Tuesday, September 02, 2008

vogue india controversy

this is all about the august issue of vogue india, which is probably off the newsstands by now. but the international media is only making a big fuss about it now. read this, from the new york times:

Vogue’s Fashion Photos Spark Debate in India
Published: August 31, 2008

NEW DELHI — An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes — who is wearing a Fendi bib (retail price, about $100).

A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way — except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.

Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).

Welcome to the new India — at least as Vogue sees it.

Vogue India’s August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone in India was amused.

The editorial spread was “not just tacky but downright distasteful” said Kanika Gahlaut, a columnist for the daily newspaper Mail Today that is based here, who denounced it as an “example of vulgarity.”

There’s nothing “fun or funny” about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen, she said in a telephone interview. “There are farmer suicides here, for God’s sake” she said, referring to thousands of Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade because of debt.

Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s message to critics of the August shoot: “Lighten up,” she said in a telephone interview. Vogue is about realizing the “power of fashion” she said, and the shoot was saying that “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,” she said.

“You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously,” Ms. Tanna said. “We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world,” she said.

Nearly half of India’s population — about 456 million people — live on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank figures released last week. But as any well-briefed luxury goods executive or private banker knows, India also has a fast-growing wealthy class and emerging middle class that make it one of the world’s most attractive new places to sell high-end products.

The juxtaposition between poverty and growing wealth presents an unsavory dilemma for luxury goods makers jumping into India: How does one sell something like a $1,000 handbag in a country where most people will never amass that sum of money in their lives, and many are starving? The answer is not clear cut, though Vogue’s approach may not be the way to go.

Marketers need to “create brand awareness” in India, said Claudia D’Arpizio, a partner with the consulting firm Bain & Company, who is based in Milan. She recommended the approach that some consumer brand companies took in China, opening big flagship stores and trying new forms of advertising like television.

As India’s population becomes more affluent, successful luxury goods manufacturers will “create aspirations,” Ms. D’Arpizio said, and people will buy their products to show their pride in their prosperity. On the other hand, she said, would not be prudent for marketers to open luxury stores on “streets where people are struggling for survival.”

Brands like Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Hermès have been bunking in high-end hotels or banding together in new superluxury malls, where guards are often stationed at the doors to keep the destitute outside. One new mall coming to south Delhi, the gold-leafed and marbled Emporio, even features a spa and a members club, developers say.

For now, the Indian middle and upper class — and the companies that aim to cater to it — are just getting used to having new money, said V. Sunil, creative director for advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy in India, which opened its first office here last September. “No one thinks they need to do something deeper for the public,” like address India’s social ills, he said.

The subjects of the Vogue shoot are the people that luxury goods manufacturers might hope to one day become their customers. Companies are attracted to emerging markets like India because of the millions of people who are “coming from no income and rising quite fast,” said Nick Debnam, chairman of KPMG’s consumer markets practice in the Asia-Pacific region.

The idea of being able to afford something but not buying it because you do not want to flaunt your money reflects a “very Western attitude,” he said. In China and other emerging markets, “if you’ve made it, you want everyone to know that you’ve made it,” and luxury brands are the easiest way to do that, he said.

Still, the in-your-face poverty of India, where beggars sometimes sit outside five-star hotels, does present challenges that companies do not face in other markets. In China, most of the very poor live in rural areas, said Mr. Debnam. “Most of the luxury companies don’t consider these people,” when they’re thinking of selling products, he said, “and even the consumer product companies don’t look at them.”

Not taking a close enough look at the “real people” is drawing criticism for Vogue, too. “The magazine does not even bother to identify the subjects” of the photos, said Ms. Gahlaut, the columnist. Instead, Vogue names the brands of the accessories in the captions, and says they are worn by a lady or a man.

think about it: what if a local fashion magazine like mega, metro, or preview did a 10-page fashion editorial using the same concept? they would use children on the street selling sampaguitas, the lolas in baclaran church who walk on their knees, tricycle or jeepney drivers, yayas of spoiled rich kids—the "poor" people we encounter everyday. it will be controversial alright and will spark distasteful- vs powerful-images debates. and how will these luxury brands feel about their expensive handbags and shoes being worn by these "characters"? not exactly their target market, is it? what do YOU think, dear reader?


Anonymous said...

i think that is a universal reflection of the society now. SOME people have become desynthesized of everything lux and beautiful wc in effect have become amiss of the truth behind the 99% of life's realities.

When you have money, it's easy to thrive in designer goods and everything expensive. I believe it clouds your ability to be truly empathic about poverty, to say the least.

I just hope these people, not excluding the staff of Vogue India, wouldn't have to see it in the poor people's eyes.

What goes around, comes around.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. Thanks for sharing this post. I would have missed it.

Mr. Shopaholic said...

hay naku, they could have used models and made them look poor. makes me wonder, magkano kaya ang talent fee na binigay ng Vogue India to the poor people they had as models...

tet said...

Hi! I've seen similar ads, except they were for an advocacy. What they had were mostly famished looking Africans rocking LVs and other notable brands on their arms, tpos the price is displayed right there. bottom of the page, they say something about how much less it costs to actually give a community potable water supply.

I thought this was the same; apparently not. I'd have to agree with the anti-Vogue advocates though. While I'm all for giving everyone access to the liberation inherent in fashion, I feel that this is just tasteless in light of the state of poverty in India. I feel it's a mockery of the real, on-the-ground issues faced by countries (like hours) who have a huge majority of our population under the poverty line.

Anonymous said...

Okay so I get their concept. But it was executed just a little too well!

Right, mr. shopaholic, they should have just used models of different ages made up to look poor.

Bright side: I can only hope they at least paid the "models" here a considerable fee, help out a little.

Mr. Shopaholic said...

jungzx: isn't looking poor one of the de rigeur moments in this world of fashion? paying huge bucks to look like a chic beggar.

fashpack: more Singapore stories please. :-)

mistertildaswinton said...

i think this concept is not only totally relevant, but reflective of the current mindset in fashion. it's about bringing fashion back down to earth and perhaps this was the best way the editors of vogue india could express that.

if the images were portrayed as too 'real' and 'shocking' then i think the point was made.

afterall, isn't style and fashion meant to stir emotions and elicit response?