The VP-To-Be And Vogue

US Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris appears on the February cover of the most important fashion magazine on earth, and Netizens are not exactly thrilled. Nor we

There has never been a female VP in the history of American politics, let alone on the cover of American Vogue. Kamala Harris on its February issue is not, however, the first woman of the United State’s high-office political arena to appear on the cover, but hers seems to come with considerable speed. Michelle Obama appeared on the March cover of Vogue (she would appear twice more) four months after her husband won the US presidential election in 2008, and two month after his inauguration. The first FLOTUS to appear on Vogue was Hillary Clinton. Hers was five years in the making, finally set for the December 1998 issue, after the late Oscar De la Renta reportedly managed to persuade Anna Wintour to consider Ms Clinton cover-worthy. Kamala Harris made it to the Vogue cover, even before Joe Biden is inaugurated. In their haste to make Ms Harris a cover girl, did Vogue turn out a rushed job?

It appears so. Yesterday, Vogue shared two cover photos on Instagram: one (top left) supposedly for the print issue and the other (top right) for the digital edition. To us, we were looking straight at exemplars of mediocrity. The version for print appeared so haphazardly composed and so unbecoming of the magazine that many Netizens thought it to be fake. In the second, someone even thought they saw a coffin behind Ms Harris (it looks to us like a massage bed with fancy sheets). A playwright/lawyer/New York Times contributor, Wajahat Ali, wrote on Twitter, “What a mess. Anna Wintour must really not have Black friends and colleagues.” Does Ms Harris look white in the photos? Apparently so. One Twitter user posted, “Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still f****d up her lighting. WTF is this washed out mess of a cover?”

That there is the charge online of “whitewashing” of the photos of Ms Harris is perhaps a little curious since the photographer Tyler Mitchell is black, so is the sittings editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson. Can women of colour ever be photographed to the satisfaction of the many who not only want racial representation on magazine covers, they want exact skin colour duplication too, regardless of the real vagaries present in a fashion shoot, whether indoors or out? We are living in difficult and confusing times. Fashion magazines no longer need to offer a fashion statement of any distinction—or importance—as long as they capture the social calls of the moment. No wonder Ms Wintour is getting all the blame. She’s hardly the beacon or champion of societal change.

Ms Harris’s supporters feel there is nothing terrible about the drapes as they are in the colours of the VP-Elect’s sorority. The chromatic pairing isn’t the issue. It’s how the drapes are just hung up—sans effort

Kamala Harris is an attractive woman. She won’t be a difficult subject to photograph. Yet, there is something amiss in these two covers. The lustreless and uninspired set by Julia Wagner (was she hired because she did a swell job for the backdrop that was used at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Vanity Fair cover shoot of last December?), to start with. Ms Harris’s supporters feel there is nothing terrible about the drapes as they are in the colours of the VP-Elect’s sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (Howard University, Washington, D.C.). The chromatic pairing isn’t the issue. It’s how the drapes are just hung up—sans effort, with the pink fabric allowed to pool at the subject’s feet. Sure, we weren’t expecting Tony Duquette, but neither were we hoping that the guys hired to give the studio a fresh coat of paint were the ones to do the draping, as if covering furniture and the floor with protective sheets before the paint rollers go to work.

According to reports, Ms Harris styled herself for both photos, meaning she chose her own clothes, likely from her personal wardrobe. As a pantsuit-lover, like Hillary Clinton, she surprised no one with what she picked. They may look fine—even excellent—for the temporary VP office, but for the cover of a fashion magazine, they lack the quality that affirms what one-time Vogue editor Diana Vreeland said, “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.” And heaven knowns, in the (ending) era of Trump, we have been acquainted with too much of the frighteningly banal. Curious, too, is how the black jacket (by Donald Deal, known for his gowns and “impeccable tailoring”, raved the CFDA) looked like it was ironed without a press cloth: there seem to be shiny iron marks. Is it not the job of the Vogue staffers—sitting editor Ms Karefa-Johnson, for example—to be sure that the clothes appear sleeker or more impeccable than they actually are?

Kamala Harris is, after all, no longer on the campaign trail. She could appear to embrace something special for this momentous occasion, even for a moment. No one is asking Vogue to imagine what the magazine hoped she’d look like in the inauguration ball. Nor is anyone likely to expect the equivalent of the fuchsia Jason Wu shift Michelle Obama wore for her debut Vogue cover, or the black velvet Oscar de la Renta gown Hillary Clinton wore on hers. Ultimately, this a cover of a fashion magazine, not a dry run for a TikTok video.

Cover photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue/Instagram

Oh, Harry

So a man can’t appear on the cover of Vogue without wearing a dress?

By Ray Zhang

American Vogue is taking diversity seriously. Two covers back to back with black stars—Lizzo in October and Naomi Campbell in November—and then, on the December issue’s, the first-ever solo male in their 127-year history: Harry Styles. A guy as part of Vogue’s cover has been done before. There was, as I recall, LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen in 2008, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in 2014, Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid in 2017, and Justin Beiber and Hailey Baldwin in 2019. But Mr Styles up there all by himself—that’s clearly not done before. Looks like tumultuous 2020 has really got Vogue thinking and doing.

Harry Styles has style (or, as his second name suggests, styles), we’re constantly reminded by the media, and non-binary at that. It seems to me that Vogue is also telling us that Mr Styles has what it takes to appear unaccompanied on its cover: the willingness to don a dress. The others before him sure did not. Mr James was in a basketball tank top, Mr West in a blazer, Mr Malik was all suited up, Mr Beiber wore only his tattoos. Fashion was the responsibility of the women. Even Mr Malik, still the most dressed-up among them, was somewhat obscured by his then girlfriend (now mother of his child), although the cover blurb was certain to tell us that they “shop each other’s closets”. And if you were still in doubt, the editorial feature informed you that the couple was “part of a new generation who don’t see fashion as gendered.”

In the old days of fashion magazines, covers gave women a reason to buy an outfit that was deemed fashionable, or a look that might inspire, for example, those who sew their own clothes. I am not sure if any woman might rush out to buy the Gucci dress that the former member of One Direction wears on this Vogue cover, as they were once inclined to in, say, 1988, or 10 years later (more recently?), when this now forgotten name, Carrie Bradshaw, said, “…sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” The traditional (okay, that’s not the new normal) cover hopes that women might actually cop a cover outfit after seeing it. I’d be fed, somewhat, to know if it’d be the same with this one.

I feel Vogue didn’t quite go all the way with Harry Styles. Both Lizzo and Naomi Campbell were shot full-length: We saw the whole dress. The photograph of Mr Styles, who reportedly identify as cisgender, was, conversely, cropped, and we witness only the upper body in vague half-drag. At a glance, we might not have guessed that the singer/actor wears a dress. I mean, it could have been a tunic, such as a thawb, but with a smocked upper body and lace-trimmed neckline. Would Alain de Botton-quoting Mr Styles—Beng as he appears to me—look just as fetching as the other two cover girls if he were captured with the dress in full length, which, as one photograph in the editorial feature did show, was a frilly, tiered tulle gown Mae West might have worn in her day?

The sight of a man in a dress, long or short, is not quite that unusual in the age of repeated Billy Porter flaunts. Never mind the muscularity of MAGA maleness. As one fashion observant friend said to me just this morning, “(the cover) is quite unremarkable. Men in women’s clothing for fashion shoots, gender-bending etc, etc—quite done to death. W’s editorials have been doing it for a few years. UK magazines, too.” In fact, frock wearing among pop stars—not just for magazine features—go as far back as David Bowie who, in the ’70s, wore what he called the “man-dress” (Michael Fish was a favourite designer). Yet, Vogue chose to go easy on the eyes of their readers, which is immensely ironic if you consider how religious in their zeal Americans have been in pushing for obvious inclusiveness.

