Posts Tagged fashion
I’ve previously proven the awesome power that this blog has over the media, and today has brought yet another feather to add to the Major Karnage cap.
After my little attack on Vogue the other week for being completely ignorant of the world that regular people live in and giving disgusting justifications for profiling a “thin, glamorous” mass-murderer, I’m told that the magazine has re-evaluated its policy and is now including things like this John Powers profile on Katie Beirne, a Democrat spin doctor.
Sure, a lot of people may be thinking “there are like 100 people reading this blog post and they’re mostly Australians in their mid-20s, why the hell would the editors of Vogue care what you think?” or “yeah right, like a massive shift in editorial policy would have been made between your post and now”, but I don’t listen to them. I know it was because of me.
Where some political strategists (think James Carville or Karl Rove) revel in playing the garrulous genius, Beirne is allergic to the self-aggrandizement that is the D.C. lingua franca. Her power comes from resisting the limelight. Over lunch at the Monocle, the famous old Capitol Hill restaurant, I try to get her to promote herself, just a little. In vain. She pointedly won’t talk about what goes on behind closed doors. “Our work,” she tells me with her lovely, Vera Farmiga–ish smile, “is largely behind the scenes.”
Which doesn’t mean it’s not exciting.
“I so, so love politics,” she says. “I like the idea of fighting for something. Especially this year. There’s a big question whether we are going to keep the Senate. And what drives me is that we can only keep the Senate if we elect more women. This is the year of the woman.”
This does not quite sum-up exactly what it means to be a party hack like Beirne, but it does a pretty good job of making the world of a political insider seem much more glamorous than it really is — which is definitely a step up from making a brutal dictator and his wife seem much more humane than they really are.
Even more positive is the news that Vogue editors have committed to stop using underage models with eating disorders. After decades of encouraging teenagers to develop a “super chic” body dismorphic disorder, the fashion world’s top opinion maker has finally decided that “health” is in this season.
Of course, the fashion world is notoriously fickle and it could well be that poor health makes a “retro” comeback in a season or two, but this is a positive development for now anyway.
The 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world made a pact to project the image of healthy models, according to a Conde Nast International announcement.
They agreed to “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder,” and said they will ask casting directors to check IDs at photo shoots and fashion shows and for ad campaigns.
American, French, Chinese and British editions of the fashion glossies are among those that will start following the new guidelines with their June issues; the Japanese edition will begin with its July book.
“Vogue believes that good health is beautiful. Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers,” said Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse in a statement.
The Washington Post has an anniversary piece for the profile of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad that appeared in Vogue magazine last year, just before the vicious bloodshed in Syria began.
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” writer Joan Juliet Buck began her profile of Syria’s first lady in Vogue last year. Amid descriptions of Assad’s “energetic grace” and Christian Louboutin shoes, Buck wrote: “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’ ”
Well, perhaps. But just as Buck’s profile appeared, Assad’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, began a bloody crackdown on his opponents. Since then, about 9,000 Syrians have been slaughtered by security forces loyal to Assad, Syria’s hereditary president.
The article points to the below NPR interview with the profile’s author, Joan Juliet Buck. I particularly want to point to the question that begins around the 1:10 mark.
When asked what the intention of the piece was, Buck says:
I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking First Ladies — because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance, that’s what Vogue is about – and here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore qualified to be in Vogue; and Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time.
Uh huh. So that’s what it takes to get into Vogue — “extremely skinny and very well-dressed”. No other questions asked about this beautiful and elegant leader of one of the most despised regimes on the planet. No consideration whatsoever for the reasons why she may have been so aloof from international attention.
That exposes the extreme vacuity at the heart of the fashion world, where those involved are incredibly out-of-touch with the world that you and I live in.
As Jacqueline Alemany wrote recently, the high-fashion magazines have seen dramatic drops in circulation as other options have presented themselves and people with an interest in fashion have rejected the “pretension and delusional reality” that Vogue et al are trying to sell.
The issue is not with targeting of the affluent, it’s the pretension and delusional reality that they project in order to target them that is sometimes so off-putting to so many readers, especially to some of the subscribers they have lost to online blogs. It is these blogs that have capitalized on the notions of accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability in an economic time period that encourages this. Racial and cultural inclusivity is also abysmal in many of these magazines from the models and actresses featured on the covers to the people covered in articles.
Not to beat a dead horse, but it is articles similar to the one written by Dara Lynn Weiss in Vogue’s “Shape” issue entitled, “Weight Watchers.” In reporting her struggles to slim down her ‘obese’ 7-year-old daughter, Weiss comes across as hateful, self-absorbed, impatient, and shallow as she recounts incidents in respects to policing her daughters dieting plan. Weiss made us resent her all the more by describing specific outbursts over Starbucks and a salad nicoise. Vogue seemed to miss the obesity mark by placing a spotlight on a mother projecting her own body image insecurities on to her daughter rather than covering other powerful and exemplary obesity initiatives that are occurring throughout the country. Considering the strategic Wintour-Obama relationship that has blossomed, it is all the more surprising that a more tasteful and less tone-deaf article regarding childhood obesity was not included in this issue or in any fashion magazine body issues in the United States considering what an enormous problem childhood obesity is.
