A former Vogue fashion editor lets loose: “The clothes are irrelevant”
Imagine you're a respected Vogue fashion editor boasting 25 years of slavish devotion to the magazine. At 57, you've spent the past 36 years styling for the style bible, but when the magazine editorship is taken over (by a man!) you're suddenly, unceremoniously given the flick. And then someone dares to interview you about it.
That's essentially the only information you need to know before reading this treatise/highly entertaining rant from Lucinda Chambers, the former British Vogue fashion director who was recently fired by the soon-to-be editor in chief Edward Enninful. Speaking to the blog Vestoj, the former Voguette has plenty to say about the industry, not all of it nice. And naturally, as we saw last year when some US Vogue online editors lashed out at bloggers, when Vogue staffers criticise, it goes viral. So viral, in fact, that it was briefly taken down by Vestoj, then reposted again in full.
Read Chambers' blisteringly honest portrayal in it entirely here, or read our highlights below:
On how she was sacked:
"A month and a half ago I was fired from Vogue. It took them three minutes to do it. No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The management and the editor I've worked with for twenty-five years had no idea. Nor did HR. Even the chairman told me he didn't know it was going to happen. No one knew, except the man who did it - the new editor."
On how brutal the industry is:
"Fashion can chew you up and spit you out... You're not allowed to fail in fashion - especially in this age of social media, when everything is about leading a successful, amazing life. Nobody today is allowed to fail, instead the prospect causes anxiety and terror. But why can't we celebrate failure? After all, it helps us grow and develop."
On her work at Vogue, including a recent Alexa Chung cover
"I'm not ashamed of what happened to me. If my shoots were really crappy... Oh I know they weren't all good - some were crappy. The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He's a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway. Ok, whatever. But there were others... There were others that were great."
On smoke and mirrors
"In fashion people take you on your own estimation of yourself - that's just a given. You can walk into a room feeling pumped up and confident, and if you radiate that the industry will believe in what you project. If, on the other hand, you appear vulnerable you won't be seen as a winner."
"... in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident - no one wants to be the one to say '... but they're crap.'"
"Fashion is full of anxious people. No one wants to be the one missing out."
On problems with the industry at large
"Fashion moves like a shoal of fish; it's cyclical and reactionary. Nobody can stay relevant for a lifetime - you always have peaks and troughs. The problem is that people are greedy. They think, 'It worked then, we've got to make it work now.' But fashion is an alchemy: it's the right person at the right company at the right time. Creativity is a really hard thing to quantify and harness.
The rise of the high street has put new expectations on big companies like LVMH. Businessmen are trying to get their creatives to behave in a businesslike way; everyone wants more and more, faster and faster. Big companies demand so much more from their designers - we've seen the casualties. It's really hard. Those designers are going to have drink problems, they're going to have drug problems. They're going to have nervous breakdowns. It's too much to ask a designer to do eight, or in some cases sixteen, collections a year. The designers do it, but they do it badly - and then they're out. They fail in a very public way. How do you then get the confidence to say I will go back in and do it again?"
How the industry breeds anxiety
Fashion shows are all about expectation and anxiety. We're all on display. It's theatre. I'm fifty-seven and I know that when the shows come around in September I will feel vulnerable. Will I still get a ticket? Where will I sit? I haven't had to think about those things for twenty-five years. Most people who leave Vogue end up feeling that they're lesser than, and the fact is that you're never bigger than the company you work for.
On not living up to the Vogue ideal
"There are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden, for not having the right kind of dinner party, setting the table in the right kind of way or meeting the right kind of people. Truth be told, I haven't read Vogue in years. Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life." The clothes are just irrelevant for most people - so ridiculously expensive."
How fashion magazines create materialism
"What magazines want today is the latest, the exclusive. It's a shame that magazines have lost the authority they once had. They've stopped being useful. In fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don't need. We don't need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational? That's the kind of fashion magazine I'd like to see."
See what we mean? It's a BRUTAL assessemnent.
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