If appearing on the cover of Vogue is a career high for many models, actresses, and reality TV stars, it could be one, too, for Mr Styles. Could he still be a cover boy sans dress? This has not been a great year for many of us. The singer, too, had it hard: the postponed world tour, the halted filming of the Olivia Wilde-directed film, Don’t Worry Darling, and the more mundane lockdown. While he admitted in the Vogue article to wearing mostly sweatpants when confined at home, he has not, as with so many less well-placed individuals also WFH, cast fashion aside. He has, in fact, embraced it in all its myriad forms. I’m all for guys to blur the lines of fashion—heck, even erase them—but Mr Styles, a Gucci model and their willing rep, doing so is really instinctive than disruptive. On the cover of Vogue, Harry Styles in a dress is not ground-breaking. If it were Jason Statham, that would be.

Photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue

Read: The Chiffon Trenches

There was the Gospel, now the Gossips. André Leon Talley’s second memoir is the fashion industry’s most anticipated read—bursting with tit-bits of fashion tattle alongside unrequited loves that, at the end, stir little pity for the man himself

 

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Warning: contains language and description that might be offensive to some

With a dust jacket photo of a face not exactly beaming with kindness, André Leon Talley’s second autobiography The Chiffon Trenches recounts the ways of an unkind fashion world to which he once belonged. By the time we received our copy (via Amazon, that came with a longer-than-usual delivery time of more than a month), we have, frankly, heard to death that Anna Wintour had left him with “scars” because “she is not capable of kindness”. If you hope for dirt to be dished on this woman—aka Nuclear (a force of energy not associated with the quality of being friendly and considerate) Wintour—there are some, but not nearly as much that her haters can then delightfully hope that her days at Vogue are numbered.

The Chiffon Trenches does not clearly explain why Mr Talley, once a fashion-week habitué and a front-row fixture, is so in need of affection—or sympathy—from Vogue, specifically the Devil Who Wears Prada, Anna Wintour. He didn’t require it in the beginning, not even at the time he learnt of his beloved grandmother’s death in 1989 (he was installed at the magazine only seven months earlier); he chose to be alone with his grief. As he wrote in his first autobiography A.L.T., “I told no one at Vogue. I just picked up my things and walked out the door…” When he learned of the death of his “spiritual mother” Diana Vreeland (having just returned home from “my first salon manicure at a Korean shop” (an odd, even flippant, detail to note while recalling the death of someone dear), there too was no one from Vogue to console him. Why (or how) it became for him a life of such emotional privation is still a riddle.

André Leon Talley is an uncommonly large man of fashion. In recent photos and him on stage, he is usually seated, which magnifies his largeness. Due to his size, he wears mostly muu-muu-like caftans that the media likes to describe as “trademark”, but it’s emblematic likely because of the little at retail that could fit his bulk. Mr Talley admits that he uses “the caftans to shadow the rise and fall of my adipose crisis.” Whether posing for press photos or delivering an address to Oxford students, or gracing a talk show, or hosting a segment (now no more) at the Met Gala, Mr Talley is nearly always on a chair or stool, and looks like a bell Quasimodo might have rung. Sometimes he forms a silhouette of a Renaissance cupola. This must not be taken as shaming; this is what has been seen. Which truly belies the fact that he was not, in the beginning, of a built that needed to be covered in such a startling yardage of cloth. Photographs of his early years, in fact, showed a trim, almost gawky man who stood out due to his impressive height of 1.98m—as tall as the late Kobe Bryant. Mr Talley even describes himself then as a “black American string bean”.

Stringy enough for Tina Brown to remember him—as she wrote in The Vanity Fair Diaries—“in a bespoke suit as thin as a number two lead pencil” at Andy Warhol’s memorial service. In his younger days, he must have cut a striking stature, if not a handsome figure. “I was tall, thin and adored by those who met me,” Mr Talley writes. Enough to tempt, earlier in his tenure at Interview, a looks-concerned Andy Warhol to molest him? In the pre-launch publicity of the book, the press could not resist mentioning how the pop artist had often and publicly placed his hands on Mr Talley’s crotch, to which the latter would merely “just swat him away”.

But what is perhaps more shocking (if anything still shocks) is Mr Warhol wanting to take a photo of his employee’s genitals. Mr Talley writes that his artist-boss said, “You could become famous, make your cock famous. All you have to do is let me take a Polaroid of you peeing on the canvas.” He politely rejected the request. But a guy pissing would oddly occur again in his life story. This time, with Loulou de la Falaise in a kinky, “but happening place in the Meatpacking District” of New York. As he describes it, “suddenly, a man stood on top of the bar and started urinating on revelers below him.” Additionally, he lets on—the world of fashion and pop music is so curious about and enamoured of black genitalia. “There is always the thought that as a black man, it can only be my genitals that people respond to.” Even Madonna, at their first meeting asked, after introducing herself, “do you want a blow job?”

The book is peppered with such gossipy, not usually salacious tales, but they are often akin to snippets

 

While he was not amenable to having his member touched or photographed, or fellated, Mr Talley was not opposed to looking at someone else’s. As he recounts one bedtime investigation, relish somewhat intact, “…I, curious about the legendary size of his penis, pulled back the white sheet and exposed the family jewels…” Mr Talley often writes about his “Southern manners”. Were they not applicable in a shared bed? The victim of this big reveal was Victor Hugo, the Venezuelan artist who was Andy Warhol’s assistant and model at the Factory, and Halston’s window display artist and purported lover. This took place one night in Calvin Klein’s house on Fire Island. Curiosity assuaged, Mr Talley went back to sleep, “Victor on one end, and me on the other”. Penises have their rightful place in his collective memory. Further down, he spied with no hesitation “long-hanging fruits” at the pool of Karl Lagerfeld’s villa in Biarritz.

Friends, friends, friends

The book is peppered with such gossipy, not usually salacious tales, but they are often akin to snippets. Even his relationship with Betty Catroux, “one of the permanent icons in the pantheon of Saint Laurent androgynous style”, is recounted casually, and is barely supported by explanations to tell why he considers her a friend. He also writes of “a great friendship with Miuccia Prada”, but does not really say why. It is the same with Bianca Jagger, Paloma Picasso, Loulou de la Falaise, São Schlumberger (Anna Wintour was not the only person he went to the couture shows with), Amanda Harlech, Lee Radziwill, Anne Bass, Annette de la Renta, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis; so much so that, after a while, it seems like just exuberant name-dropping.

Mr Talley, who has an MA in French Studies, writes of long “effortless” conversations with Mr Lagerfeld, including two to three-hour-long phone calls at night, but, curiously, not once did he say if both of them spoke in English or French, or a mix of both. They wrote letters to each other too, copiously. But, again, it is not known if the frequent correspondences were penned in which of the two languages both could speak and read and write (Mr Lagerfeld was fluent in French, German, English, and Italian). With Mr Saint Laurent, however, he did say that they conversed in French.

He likes to repeatedly give the impression that he was part of and moving between the inner sanctums of French couturiers—that only he and Paloma Picasso were able to navigate freely between the two reigning camps at the time he was in Paris, working for WWD: Karl Lagerfeld’s and Yves Saint Laurent’s. Both men were known to be rivals in business, stature, and the love of one man, Jacques de Bascher. For the purpose of maintaining peace, Ms Picasso had to have the two designers create her wedding dress—one did the day, the other did the night. “That level of diplomacy,” Mr Talley notes, “is exactly what it took to straddle the ice-cold pillars of fashion”. In that respect, it would appear that he did enjoy somewhat exalted status on hallowed grounds.