One final point on the NPR interview: it is very interesting how Buck describes the Assads not as bloodthirsty tyrants, but as people living in their own world and pretending that nothing is happening — dehumanising their victims as “software” as they are being slaughtered.
The irony of the situation with regard to the fashion industry is definitely obvious, but I can’t help but feel that we are all guilty of this to some extent in Western society. In a lot of instances, we know that things we do cause huge suffering to people we don’t know, yet we ignore this the way Bashar and Asma ignore the people their security forces are torturing and shelling.
I have nothing against super-sexual fashion. What I am against is being a victim of it. To have to be sexy? That I hate. To be outrageously sexy? That I love.
Miuccia Prada, profiled in the New Yorker by Judith Thurman.
Things I didn’t know about Prada: she has a PhD in political science, she was once a member of the communist party in Italy and handed out pro-communism flyers while wearing YSL dresses and she refused to run for Italian parliament because she did not think that it would be fair for a woman as wealthy as she is to claim to represent the working class.
I think I have a new favourite designer.
Worth a read.
My little description on the right of the page mentions that I may blog about fashion, but I don’t find myself actually doing that so often. Well today may be that rare exception.
I recently came-across a guest post on Kill Your Darlings by fashion blogger and PhD student Rosie Findlay, who runs the aptly-named Fashademic. Findlay made her point very eloquently, so I will quote two paragraphs in full with some lines bolded and then comment after:
When we dress, we dress for pleasure, work, warmth, need or, as in my case today, because we feel a certain need to mirror our sensibility, and we reach for the garments that best encourage these aspects of our selves. Even those who reject fashion take part in its system. Fashion is a mode of visual communication that ‘speaks the self’ both externally, as it presents you as clothed and appropriate, and internally, as it resonates with you in the feel of fabric on your limbs, the pinching of shoes on toes, the rough itch of wool on skin, the desperate sweating underneath denim on an unexpectedly warm day. At an everyday level, clothing speaks to us, and helps us make sense of one another and of ourselves. In other words, what is superficial is not only superficial.
So here I am to state that it is not trivial to take an interest in clothing – to do so is to accept that there is pleasure to be found in dressing, in wearing, and in finding another way to express something of who you feel you are. I reject the notion that to do so is to imply that you are a superficial person or, in the words of English professor Emily Toth, that ‘if you look like you spend too much time on your clothes, there are people who will assume that you haven’t put enough energy into your mind’. I pitch my tent instead with Virginia Postrel, whose book The Substance of Style makes a compelling argument for the importance of aesthetics, writing that they are of fundamental value to human beings and a source of deep pleasure – not the most important thing, but still important. I find this stance incredibly liberating: it acknowledges that there is room to enjoy dressing and being dressed, while not elevating that practice to utmost importance. It means I can enjoy the interplay of these jeans, this shirt and these heavenly boots with my self, and appreciate how this process colours my day as I go forth into other considerations.
Most people with the same general interests as me would not care about fashion – in fact, I know more than one person who say they actively avoid it, generally accompanied with the sentiment that they “just wear whatever”.
This perspective saddens me. I feel it is based largely in the ideas that Findlay identified, that caring about our physical appearance is “superficial” and that it is a waste of time to worry about such superficial matters when there are more important issues out there. I also suspect that the attitude develops as a reaction to the types of people who become involved in fashion on the highschool playground; as any nerdy teenager would know, no one who wants to be seen as intelligent would associate with a culture dominated by air-headed Hollywood actors, vapid trust fund babies and ignorant musicians who just do what their management tells them.
The operative word in that sentence? They want to be seen as intelligent. The corrollary is that there is a way to look intelligent. If Emily Toth (above) thinks that spending too much time on clothes implies not spending enough time on mind, then she is clearly showing a value judgment based on appearance: fashionable means vacuous, those of us with substance are unfashionable. She is looking at the conscious choice that a person has made of how to dress and drawing conclusions from it. The “intelligent look” is one that does not require much time.
Ms Toth must spend some time on her clothes, but obviously minimises this to some extent in order to spend more time on her “mind”. She sees the amount of time she takes as sufficient to look acceptable and then any better than acceptable, she deems unnecessary. She is making a choice about how she looks. As she well knows, when we meet someone, their appearance is the first impression that we get. Other than their body language, everything that we notice is in their choice of fashion – what clothes they wear, how their hair is done, any makeup etc. By choosing to rush her wardrobe she is consciously projecting an image to the world, saying: “I am intelligent, I am a woman of substance, I don’t care about fashion.”
