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Vogue India Appeals to the Not-Yet Nouveau Riche
Poor Little Rich Country

(Click to enlarge)

Call it exploitation, post-colonialism, or poor marketing, but the image seen here is actually part of a high-end fashion spread. The editorial layout, which features a toothless gent identified only as "man" who holds a $200 Burberry umbrella, is part of Vogue India's attempt to capitalize on the nation's growing middle class.

The mag's August issue featured not models, but "average" citizens, all unnamed, holding designer bags and couture items. Yes: Poor people wearing items they couldn't afford with the sale of both kidneys.

Generally, we'd applaud the use of non-models in a fashion book. But we usually reserve our "thanks for not using anorexic models" applause for those who don't substitute them with "skinny because of malnourishment" persons.

Most Indians survive well below the poverty line on less than $1.25 a day, giving this whole spread a very disturbing Derelicte-Zoolander vibe. But it's the way Vogue India is using its models — Look! Silly poor people! — to appeal to the middle class (that thi that's supposed to help get rid of the caste system) that's so offensive.

Where most might see a third-world country, fashion scions see a burgeoning middle class market to penetrate. Far from exploiting the "models" used in the spread, Vogue India's editor Priya Tanna saw the photos as a chance to draw in new customers while eschewing that traditional elitist culture she normally helps bring to the table:

"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.

At least she's honest?

While India is the sanctuary for the world's failing print publications, it's callous to assume Indians are dying for some Anna Wintour action right now. Actually, quite a few are dying from suicide, thanks to the extreme levels of debt they've amassed and which society shuns. You know, the type of debt that arises from buying into Western consumerism and running up a credit line you can't afford. Not exactly the prime market for $3,000 little black dresses.

And while everyone may need to "lighten up" when it comes to dressing the poor in rich man's clothing, can you imagine this spread running in, say, the imaginary Vogue Zimbabwe or Vogue Sudan?

No. Because that would be offensive. And something the Vogue brand would stand up against … in an expensive, celebrity-laden high-gloss fashion spread.

Sep 2, 2008 · posted by drew · Link · 3 Responses
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Comments (3)
No. 1 Naina says:

AS an Indian I am disgusted at the comments made by the so called editor. The real problem in India right now is the mushrooming of foreign magazines, giving steep competitions. It shows how desperate they are to sell their magazines. It doesn???t matter whether they exploit the poor and the needy so long as they get what they want. Some Indian journalist should actually find out if these ???Nameless??? people were even paid. I have no doubt they might be paid only when this story became an issue. The editor clearly comes across an ignorant, heartless fool, who probably got that job because of her family connections.

Posted: Sep 5, 2008 at 12:31 am
No. 2 susie says:

You rock, Naina. This planet is only beginning to suffer the effects of those who have worshipped money and have zero compassion for others.

Posted: Sep 7, 2008 at 10:22 am
No. 3 sophia says:

"lighten up" ???!!! Who is this woman? Does she live under a rock and remain completely oblivious to what is going on in this world? I would love to know what merits she was hired on as intelligence obviously was not of any requirement. Shame on you Vogue!

Posted: Sep 7, 2008 at 11:22 am
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