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André Leon Talley likes being praised and complimented. In the book, the contents are sandwiched between what could be good-luck tokens. Just after the front cover, as well as before the back cover, are strategically placed, almost trompe-l’œil, digital scans of written praises from “the great Delphic oracle” Diana Vreeland and Ralph Lauren respectively. He praises himself too: “I was at the apex of my good-looking young self”, “I had style and attitude. I could shine with the best of them in sartorial splendor and élan”, “My dapper and dandy appearance was paramount…”. Or how instrumental he was in getting John Galliano’s career launched (credit, as most know, went to Anna Wintour) when he helped organised (and even aided in securing the funds for) the autumn/winter 1994 show, held at the uninhabited hôtel particulier home of São Schlumberger. Not a chapter progresses without some self-acknowledgment or praise from others of how good he was. This might have worked in a biography, but for a memoir, it sounds like a long reference letter to himself.

A recurrent phrase in the book is “I was smart”. He says, for example, “People gravitated toward me because I was smart”—people includes Karl Lagerfeld and smart the synonym of intellectual prowess, rather than just learned inferences. This reminder to the reader that intelligence is a requite for a dazzling life in fashion seems to suggest that he needs to be validated, even if it is mostly self-validation. That he started at Interview, jumped to WWD/W, and scaled Vogue weren’t enough to parlay his keen mind and vast knowledge into a standing worthy of the “fashion elite”, some of whom did not graduate from university as he did, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour.

He writes about his time at Interview; at WWD and W; and at Vogue, and even the one-year tenure at Ebony, but he did not once mention the (also one-year) employment at Numéro Russia, where he was hired as editor-at-large to launch the magazine in Moscow in 2013. Mr Telly left exactly a year after, reportedly because of Russia’s controversial position on homosexuality, after watching a Rachel Maddow report on the issue. Mr Telly has proclaimed his love for Russia, but made no mention about his time there. Yet, he spoke rather romantically of his first trip to Africa, when he was invited by Naomi Campbell to Lagos to participate in Arise, the Nigerian Fashion Week.

Intense insecurity

Mr Talley likes bringing up his childhood/teenage years in “segregated Durham”, a town North Carolina known for tobacco (although that was already well covered in A.L.T.), and contrasting that to his achievements in New York, and later Paris, and back to New York again. The insecurity and the stressing of that insecurity seem to be behind how he operates and how he dresses himself. “I depended on sartorial boldness to camouflage my exterior vortex of pain, insecurity, and doubt,” Mr Talley writes. That he, who earlier in his career was happy to accept cast-offs from Karl Lagerfeld and Halston, was able to don bespoke suits was a big deal and a visual validation. When caftans replaced suits, he too had them custom-made and would attribute them to the designers who made them. In fact, when describing what he wore, he fervently name-checks brands—even down to his gloves and the lining of his jackets—as an Instagrammer is inclined to by using tags and hashtags.

His insecurity was not only about his relationship with fashion folks. He was insecure about his work too. He likes to remind the reader of the importance of his editorial role and the significance of his output. Sometimes the need to repeat himself (or remind?) can be irritating. “Working for Vogue as the Paris editor was a serious job,” he writes. At the end of that paragraph, he adds, “Of course, the job came with great duties.” With each promotion at WWD, he does not speak of moving up the masthead, but “a massive jump”, which seems incongruent with the perceived humility associated with his early church-going years in the American south.

Courtier among couturiers

Two French designers professed to be influential in André Leon Talley’s life were Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. Between the two, it appears he was closer to Mr Lagerfeld and dedicates considerable pages to the couturier. “His importance in my life and career is without parallel,” he stresses. By the time the designer debuted his collection for Chanel in 1983, Mr Talley had been an expatriate in Paris for four years prior, and both were fast friends. Mr Talley was then, back in the Big Apple, not working (he was just asked to leave the magazine Ebony), so Mr Lagerfeld flew him “from New York to Paris first-class” and paid for his stay at Saint James Albany, a hotel on Rue de Rivoli that overlooks the 456-year-old Tuileries Garden.

And there were gifts of money, too. He told Fashionista that when he turned 50, Mr Lagerfeld “gave” him $50,000 (this monetary detail is not mentioned in the book). Such generosity and the closeness between them, led to the rumour that they were lovers. Mr Talley flatly denied that they were, or that he had “been in and out of every designer’s bed in Paris”, as suggested by Michael Cody, one of his bosses at WWD, a charge that led to the editor resigning from the publication. If Mr Talley had been indulgent, it seems to be more sensual than sexual. He had already clarified this in A.L.T.: “I never slept with anyone to get ahead”.

In the end, he was dropped by Mr Lagerfeld like unwanted fabric on the atelier floor. Yet, he consoles himself by saying, after Mr Lagerfeld’s death, “I love him, and he loved me right back

 

His relationship with Yves Saint Laurent seemed to be conducted from a distance, while with Karl Lagerfeld, it was often right in the heart of the action. He recounts trips to Mr Lagerfeld’s various homes, but not Mr Saint Laurent’s private retreat-oasis in Marrakesh, the Jardin Majorelle. Mr Lagerfeld is no longer able to counter Mr Talley’s rather lengthy and detailed account of their time together, often spent amid considerable luxury. It appears that more paragraphs are devoted to Karl Lagerfeld than to Anna Wintour. Despite acknowledging that the Kaiser didn’t treat his close friends well, Mr Talley was totally captivated by the designer of Chanel, stressing repeatedly that he learned a lot from Mr Lagerfeld and referring to the designer and himself as “the Socrates of high fashion and his best student”. In the end, he was dropped by Mr Lagerfeld like unwanted fabric on the atelier floor. Yet, he consoles himself by saying, after Mr Lagerfeld’s death (they never made it up), “I love him, and he loved me right back.”

That could be the point of the book that readers may find hard to reconcile. Mr Talley has a weakness for “unconditional love” or what he perceives to be that, received from both designers, society ladies, and celebrities. And also those that others give to others—he says, for example, that Betty Catroux “loved Yves unconditionally”. Emotionally, Mr Talley did not seem to have suffered hardships of the heart since the attraction to two men that is mentioned in the book amounted to really nothing. So he seek emotional warmth—real or imagined—from those who seemed to be able to give it, such as Diane von Fürstenberg and Lee Radziwill, as well as from those not known to be emotionally radiating, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour.

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Mr Talley wrote that “Yves wanted to be Betty Catroux.” On that note, it is possible that Mr Talley wanted to be all those women he adored: From Jackie Kennedy of his youth to Diana Vreeland to Loulou de la Falaise to the other Bouvier sister, Lee Radziwill, even possibly Anna Wintour. Or, at least, he lived vicariously through them, which may explain why he was so eager to attend couture fittings not his own. Even when things were no longer rosy with Ms Wintour, he still attended her couture fittings to the very last. He writes, “I continue to advise her out of sincere loyalty, no matter if she remains silent.”

