I read the interview with ousted British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers when it first came out. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it other than it was an intelligent, accurate assessment of the industry in which we work. A little hypocritical (aren’t we all?) and, for me, a little “tell me something I don’t know!” Far from insipid, just not entirely interesting.
But recent headlines surrounding the article seem to position it as significantly more incendiary than the actual content of the piece incites. Perhaps I’ve been blunted on the reality of an industry that is all the things Lucinda says it is, including the contradictions.
Headlines have flooded my feeds—”Fired Vogue Editor Burns Down the House in Blisteringly Candid Interview,” or “Lucinda Chambers, Fired Vogue Editor, Gives Fashion Industry a Kicking.” A kicking? More like a bit of a ribbing and maybe a noogie. If the fashion industry had received a kicking, it would be on the floor clutching its sides and groaning, not giggling a bit like it is now. Not at Lucinda, obviously. Getting fired from a place you’ve worked at for as long as she’s worked at Vogue is rough and we wouldn’t wish that on anyone (well, definitely not on everyone), but the little digs at Vogue, both British and American, have surely rolled off the backs of Anna and Edward like water off a crocodile Birkin. Girl, bye.
The Guardian’s “Why is Lucinda Chambers Airing Vogue’s dirty laundry?” is written in a much more appropriate tone, so if you read another article about this storm in a teacup, read that one.
Yes, Lucinda was fired by British Vogue‘s new editor Edward Enninful in a move that is as commonplace as strawberries on scones. I’ve been there. A new editor took the reigns at a magazine I’d worked at for five years, and started interviewing other people to take my job while I was in the office. He would occasionally take these budding My Jobbers around the office and show them the fashion department. Where I sat. Because I was the fashion director. Some of these people I even knew, and I haven’t spoken to them since (okay!). It’s a jungle out there, but we all know it is. That’s part of the adventure. In the end, I grew a bigger pair of balls and called a meeting with New Editor. I brought him the best pitch he’d ever seen and I stayed. Clearly, the balls I grew were bigger than those of the other menswear editors after my job. But that’s the way of the world, perhaps one of few things in the fashion industry that isn’t exclusive to us.
Okay, so she was fired by the new guy. In her interview with annual fashion journal Vestoj, she says it took him three minutes to do it. I wonder what took him so long. Before he said the words, “you’re fired,” I wonder what they chatted about. The weather, perhaps? We Brits can talk clouds ’til the cows come home. She claims no one else in the building knew either, which may or may not be true. You’ll often find people with advance knowledge of casualties aren’t quick to admit to it after the fact, but even at face value, it makes little difference. Enninful was surely empowered to restructure the editorial team as he saw fit, and firing Lucinda was on his agenda.
So that’s the first couple of paragraphs out of the way—less remarkable than the media frenzy we’ve seen since the article posted. Then, at the other end of the piece, the final paragraph and the sentences that have really fueled the ballyhoo. “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…We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people to continue buying.” At the beginning of the piece, she also says after being fired she wanted to write a letter to her colleagues “to say how proud I am to have worked at Vogue.” So, proud to have worked at Vogue, but also Vogue is irrelevant. Seems a little like having your fashionable cake, and eating it. If you don’t feel like you particularly fit at any company where you work, especially when you are representing and contributing creatively to that company, it probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise when, for whatever reason, you don’t work there anymore. It’s a little uncomfortable, too, that someone would work at a company for 35 years, taking that paycheck and drinking that Kool-Aid, only to diss it the minute they’re let go—that smacks of hind-sighted sanctimony. But I guess that’s fair enough—embrace the sweet lie until you’re faced with the bitter truth.
But while media outlets sink their hooks into these more insignificant sentences and make more out of them than they ought to as they’re often wont to do, it’s the psychology of the piece—largely untouched by the mainstream media—that is the most intriguing insight into the industry. The very title of the Vestoj article is “Will I Get A Ticket?” The piece is exploring the anxieties of the fashion industry, because the interviewer, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, founder and editor of Vestoj, is part of the industry and knows that this is what’s interesting to us. Will I get a ticket?
When the article was taken down less than a day after it was published, speculation swirled. People wondered if the site had received a cease and desist, and there was conjecture Lucinda herself could be sued. It is highly likely her Condé Nast contract contains strict legal stipulations that stop her from publicly discussing the magazine or the company with any negativity. Well, if that’s the case, whoops! But the piece was reposted again, shortly after, with a note from the editor and a statement to the press. “In terms of the reasons why it was removed, they are directly related to the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her interview. As you know, fashion magazines are rarely independent because their existence depends on relationships with powerful institutions and individuals, whether it’s for tickets to shows, access in order to conduct interviews or advertising revenue. We created Vestoj to be an antidote to these pressures, but we are not always immune. We hope Lucinda’s republished interview will spark a discussion which might, in her words, lead to a more ’empowering and useful’ fashion media.”
The wording here is interesting. While Lucinda is essentially bemoaning the shallow nature of the industry she works in, a nature which, as a Voguer, she has almost certainly at one time or another helped perpetuate, the more buttoned-up, academic Cronberg positions the piece as addressing a dependence on industry relationships for tickets, access, and ad revenue. Well, that dependance is real, but that’s all part of the job. That’s part of many jobs—we all know that. However, in the interview, it was positioned differently. When packaged together, “tickets, access, and ad revenue” is black and white—things we need to do our job. What’s revealing, though, is how Lucinda addresses the…can we call it pretentious bullshit? “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?” She talks about the bullies in the industry, some in positions of power who foster anxieties like these. “Fashion is full of anxious people,” she said. “No one wants to be the one missing out.”
The sad fact is that this kind of anxiety, which is summed up by the title of the piece, is perpetuated by individuals. For better or for worse, our industry is elitist and when you buy into the bullshit like so many do, it can become unsavory. Lots of people like it that way—they like unsavory. They probably had a burn book in school (although whether they were popular or not is another story). To determine whether it’s the industry that breeds these people with such astonishing inferiority complexes would need clinical psychological trials and I just don’t have the time. But as long as individuals buy into the bullshit, rest assured it will endure. There are plenty of people who take it all with a pinch of salt. We at FU like to believe that we are some of those people—no fluff, just fashion—and when all is said and done, Lucinda looks like she had fun being fabulous. I think it was Audrey Hepburn who said, “The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy. It’s all that matters.” And if an article in Vestoj makes you happy, so be it. I’m going to buy some Gucci shoes I don’t need.