It’s not like fashion magazines are known for being sensitive to society at large. Their whole function is to celebrate the elite and to encourage people to embrace a certain kind of privilege—whether it’s financial or aesthetic—regardless of its larger context. Vogue is not alone in publishing controversial stories that draw the ire of the world outside the fashion bubble. One notorious example is Joan Juliet Buck’s adoring profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. So, in a sense, no one should be surprised by Vogue’s current fashion spread that purports to “celebrate Hurricane Sandy’s first responders,” because willful obtuseness is clearly just part of the Vogue mentality, and yet, we are surprised. Because, really, it’s hard to believe that this spread got the stamp of approval from anyone in New York who lived through Sandy.
Vogue’s editorial, which was shot by Annie Leibovitz, is called “Storm Troupers: Celebrating Hurricane Sandy’s First Responders.” Which, ok, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, right? I mean, “celebration” is a good thing. Maybe it’s some kind of photographic portfolio of the first responders that has nothing to do with fashion and is instead just a way of showcasing the amazing men and women who were invaluable during Sandy’s rescue and recovery. Except that’s not what this is at all. Instead, the editorial is a way to showcase New York designers’ Spring 2013 lines. Vogue recommends we, “Call them New York’s other finest.”
Each photograph is set in a place in New York that was devastated by Sandy, everywhere from the Rockaways to the Con Edison plant in the East Village to NYU Langone’s NICU center are represented. Each shot is not only populated with first responders, but also with models in, um, “New York’s other finest.” There are quotes by the rescuers, who say things like, “I witnessed the life go out from the equipment,” says [Con Edison] control-room operator Robert Immediato. “Shortly after that, we went into complete darkness. Then the water started entering the control room.” This is interesting! I want to hear more about this. Instead, what follows is a fashion credit for the dress Karlie Kloss is wearing. It’s Oscar de la Renta. As if anyone fucking cares. As if anyone can fucking afford it. That dress probably costs $20,000. Fuck that dress.
And fuck Vogue. And Annie Leibovitz. An actual opportunity was missed here to use a renowned photographer to shoot a story that is fascinating and worthwhile. Vogue just couldn’t resist making this a fashion editorial, no matter how tasteless it is to have models stalking the streets of neighborhoods that are still recovering. It’s completely fine for Vogue to ignore stories like Hurricane Sandy and focus just on fashion, but to try and integrate the two in a way that serves neither, is more than just tasteless. It’s really, really stupid.
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