After all the drama, his feelings for the editor-in-chief of Vogue sounds familiar: “Not a day goes by when I do not think of Anna Wintour.” This is hard to digest after he slams her for how she treated him. And then goes on to say that he received “a moment of grace” when, to him, she “verified my important role, or one aspect of it, in her life as editor-in-chief of Vogue” in an interview for the documentary on him, The Gospel According to André. He then goes on to say she “has disappointed me in her humanity,” hoping “she will find a way to apologize before I die.” It is rather hard to bear, reading about someone punishing himself in such a manner. Reacting to his podcast with Vogue being cancelled with no prior warning, he says, “She decimated me with this silent treatment so many times. That is just the way she resolves any issue. And I soldiered on, through the elite chiffon trenches”. Soldiering on, in the face of being so clearly ignored, deserves no pity.

In his publicity rounds, Mr Talley calls his book an “epistle”. Readers here may identify much of it as redress or even complaint. In the context of modern digital communication and life, this could be fashion journalism’s equivalent of revenge porn. And like porn, it’s an enticing read. This isn’t the front row, this is a get-back. The “even-though-someone-smiled-at-me, they-could-be-plotting-against-me-behind-my-back” variety. Mr Talley told NPR that The Chiffon Trenches is “not a salacious tell-all. It’s not a dishy, gossipy, bitchy book.” Yet, you do get tell-a-lot, dishy, gossipy, and bitchy recounting.

The book is a breeze to read, and with the fashion show-like pacing, easy to finish in a day or, maximum, two. It is not created to be a literary masterpiece—at best, a piece of Vanity Fair reporting in book length and form. André Leon Talley likes to repeat himself, as we mentioned, just as he likes to be thanked and appreciated, which becomes a little tiring after a while, tiring to read. He is a thankful person, which is undeniably a virtue, but there is no need to be effusive in gratitude (or to expect the same), which can be shown, not only said. A thank you offered once is as valuable as a sorry hoped for, if uttered.

Photos: Jim Sim

So She Apologised

Before COVID-19, before Black Lives Matter, would Anna Wintour have admitted to “mistakes”?

 

A Wintour June 2020 SOTD

Few would think that saying sorry is what Anna Wintour is inclined to do. But these are not the simplest of times. In the US (and many parts of the world), the confluence of COVID-19 and the ongoing protest against racism and police brutality is visibly and audibly shaking things up. Celebrities are mindful of what they say or do when taking a stand. Even when not. Given the known corporate culture of Vogue’s owner Condé Nast (just two days ago, it had to hold a company-wide town hall to conduct “studies” on diversity and pay equity), Ms Wintour is likely aware that she’s treading on shaky ground. A week earlier, she unexpectedly issued an internal e-mail to her staff, redressing past errors of judgment and the lack of remedial action.

For her, the stars have aligned. At first it was her former lieutenant Andre Leon Talley’s explosive autobiography in which he wrote that she is “incapable of human kindness”. In the course of the subsequent publicity, designer Ralph Rucci took to Twitter to praise Mr Talley and alleged that Ms Wintour conducts her work with a “satanic plan” and that he “will write about what (he) had to contend with concerning this very, very meaningless person”. Not long before Ms Wintour’s address to her team, the editor-in-chief of sister publication Bon Appetite Adam Rapoport, who reports to Ms Wintour, resigned after a 2013 photo of him in brown face for Halloween was shared online and charges of discriminatory work environment ensued. As it’s frequently said, everything happens for a reason.

There is suspicion among the cynical that Ms Wintour’s apology on race is a “fashionable” reflex action. Some said that her present acknowledgement of inattention to race issues is as belated as her embrace of black talents

 

Before something in the past comes back to haunt her, she reacted, even admitting to “mistakes”. There is suspicion among the cynical that Ms Wintour’s apology on race is a “fashionable” reflex action. Some said that her present acknowledgement of inattention to race issues is as belated as her embrace of black talents, such as the fact that it “took her 30 years to hire a black photographer to photograph the cover of Vogue… and Beyonce made that happen”, one Twitter user wrote. It is perhaps difficult to find her suddenly colour sensitive and sympathetic to those outside the world of fashion and celebrity when for most of her tenure at Vogue, she was associated with the wealthy and powerful. As Thomas Maier wrote in All that Glitters, “In building her power base at Condé Nast, Wintour showed high skill at courting the press and New York’s high society.” That is clearly distant from the present troubles of the world. It would be hard to layer wokeness over a foundation of elitism.

Cathy Horyn, when she was still at The New York Times, described Ms Wintour as “lacking mortal patience”. And this has been how many have seen her, augmented by being referred to as the “editrix”, and a demanding one. Although she has tried to soften her image by, for example, appearing on The Late Late Show with James Corden, playing a rather inane game, she has never really shed the “Devil” tag. Ms Wintour, who now also “teaches leadership and creativity” on MasterClass, has for too long excelled at being inscrutable. The signature sunglasses, even indoors, ensures that she is. If the eyes are windows to the soul, she’s certainly not letting anyone in. Yet, she wrote reassuringly in that e-mail, “I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will—and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward.” Anna Wintour shall listen! Maybe she is capable of human kindness after all.

Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: Tiled Covers

The present is indeed the time to see how creative magazines are. Or, how alike

 

V vs PWhich cover is better? The June issues of Vogue Netherlands and Prestige Singapore

Unprecedented times call for unusual solutions. Creativity is still all-important, but even that can be squeezed due to restrictions beyond one’s control. Magazines, as we know, are hit especially hard. Photography, whether indoors or out, is almost entirely disallowed. No photo, no cover? Certainly not with the case of Vogue Italia’s April issue. Its cover was left blank, save the masthead. While there are some, such as Female and Pin, that have used illustrations to rather arresting effect, others prefer to stick by the old book. However hard it is now to organise a shoot, magazines—aided by apps and other tech, such as reigning star Zoom—continue to put a face to front their title.

The tiled cover seems to be the choice of the month. Why have one photo when you can have nine, or more? At least two magazines embraced this option. The June cover of Vogue Netherlands features nine models shot in the first week of the lockdown in Amsterdam. According to the magazine, the shoot was assembled over video calls, text messages, and phone conversations. There is a photographer involved, even a stylist. The models probably did their own hair and makeup. Each photo has a border and an almost retro quality about them, as if a ‘vintage’ in-phone photo filter is applied. The result is rather Warholian, and the tiling of the photos too—seductively pre-Instagram for an Instagram age.

Also opting for a tiled cover is Prestige Singapore. Consistent with their usual cover subjects, the current issue features face-masked society ladies, deliberately not named to suggest “resilience” as a collective whole. Although not identified, these women (and men and one family)—totalling 100 faces (including those featured inside)—are described by managing editor Yanni Tan as “friends of Prestige”. The photos, mostly selfies, were submitted by the participants. It is fascinating that all of these society figures are willing to obscure their faces and share the limited real estate that is the magazine page. These are unprecedented times indeed.

Photos: source

A Dame On The Cover

In André Leon Talley’s soon to be released autobiography, he said he is “too old, too overweight, too uncool” to continue to be worthy of Anna Wintour’s friendship and professional appointment. Will British Vogue’s latest cover make the feared supremo look worse, and American Vogue out of touch?

 

Judi Dench Vogue May 2020

British Vogue has proudly announced their oldest cover model: Dame Judi Dench. This came shortly after the publicity surrounding the publication (and now early launch) of André Leon Talley’s autobiographical grievance The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir. Mr Talley’s book has generated so much interest following the release of advanced copies (or galleys?) to the media that it would now enjoy an early release after a postponement from an original date that was to coincide with the the now-also-postponed Met Gala.