Her reasoning is flawed. She clearly cares about fashion, enough to let it influence her perspective of others and to at least be conscious of how it affects her image. In reality, fashion is not something that can be avoided. You care about fashion, everybody cares about fashion. If you choose to cover yourself with fading polyester shirts and shapeless jeans made from paper-thin denim fom KMart, you are revealing just as much about yourself as someone wearing a hand-tailored bespoke Italian suit. The difference is that the person in the Italian suit is conscious of this and has spent time thinking about what message they want to convey; I know which of these seems more intelligent to me.
When you get up in the morning and look through your clothes, the question you should ask yourself is not “how should I dress today?” but “what will I look like today?”. Why would anyone want to answer that with “cheap, lazy and uncoordinated” when they could choose “damn fine”?
More on this story. Wall Street Journal assistant editors Bari Weiss and David Feith have managed to push through an op-ed in the Journal On Vogue Magazine‘s…faux-pas (I couldn’t think of another way to describe it in one phrase).
They go through a lot of the same points that I did, using a few good facts and stories to illustrate how absurdly innacurate Buck’s profile actually was. The whole article is structured with passages from the Vogue article juxtaposed with the unfortunate reality of life in Syria.
But none of those countries has Asma. “The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission,” we’re told, “is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls ‘active citizenship.’”
That’s just what 18-year-old high-school student Tal al-Mallouhi did with her blog, but it didn’t stop the Assad regime from arresting her in late 2009. Or from sentencing her, in a closed security court last month, to five years in prison for “espionage.”
Pretty biting, hey?
The best part, for me, was the point made at the end.
In the past weeks, as people power has highlighted the illegitimacy and ruthlessness of the Middle East’s strongmen, various Western institutions have been shamed for their associations with them. There’s the London School of Economics, which accepted over $2 million from Libya’s ruling family, and experts like political theorist Benjamin Barber, who wrote that Gadhafi “is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat.”
When Syria’s dictator eventually falls—for the moment, protests against him have been successfully squelched by police—there will be a similar reckoning. Vogue has earned its place in that unfortunate roll call.
Weiss and Firth are completely right, this article should condemn Vogue to the same level of scrutiny as LSE, the UN Human Rights Council, Keysar Trad and others who openly support evil dictators. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a huge clamour in the fashion world going on about this – beside the online piece from The Atlantic (which loves taking shots at Vogue as the owners of Vogue publish Vanity Fair, one of The Atlantic’s main rivals), it took two assistant editors of a newspaper focussed mostly on finance to bring this story into the mainstream media, about 2 weeks after it first broke.
This is not an isolated incident. It took Natalie Portman, the (Jewish Israeli) face of Dior, to get apparent Nazi-sympathising designer John Galliano fired after a rant about how he loved Hitler, including the friendly observation, to his fellow patrons of the restaurant in which he was dining, that, “your mothers, your forefathers, would be fucking gassed and fucking dead.” As Barbara Ellen wrote in The Observer on Sunday:
It’s interesting that John Galliano could just have got away with his antisemitic ravings, some caught on video in a Paris bar, had it not been for Jewish actress Natalie Portman.
Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone still wore Dior to the Oscars. It was Portman, the “face” of Dior perfumes, who wore Rodarte. It was Portman who immediately stated she was “shocked and disgusted” and “would not be associated with Mr Galliano”. She added: “I hope these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”
Ellen made the point that anti-Semitism seems to be (forgive the pun) en vogue at the moment in the entertainment industry.
Casual antisemitism appears to be having a “moment” right now. Casual antisemitism is “hot” and seemingly nowhere “hotter” than in the US entertainment industry. This is the very industry everyone is always moaning about being “controlled by Jews”, making the whole thing even more bizarre or, arguably, more understandable, if you stir envy and resentment into the mix.
There’s Charlie Sheen with his comment about Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre’s “real name” being “Chaim Levine”; Sheen’s other alleged comments about his manager, Mark Burg, being a “stooped Jew pig”; Mel Gibson’s “Jews responsible for all the wars in the world” outburst; Oliver Stone’s “Jewish domination of the media”.
It’s lucky that Portman was in a position to lead the charge against Galliano. Who is around to have Vogue disgraced and Buck fired, as she should be? Not a lot of people, in all likelihood. Writing in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has analysed the not-so-veiled culture of racism in fashion that make these kinds of things possible:
Diversity in fashion is going backwards. The recent fashion week in New York, one of the most multicultural places on the planet, featured 85 per cent white models, a proportion that has hardly changed in a decade. Recent high-profile campaigns have showcased white models in blackface, and when real black models do make it on to the pages of magazines, the airbrushing invariably lightens their colouring and straightens their hair into more marketable, Caucasian styles. Then we wonder why anxious teenagers across the world are using dangerous toxins to bleach the blackness out of their skin.
