and high fashion in those pictures could help gain more potential costumers? In fact, instead of promoting fashion products, the contrast in these pictures seems ironically to mock the fashion industry. The laughter the woman made in the picture seems to laugh at those who purchase these somehow useless luxurious products.

It is extremely naive to say that high fashion can be enjoyed by anyone when "the power of fashion" is clearly pointed out. It is just illogical. If I had the money and were the person who has the privilege for such life-style, I wouldn't want other people to copy my life-style and dress as I do. Such distinction must be retained, and it has always been retained in the society since our society, whether highly developed or not, can never escape the condition of being classified. In this classified society, those who obtain the power and are thus the privileged class always try their best to make themselves different, and in order to do so, they must create something that can only be owned by themselves. This ownership, due to the scarcity of products being owned, defines the value and the status of the owner in the hierarchy. In fashion, a special industry that serves this specific class, we always see big brand names producing products highly "valuable" in quality but very "few" in quantity. Only by doing so could these brands, involving in this competition for being recognized as high fashion, survive and carry on their service. Therefore, we see the power of fashion is manipulated by those who want it and those who can have it. It is not available for every agent in the society. When the middle class only have limited access to high fashion, let alone the others. So, it is just naive to say that "fashion is no longer a rich man's privilege".

The second problem with these pictures are on the use of poverty. The editors in Vogue India must be very insensitive towards the food shortage and poverty problem happening in the world now. How could the editor tell the public to "lighten up" when the issue of poverty is manipulated in this way? Indeed, those models must have got paid by posing for the picture, but what concerns us is being a published media their use of poverty to highlight the wealthy life-style is irresponsible and leads the public to ignore the real problem. Moreover, this use of poverty also causes a highly sensitive issue, that is, treating the poor as a tool just to satisfy the weird and distasteful taste of the rich. We need people to care about the global problem, but the message in these pictures only say "we are rich because we are and therefore we can exploit whoever and whatever we can". As the editor said, no "political statement" is intended in these pictures, but she should know that messages are naturally transmitted and reinterpreted when pictures are made public. Even though you don't intend to give any ideas in the picture, since it is a public one, it is open to all who wish and have reinterpreted the message in it. Of course, we don't need to "take it seriously" because it is just a fashion magazine. We are not asking these fashion magazines to be educational, since it will be hard for them, but at least they can be more sensitive towards different real-life problems.

"You have to remember with fashion, you can't take it that seriously", this statement seems very wrong. Does it mean that fashion is not important and should be treated as something stupid and useless? Does it mean that those who love fashion and are involved in fashion are not serious people? Does this mean that this business is "not serious" at all? Does it mean that Vogue, being the most influential fashion magazine in the world, should be looked at in that sense? It is just amazing to hear such words form the editor of that publishing house. Instead of giving excuses and defending their obviously wrong approach, Vogue India, and even Vogue headquarters, should just simply apologize for their wrong approach. The statement just makes the whole incident ugly and may hurt to a certain extent the image of Vogue.

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