It has been reported that in Mr Talley’s book*, he has expressed the view that American Vogue’s equally lauded and lashed out at editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is no longer chummy with him because the 71-year-old, (reportedly) 130-plus-kilo former colleague and front-row companion is “too old, too overweight, too uncool”. Whether that is true of the also-71 and (reportedly) 61-kilo Ms Wintour (a dame too) in this age of body- and age-positive communication and tolerance, we may perhaps never know for sure. But British Vogue’s latest cover featuring the 85-year-old stage and screen actress and Mr Talley’s indignant charge do not do anything to diminish Ms Wintour’s persistently cold image.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, when geriatrics are in the news, not for the life they had led, but its tragic end, and the staggering many that meet this fate, Ms Dench on this cover is, for many in the media industry, a smart move. She is not known for her fashion, which makes her Vogue cover debut all the more deserving of applause, especially when she could have, 21 years earlier, been front-page material after winning the Oscar for best supporting actress, appearing approximately eight minutes as Queen Elisabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Indeed, those who grew up on Twitter and Instagram may only remember her as M in the 007 movies, but editor Edward Enninful, who chose her as the cover face, was canny not to train a telephoto lens on merely young, (still) Twilight-loving readers.

20-05-10-23-16-59-786_deco

In the interview, Judi Dench is described as “a kind of cultural tea cosy to be popped soothingly over the nation’s beleaguered identity in times of crisis”. Somehow, it is difficult—unthinkable—to imagine Anna Wintour as “cosy” and “soothing” after so successfully cultivating an image of such iciness that “cold” and “tough” are far more synonymous with her, as described in Thomas Maier’s All That Glitters. To be fair, Ms Wintour’s Vogue does cover or give coverage to women of a certain age. In 2017, she put Meryl Streep, then 67, on its cover (after a “first” in 2011 that saw Ms Streep, at 62, smiling under the recognisable masthead). In addition, there is the annual “Age Issue”, yet there hasn’t been on the cover a face with the happy wrinkles that say 85.

Ms Dench lives in her country estate in Surrey. For all we know, it just might be her Capri! While in self-isolation because of the lockdown, she acknowledges in the interview that although she is surrounded by lush greenery, she is “very aware of people who may not have a garden and are not as fortunate to be able to sit outside in the sunshine”. Empathy is presently very appealing, so is honesty. On aging, she shows less tenderness, more truth—perhaps for humour or editorial meat. She said that there is “nothing” about being 85 that she enjoys, and that age is not “an attitude; it’s horrible”.

In his Editor’s Letter, Mr Enninful wrote, “…the dame is not a fan of the term national treasure. But treasure her we do”. Which got us thinking: Who do we have that we can treasure? Here’s looking at you, Her World. We challenge you to put Jin Yinji (also known as jin jie or sister Jin, the Korean actress, who, at 74, is believed to be the oldest among Mediacorp’s still-performing sorority) on your cover. Or, perhaps not someone as silver. Say, the 67-year-old Ho Ching?

*Watch this space for a review of the book. Photos: Nick Knight/Vogue

 

Two Of A Kind: Rose By Any Other Name

A Burberry rose or a Vogue rose? As a bloom of un-gloom, both are shown to look—or smell?—as sweet, during a time when the whiff of adversity is ever present, even where the roses grow

 

Burberry rose vs Vogue rose

Valentine’s Day is over, yet the rose is still visible as a heart-tugging communicator. A single stalk, shy of a full bloom, spiky leaves not stripped, centrally placed—the rose is now fashion’s pick to symbolise optimism at a time not many in the industry are optimistic about. Or, is it perhaps spotlighting the troubles of flower growers everywhere or what Bloomberg in a headline two weeks ago called “the crash of the $8.5 billion global flower trade”?

Fashion and flowers are often intertwined, the former often inspired by the latter, especially during the spring/summer season. Unless you’re Miranda Priestly—“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking”. Announcing their support for medical staff on social media, Burberry used a white-pink rose that looks to be of English provenance as floral mascot. “Burberry Supports…” series of communication material puts the spotlight on what the company is doing for the community and hospitals. The rose it chose, suggestive of purity, innocence, and youth in its colour, is for now bleached of its bridal associations.

As stated in its corporate message, Burberry is “repurposing our trench coat factory in Castleford, Yorkshire, to make non-surgical gowns and masks for patients in UK hospitals”. In addition, the company is tapping into its global reach and resources “to fast track the delivery of 100,000 surgical masks to the UK National Health Service for use by medical staff”, as well as funding research into the development of a vaccine, and donating to charities with the main mission of addressing food poverty throughout the UK. How this is best represented by the rose isn’t clear, nor is an explanation offered. Can the rose, with all its romantic associations, negate Britain’s beleaguered start at mitigating the spread of COVID-19?

Across the pond at American Vogue, a red rose is the cover subject, an inanimate—although living—object not usually associated with Anna Wintour’s beloved title (curiously, under the masthead on the right, the text reads Jun/Jul—two issues in one?). The red rose is considered a universal, although cliched, symbol of love. If Andre Leon Talley, in his publicity rounds to promote his new autobiography The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, is to be believed, love and the editor of American Vogue are not quite a twosome—Ms Wintour, he writes, is “not capable” of “human kindness.” That might sound like the reaction of a person scorned, but the charge clearly equals not a flower that evokes deep affection.

According to Condé Nast’s head creative director Raul Martine, Vogue’s cover bloom symbolises “beauty, hope, and reawakening”— no love there, and, according to the magazine, “a conduit between Vogue’s past and its present”. This flower-as-channel between eras allows the revisit of one of publication’s most compelling still-life photographers: Irving Penn. The cover photo was originally shot by Mr Penn in 1970 in London, and now makes a posthumous cover art. The rose, Vanda Miss Joaquim of England, is, as they say in fashion, having a moment. Around us we hear Elvis Costello singing, “As the door behind you closes/The only thing I have to say/It’s been a good year for the roses”.

Photos: Burberry and Vogue respectively

Would You Wear Vogue?

The magazine may be a “fashion bible”, but when it comes to the Vogue-branded clothes, it’s a lot more pulp

 

The Kith jacket blessed by Vogue. Photo: Hypebeast

Is Vogue becoming a lifestyle brand? It isn’t certain yet. At the autumn/winter 2019 presentation of the New York sneaker retailer Kith shown two days ago, clothes bearing the Vogue logo in its distinctive font, said to be a “modified Didot”, were presented in a catwalk show for the store’s Kith Air collection. This is the second collaboration between retailer and magazine—whether Kith’s Ronnie Fieg and Vogue’s Anna Wintour met over this, no one could say.

It is possible that this is the work of the marketing arm of the title than the editorial’s since the output is not quite what Vogue might consider fashion, even if many show attendees and, later, influencers, consider them of note. Are these transformative threads that could result in the digital phenomenon known misleadingly as ‘trending’ (easily mistaken as ‘trendy’)? It’d be interesting to see if even one of the title’s editors would pick any of these pieces for the magazine’s fashion pages in the coming months.

Kith X Vogue 2019 G1.jpgUnremarkable clothes despite two storied names. Photos: Vogue/Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway

It looks like the latest Vogue-branded apparel expands on the last pairing’s two-item offering by, well, another two. Still bearing the titular name, the current pieces include varsity jacket and track pants on top of the expected hoodies (minus the sweatshirt from the last). Formerly, the Vogue logo was placed in a box, a la Supreme. This time, in addition to that, it is emblazon on the front of the varsity jackets with the prominence of mastheads, with as much colour as Burberry’s Patpong hues of the recent representation of the British brand’s name. Even the track pants sport similar logo placement: down the leg of the pants, along the seam.