What should shock is not just the substance of Galliano’s comments, but the fact that it took a man being caught on camera explicitly saying that he loves Hitler for the fashion industry to acknowledge a teeny problem with racism. The rabid misogyny of Galliano’s outburst has hardly been commented on because, while most people now acknowledge that anti-Semitism isn’t very nice, the jury is still out on institutional sexism.
In a world where everything is perfect and beautiful, supported by an industry that taylors, lights and airbrushes over imperfections as a matter of course, is there really any impetus to criticise someone for airbrushing over brutality, slaughter and terror as if it were any other blemish? There’s obviously a huge disconnect between the fashion world and the one the rest of us live in, it will take the rest of the world to push for the cultural shift that we need.
Joan Juliet Buck, from leading fashion magazine Vogue, wrote a longform profile on a high-profile Middle-Eastern lady, who, in Buck’s words, is “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.’”
Buck chronicles this woman’s high-level Western education, how she grew-up in London, went to Queen’s college, has an MBA from Harvard and worked at Goldman Sachs, but is down to earth, with an accent that is “English, but not plummy”. Buck details visits to the Louvre, impressing Brad and Angelina and even the charitable NGO that she runs to educate refugee children. She even fights extremism “through art”.
And who is this beautiful, caring, glamorous Arab leader, who sounds just like the Western celebrities that Vogue usually profile? None other than Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad. And Syria sounds great too:
Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark. Asma’s husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary.
“It’s a tough neighborhood,” admits Asma al-Assad
Huh. Let’s take another look at that passage for a second, shall we?
As the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.”
To keep them safe, right? Sounds like something any kind, friendly leader would do. Like her husband, who won 97% of the vote – the people must love him! Just one thing that Ms Buck forgot to mention, he was the only candidate in the election. And why was he the only candidate in the election? Well, you see, these security forces that keep Syria “safe”, also keep his regime “safe”, but brutally crushing any dissent.
The country’s alliances are murky.How close are they to Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah?There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case. The United States has just posted its first ambassador there since 2005, Robert Ford.
Might not always be the case, hey? Because the US broke-off and then re-established diplomatic relations, that means that Israel may no longer be its number-one enmity? Hold on a second:
Iraq is next door, Iran not far away. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is 90 minutes by car from Damascus. Jordan is south, and next to it the region that Syrian maps label Palestine. There are nearly one million refugees from Iraq in Syria, and another half-million displaced Palestinians.
Seems as if Syria doesn’t recognise that there is an Israel, funny that. And as the article already glossed over, Ms Assad and her husband harbour, support and train terrorist groups that attack Israel, not to mention being Iran’s strongest ally. Syria also militarily occupied Lebanon for years and is still meddling in Lebanese affairs. Neat, huh?
What else can we divine from Buck’s profile? Well, Syria is a great example of a tolerant, multicultural society:
Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”
“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.
“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”
The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?
So the abandoned Jewish quarter tells “a story you don’t understand” then? I guess no one knows why there were 30,000 Jews in Syria in 1947 and only 200 today. Well at least Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue, doesn’t understand, but then she doesn’t seem to understand much, otherwise this article would read a little differently.
It is, in fact, not a mystery what happened in 1992. This was when finally, after years of campaigning, 4,500 Syrian Jews were allowed to leave Syria. One person who does understand is Alice Sardell, president of the now defunct Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews.
Freedom for the Jews of Syria beginning in 1992 came about after a long and intense American and international human rights campaign led by The Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews, with the United States government at the forefront.
But they weren’t just fleeing for nothing:
Since 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, Syria’s Jewish community had been held as hostages living under Syria’s Secret Police and subject to arbitrary arrests and systematic torture.
Where were these little details in Buck’s profile?
Buck could have written about the brutal secret police, the sponsorship of terror, the alliance with Iran, the nuclear program and the decades of the despotic reign of terror that Assad and his fellow Allawite leaders have subjected the Syrian people to. She even could have mentioned that Assad and her husband prevented protests like the ones spreading through other Arab countries by shutting off the internet and suppressing protesters with beatings and arrests. Instead, she gave the guy a goddamn podium to speak from:
Neither of them believes in charity for the sake of charity. “We have the Iraqi refugees,” says the president. “Everybody is talking about it as a political problem or as welfare, charity. I say it’s neither—it’s about cultural philosophy. We have to help them. That’s why the first thing I did is to allow the Iraqis to go into schools. If they don’t have an education, they will go back as a bomb, in every way: terrorism, extremism, drug dealers, crime. If I have a secular and balanced neighbor, I will be safe.”
So now he’s against terrorism is he?
This article was disgusting to be honest. To read more, including Buck’s extremely underwhelming response, see the links below: