What’s in Vogue in India

Thanks for everyone for staying tuned while I was out on vacation.  And now back to our regularly scheduled programing.

The New York Times ran a story on Sunday about an appalling decision by Vogue India to run a series of photos of poor people wearing high fashion items:

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).

As if the photo shoot weren’t a bad enough idea, Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s responded to criticism by saying, ‘“Lighten up.”  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.”’

The problem is, treating people like props is a rich man’s privilege.  And it’s an ugly one.

I guess you have to admire Ms. Tanna for sticking to her guns on this one, instead of coming out and admitting that this was a gross error of judgement?  Vogue didn’t even bother to name the people in the shoot, though they did give details of each of the fashion accessories.

I’d venture to guess that Vogue India editor Priya Tanna has never sat down and talked to a person struggling to make ends meet, and I’d bet good money that none of her close friends face any real economic hardship.

The first step towards addressing the differences and inequality in the world is addressing the problem.  But real momentum will come when we break down the illusion of separateness and difference in the world.  This story is a reminder of how far we still have to go, and it’s especially worrysome coming out of  a country that is as well-positioned as any to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  The pace of change would quicken immeasurably if the new mega-rich in India took up the mantle of change en masse.

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