Mr Fieg is a shoe retail veteran and a much-lauded sneaker designer since the opening of his first store Kith in 2011. Despite having collaborated on many desired kicks in the past decade or so, as well as Kith-branded clothes, he has not enjoyed a consensus that leans on him being a good fashion designer. But that, in New York, is besides the point, especially since Supreme’s James Jebbia won menswear designer of the year at last year’s CFDA awards. In the U.S., business model is more crucial than fashion design, and Kith’s increasing clout proves the point already raised by store-first-than-fashion Supreme.

Kith X Vogue 2017.jpgThe surprisingly lame first offering of Kith X Vogue in 2017. Photo: Kith/Nolan Persons

Still, is it not possible to produce clothes that are not variations of the hoodie? And if, indeed, a hoodie is a must because the customers are telling you to produce more as they have been buying more, is Kith unable to offer those that are not meekly differentiated by a mere name, although a 127-year-old one? For Vogue’s 125th anniversary, the retailer created basically two styles of tops, a hoodie and a sweatshirt, each displaying a boxed logo that could have been Gap re-branded, and marketed via images that would not be out of place in Qoo10 or Shopee. Or, was that the plan and the point—Vogue can come down from its lofty perch?

Magazine mastheads that are fashion labels are not new. Elle has for a long time licensed its name for clothing lines, as well as homeware. Vogue itself was once associated with clothing too, in the form of published patterns (now part of McCall Pattern Company that, for trivia buffs, also owns Butterick), but, like most print media, has gone digital. Better known, perhaps, is Vogue Eyewear, launched in 1973 “under the same name as the famous fashion magazine”, according to Luxottica, who owns the brand. Interestingly, the sunglasses they are known for now sell under a different logotype to the magazine, presumably so that there is no direct linkage.

That Vogue is willing to allow its name to be used on such near-grassroots, very  Calabasas clothing is perhaps less to do with fashion than popularity—the need to remain visible in an era when the relevance of magazines has been called to question. Its pairing with Kith, not, say, Marc Jacobs, is commercially consistent with the much used strategy of employing the reach and cool associations of born-in-the-streets brands to stay prominent in the public’s eye. Vogue.com’s Runway happily noted that “Kith is a New York brand and a testament to New York–style business”. Notice there’s no mention of design. Or, fashion.

Many Of Us Don’t Buy Magazines Anymore

Or, why the issue of one particular month of the year no longer clicks

 

US Vogue September 2019The latest issue of Vogue’s unusually thin September issue

By Boh Chin Swee

Big, sadly, is no longer better.

U.S. Vogue’s September issue used to be the queen of September issues. They practically created the year’s biggest and, detrimentally to wrists, the heaviest magazine—so much weight that even the commemorative tome of the Met’s annual fashion exhibition in May seems as light as a paperback novel. Ten years after the 2009 movie, The September Issue, that went behind the scene to see the making of Vogue’s usher-in-fall 2007 edition, and also if editor-in-chief (EIC, but better referred to as “editrix”—think dominatrix and you’ll get the gist) Anna Wintour was the editorial terror that she was reputed to be, the September issue seems to have lost its legendary lure and, quite possibly, become diluted in its fashion lore.

For me, Vogue’s issue for the first month of autumn is no longer a yearly must-buy, or part of a monthly habit, panacea to urban humdrum. Like many people, I stopped picking up the magazine since the birth of the now-defunct style.com, a waiting-to-be-reborn site that offered more fashion than any I knew at that time. Vogue, by then, had become too formulaic and lost a sense of immediacy—it weakened and waned against an online media climate it could not positively challenge nor cleverly embraced. I eventually committed to one purchase yearly—the September issue, not due to hunger for its pages, but to keep the buying of the magazine that I once read religiously, alive. As for the issues of the other months, I get my fix—if I needed to have it—at the magazines-galore PS Café.

The truth is, I have lost my near-addiction to the title—completely. I still love print; I still buy books, and I do read the papers, but fashion news in print form has, as we are well aware, overtaken by much that’s put online, good or bad. I was a very regular reader of Vogue, and used to devote my meal budget to both British and the US versions on a, more or less, monthly basis. One of my best friends have been buying and collecting Vogue—every month without fail—since the ’70s, during his undergraduate days in Australia. I have even visited his veritable library, so expanded it made Basheer Books looked like a corner newsstand, when I needed to research on pseudo-academic stuff I used to write for leisure, from Yves Saint Laurent to Yves Klein.

US Vogue September 2019 P2.jpgThe stack on the floor as seen in Kinokuniya shortly after the magazine was released locally

I gleaned a lot from them Vogues, just as I did from Harper’s Bazaar,  Interview, Vanity Fair, (and, as I remember now, everything Truman Capote had written, even years after his death in 1984), during a time when magazines not only offered more long-form writing than newspapers, but also writing that were informative and, dare I say, fun to read. Online titles were still not the comprehensive publications some of them are today. Google Search was launched, coincidentally, on September, in the year of 1997, when Linda Evagenlista wore a fur coat on that biggest issue, which proclaimed “The Thrill Is Back”. But then, Google Search was not quite the convenience and instant gratification of today’s search engines, and not the AI quickness and, gasp, acuity that it now is. Vogue, together with others, also filled the huge gaping gaps inadvertently or, perhaps, deliberately offered by spurious fashion titles of local publishers, such as the now-nearly-sixty Singapore Press Holdings flagship Her World—gaps that were there because it was assumed readers didn’t care as much about fashion as they did the disloyalty, affairs, and shenanigans of their lovers or husbands, or the best ways to deal with the office back-stabber.

The current September issue of Vogue is now in my hands. It has been exactly a year since I last purchased what was once often dubbed as “the fashion bible”, distasteful as that might have been to regular church-goers. Weight gain may not be something Vogue encourages, but its own mass, up or down, has never been an issue. This month, it weighs 1.1 kilos, compared to the 2.3 back in the September of 2007, now thirty one years since Anna Wintour’s first U.S. Vogue cover. Weight reduction means page-count contraction too. In 2007, the magazine boasted on the Sienna Miller cover “extra-extra large… biggest issue ever… 840 pages” (although the largest would be five years later, fronted by Lady Gaga, at 916, minus the front and back covers). It was the first time I had to use a bookmark for a magazine. This year’s big equals 596 pages—just 65 percent of that most gargantuan. The dwindling number, however, no longer receives a blurb on the cover. In fact, since 2017, on its “125th Anniversary Collector’s edition”, there was no mention of the page extent, a marketing habit initiated by Ms Wintour back in 1996, if I remember correctly. Then, it was 700 pages, and the count, in subsequent years, continued to climb, until the peak of the cover of 2012. It has since seen a recurring dip. After that 125th year issue, Vogue no longer blatantly prides itself with the number of pages that can equal the big fat novel’s.

Once, the size of Vogue was a major eye-opening thrill, but now no one even looks for those three digits on the cover anymore. Do words matter then? I am not sure I am enticed—not since 2007, I recall. From 2000, these were the adjectives, adjectival phrases, and nouns used to describe the fall fashion offerings: super, fabulous, all-out glamour, polished, spectacular, unforgettable, dramatic, fearless, brilliant, stylish and smart, sumptuous, extravaganza, spectacular (second time), fabulous (again), spectacular (third), wildly wonderful, fantastic fearless (sounds familiar?), global, and, this month, radical. Is radicalism in fashion still making news? Am I—are we—still seduced?

US Vogue September 2019 P3The unnecessary second cover in the gate-fold

Does the latest then really welcome me, or, as it urges, to “come on in” to 596 pages of fashion magazine spell or what non-editrix editors would call pagination hell? I am not sure Taylor Swift pointing at me somewhat insolently is invitation to enter, but I am, to be sure, not a fan, nor a member of her now-inert Girl Squad, so her appeal, even in Louis Vuitton (mostly obscured), is extremely limited. Past the cover, there’s another. The gatefold-as-entrance-way that’s mostly the extended Yves Saint Laurent ad of their new fragrance Libre has one page of the cover girl in a Farrah Fawcett-esque hair and pose. I don’t know why I need to look at the retro-looking Ms Swift again on the recto (with masthead again), a layout that sees her sharing the page to her left with the far much more attractive, also-singer Dua Lipa. Was Yves Saint Laurent not willing to pay for that extra space? Ms Swift may have a hit song Style, but she, to me, is hardly embodiment, and not quite iconic enough to necessitate two covers in one magazine, however thick.

It then takes me 186 page turns—saliva-ed index finger aside—before I could get to the Letter from the Editor, and another 16 more before I can read the second of the two-page tedium to finish what Ms Wintour has to say. She may be fashion’s sharpest and fiercest mind, with decided opinions, but she’s not the editorial voice that can be compared to the fellow Brit who was once considered by the media as her rival—Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair (1984 to 1992) and author of The Diana Chronicles, biography of the late Princess of Wales. All through her 36 years at Vogue, Ms Wintour has not been known as the epitome of wit—hauteur perhaps, but not quite the cleverness of phrase that can match her fierceness or gumption. In fact, she hardly writes, if not for the two-pager that precedes what she deems fashion dispatch of the month.

After crossing the threshold (or the inevitable advertising behind the cover), it is 238 pages later before I arrive at the first read in the section called Upfront (how, now, I appreciate hyperlinks!). And 457 pages to ride out before I land on the fashion spreads. Along the way, through familiar hallways and rooms filled and decorated with the usual Nostalgia and intros to newish stuff, are the meek editorial bits that precede the fashion chunks of the issue, which opens with the poorly-punned poser “Wear do we Go from Here?” “We’ve been having big conversations, emotional conversations, about fashion lately,” wrote the unnamed staffer who penned that page. In the present, when the comments of influencers on their IG posts are big conversations and the poor naming of a celebrity’s “solutionswear” elicits emotional conversations, it is a little over-the-top that Vogue’s discourse on the current state of fashion, already dissected thoughtfully elsewhere, is thought to be massive. Weightier, perhaps, would be to place where the magazine stands, now that it has brought it up, on the issue of “our overflowing wardrobes”, even when they “peruse the possibilities of a Burberry trench or a satin tuxedo from Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello…” while “attuned not simply to their immediacy but to their longevity—and to the notion that, perhaps, we might keep them circulating in the system by selling them on to someone else”, from one overflowing wardrobe to another overflowing wardrobe. Or, longevity in someone else’s wardrobe as long as it’s not mine!

US Vogue September 2019 P4Where, indeed, Vogue?

Many of us come to Vogue for fashion or, specifically, the fashion pages. At least we used to. Their fashion spreads now infrequently effect a narrative that can inspire us, or to the point that we can, as per their fave editorial hope, dream. I look at this issue’s six, all shot outdoors save two (and a partial), and I was not sent to the moon; over the vale perhaps, but only to encounter a reprise of the ridiculous headgear that Beyoncé wore on the cover of the last September issue. Why? Because the photographer is, again, Tyler Mitchell? Vogue can be lazy with other months, but not the September issue.

I know it is no longer imperative that a fashion magazine show clothes that can be viewed in great detail. No one requires to see the softness of silks or the exquisiteness of embroidery. A pleated skirt need only give the impression of pleats, not show the definite edges that are associated with, say, knives. Vogue used to impress with clarity and detail, but now that you can easily zoom in on photos online, the magazine may have thought that it is pointless to go beyond creating a mood or showing a look since your fingers can’t pinch or expand on paper for the same effects that you can get on a touch screen. Perhaps that explains why, for example, the fashion spreads don’t compel you to stop and really look, not especially those pages featuring Gigi Hadid jumping childishly on a trampoline, dispensing with any piece in the coordinated looks appearing with enough focus for the reader to discern its design value. But, perhaps, that does not matter. Don’t you trust Vogue?

Shortly after finishing the S$22.90 magazine in about 20 minutes, I spoke to a friend working in Hong Kong who is a regular Vogue reader. Did you buy the September issue, I asked. “It’s the only one I buy,” she replied, “but immediately regretted.” When I asked why she felt that way, she gave me one answer, which, as it turned out, was already my guess: “boring”. Which also means, to the rightfully expectant us, not an inch in the whole magazine is inspiring. Or, as Ruth Reichl told James Truman, Condé Nast’s powerful former editorial director, what she thought of the stories in Gourmet (Vogue’s once kindred publication that has closed) before she excepted the job offer to be the epicurean mag’s EIC, “I’m sorry, but they put me to sleep”.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

E E Coming

Actually, make that arrived. The welcome mat was laid for Edward Enninful at British Voguewhere he will be the magazine’s first male—and black—editor-in-chief

 

Edward Enninful

In the world of fashion editorials seen north of the equator, black male stylists are as common as Kanye West X Bape Bapesta kicks (that first collab that got Yeezy hooked on creating sneakers). The British-Ghanian stylist Edward Enninful is considered to be up there among the best—in a pantheon dominated by Caucasian women. Now that he’s secured the editorship of British Vogue, all eyes are on Mr Enninful to see what he can do to bring the magazine out of the lull that kept on under the stewardship of the previous EIC Alexandra Shulman, who was with title for 25 years.

Sure, there is, of course, Andre Leon-Talley, long associated with (American) Vogue, but Mr Enninful appears to be the quieter of the two, with no perceptible predilection for appearances on the Oscar red carpet or America’s Next Top Model, bearing pronouncements such as “She’s conveying to me a volcanic sultriness under the iceberg of cold, frozen, incandescent beauty. She’s hot, and she’s cold.” Mr Enninful is less of a public face that way, and seemingly less voluble too (his appearance in the post-Trump filmlet I am an Immigrant could have been missed in a blink), but his work has always caught the attention of designers and fashion followers. The images that he styles have an edge that grabs, an over-the-top sensibility that does not, regardless of the excesses of the post-Internet age, spill over.

Vogue Italia 2005Edward Enninful styled this 2005 Vogue Italia cover featuring Linda Evangelista, and lensed by Steven Meisel

Most memorable were his contributions to Italian Vogue, in which, together with the late Franca Sozzani, Mr Enninful dreamed up some rather controversial editorials. One of them, in 2005, featured Linda Evangelista getting ready, going through, and emerging from cosmetic surgery, entitled “Makover Madness”. The spread brought attention to the photographer Steven Meisel (more than Mr Enninful), and critics were vocal about magazines promoting unattainable beauty by encouraging readers to go under the knife.

Another, three years later, was “A Black Issue” (and it was exactly that—the entire magazine was dedicated to black models and creative individuals). The European editors, it was thought, were more advanced than their American counterparts when it came to diversity, and Mr Enninful did not disappoint. “A Black Issue” was a huge success, so much so that, according to a Time magazine report, “after the original run of the July issue sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours, Vogue Italia has just rushed to reprint 30,000 extra copies for American newsstands, another 10,000 for Britain and 20,000 more in Italy. The only complaints about the reprints might come from those currently trying to sell copies on eBay for (US)$45 apiece.” (Interestingly, Vogue Italia’s newly appointed EIC is also a guy: Emanuele Farneti.)

Vogue Italia 2008Vogue Italia’s “A Black Issue” styled by Edward Enninful and shot by Steven Meisel

Mr Enninful continued to embrace coloured models in his work, unafraid of the possible losing battle against what he called “white-out that dominates catwalks and magazines”. In fact, it is his visual acknowledgement that diversity can be fashionable that has set his work stunningly apart, such as the “We Are the World” spread for the September issue of Vogue in 2010. Half a dozen models of different races (including China’s Liu Wen) was probably unusual under Anna Wintour’s watch, but the editorial may have laid the groundwork for the magazine’s first “diversity” cover last month. Reportedly, it was Ms Wintour who championed the hiring of Mr Enninful, even when he already holds a full-time job as fashion and style director at W.

Although he may have let his imagination run wild in most of his influential works—no doubt goaded by the editors who commissioned him, these were not hangover from his teenage years. Mr Enninful had an early start in the business. It may be hard to tell now, but he was a model at age 16, and, later, assistant to one of the most influential stylists of ’80s London, Simon Foxton, whose editorials for i-D and Arena at that time made British fashion/lifestyle titles more compelling to read than those across the Atlantic. At 18, he was appointed fashion director of i-D magazine, which left for posterity his fate as the youngest ever fashion director with an international title.

Vogue US 2010A spread styled by Edward  Enninful for American Vogue’s September issue of 2010, also shot by Steven Meisel

By then, he was working with photographers such as Nick Knight and Corrine Day. His successful pairing with Steven Meisel and his striking output for Vogue Italia, placed him as one of fashion’s most important image makers. His advertising work for designer labels such as Calvin Klein and Lanvin underscore his keen commercial sense. And his close friendship with industry heavyweights such as Pat McGrath and model model Kate Moss, whom, according to Suzy Menkes, he has known since she was 14, makes him somewhat of an industry darling.

Mr Enninful’s appointment at the 101-year-old British Vogue as its 11th editor was met with palpable joy. Congratulatory messages on social media came fast and furious, from Grace Coddington to Vanessa Friedman. The media was no less fervent in their reports, with the Guardian rhapsodizing about him as “someone who shakes up mainstream titles, and makes them chime with the interests of younger readers”. It would seem then that Britain’s “most established magazine” made a well-supported choice. We’ve always been partial to British magazines, from the now-defunct The Face to the very present Porter for their willingness to be unconventional and exhilaratingly current. We can’t wait to see what Edward Enninful will bring to British Vogue.

Photos (from top): Giorgio Niro, Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel, American Vogue/ Steven Meisel

Still Carrie Bradshaw

SJP narrates for Vogue

In season 4, episode 2 (also called ‘The Real Me’) of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw said, “When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” Vogue was so much a part of Ms Bradshaw’s life that it had a cameo role in the six-season, 94-episode TV series; leading to an episode in season 4 called ‘A Vogue Idea’. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Carrie Bradshaw’s alter ego Sarah Jessica Parker was asked to narrate the e-series The History of Fashion in Vogue for the title’s online edition.

Vogue and Carrie Bradshaw were so intertwined that despite the shorts’ title credit that read “narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker”, the voice-over sure sounds like Ms Bradshaw. In the first of what Vogue calls “a series of ‘five points’ videos by decades”, SJP opened the peek into the late 1800s and the 1900s by saying “Start-up wasn’t part of the vocabulary of 1892, when Arthur Baldwin Turnure started a weekly journal of fashion and society called Vogue.” This could have been “Once upon a time, an English journalist came to New York…” of the debut of SATC, minus the close-up of the text appearing on the computer screen and the vibraphone tune of the main theme before that.

Sex and the City was very much a self-narrated account of Carrie Bradshaw’s New York life, which included three of her friends. The gossipy unfolding gave the series much of its authenticity and intimacy, and it made Carrie Bradshaw the protagonist so many rooted for, even when her neurosis and self-inflicted pain were sometimes too much to bear. That voice, that pitch, that urgency—all so identifiable as prelude to Sex and the City’s celebration of sex-as-you-wish liberty and blatant consumption that even on a program about the history of one of the world’s most recognisable publications you sense that maybe there’s going to be who slept with who after who bought what.

Thirty seconds into the first episode of Sarah Jessica Parker Narrates 1892-1900s in Vogue, SJP says that Vogue was a “journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life.” She may be referring to another era far removed from the one she’s in, but she could be describing the world of Carrie Bradshaw, minus the sexual escapades and tearful heartbreaks. When SJP revealed with such wonder that “crackerjack” Condé Nast purchased the publication in 1809, she could have been referring to Capote Duncan (the publishing executive who nearly bedded Charlotte York), or Mr Big.

These short videos were conceived to celebrate Vogue’s 125th year, but they’re not exactly a broad look at the past. In the face of debates over whether Vogue is relevant, they only serve to remind us that the magazine has come this far and will go further, much further.

Screen grab from vogue.com

Diversity? Let’s Not Be Quick To Claim

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American Vogue’s latest cover has encouraged the media to cheer the magazine’s attempt at presenting a face of “diversity”. Sure, quite a few have challenged that description too, but the diversity tag is as adhesive as gum on cement floor. Seven women, although racially different, in one issue is, however, hardly diverse in the mag’s 125 years of existence. It may be different if seven women from the seven countries banned by Donald Trump from entering the US appear instead.

The March issue of Anna Wintour’s pet publication says it “celebrates modern American women” in an Instagram post, avoiding the use of the word “diversity”. It is possible that that is deliberate because the editorial team knows putting seven almost similarly girthed and limbed girls on one page just once is hardly diverse. Even the skin tones are alike (although this could be due to the light of what appears to be a setting sun), prompting the suspicion that Vogue is not inclined to deviate from their norm by going extremely dark-skinned.

On that cover, we see Liu Wen, a lass CNN calls “the first Asian woman to grace American Vogue’s cover.” This is where things become a little disconcerting. Liu Wen has to share the cover, near the left edge of the page; she did not have the cover to herself. Until the day Vogue is able to assign the entire cover to an Asian face, just as they did for black women in the August 1974 issue that featured Beverly Johnson, we can’t really say an Asian has singly made it to Vogue’s coveted cover.

China’s Liu Wen has doubtlessly been successful in the US. Her 2010 contract with Estee Lauder as the beauty brand’s “global face” has made her widely recognisable, particularly in the States, where she too scored with heterosexual males when, in 2009, she was the first Chinese to sashay on a Victoria Secret catwalk. In 2015, Forbes placed her 12th on the list of the world’s highest-paid models of that year with an income of USD4.5 million (by contrast, the No.1 Gisele Bundchen made “USD44 million before taxes and expenses”). Her success reflects her appeal on the international scene, in which a rather white client base has a rather different take on what is an Asian beauty.

In China, Liu Wen is conversely not considered by the Chinese to be that beautiful, certainly not in line with classic Chinese beauties such as Yang Guifei, or her modern sisters Gong Li and Fan Bingbing. To be fair, Liu Wen is Vogue China’s favourite model and has appeared on their cover and in countless editorials. Her look, not ethnically unique but caters to the Western sense of what is Oriental, is considered plain to the regular folks of her homeland. As one Shanghai-based marketing manager once said to SOTD, “刘雯是美,但时装界的美不代表男人找媳妇的美” (Liu Wen is beautiful, but the fashion world’s beauty is not the same as the beauty that a man looking for a wife seeks).

“Women rule” (even only in modelling) may be a sexy catchphrase in “a climate of immigration bans and building walls”, but let’s see more diversity beyond this one March issue before Vogue So White gets an unwelcome hashtag.

Photo: voguemagazine on Instagram