Fashion and Exotism

18 December, 2011

I bought the latest UK Vogue when going from London to Stockholm the other day. I like Vogue. I like the fact that it usually has a couple of longer articles with some actual content. One article was especially interesting. “Vogue’s Great Escapes”, celebrating the magazines persistent way of travelling for their photo shoots. We have all seen it, haven’t we? The fashion editorial set in an “exotic” location. It is usually a white model posing in extremely expensive items in some, to us Europeans, far away country among some “charming” locals. Robin Muir writes in the article how the travelling was part of Vogue’s early success as the readers was craving some exotic environments. It would suit the Vogue woman in her chic way of viewing the world as her oyster. Put the European woman next to an Peruvian Native or in front of a communist propaganda poster in USSR in 1976 and the magazine will sell more copies.

I don’t know what to think of this. I react because of its complete lack of criticism against the phenomenon. It is an article which just says how splendid and fantastic Vogue has been to put their models on planes and shipped them all across the world to get some real sense of  exotic fashion. Look how great we are! Look how lush these Dior clothes look next to a farmer! I know and get the fact that magazines want to have spectacular shoots. It’s part of the reason why we buy these magazines. Yes, I want to read the articles but I also want to see the work of some of the world’s greatest photographers. Their way of using the exotic is rather old-fashioned though. What is the exotic? Bring in some natives in weird hats, an odd animal and we’re sorted. Is it that simple? Where is the line? According to whom is it exotic (as they literary call it in the article). The whole problem of Orientalism as we read about it in Edward Said’s book Orientalism comes to mind as something still very much a problem.

One thought that can be useful in this is the idea of imperialism. Many of the countries listed as locations for Vogue photo shoots was once colonies of European nations. Another editorial comes to mind which is the one by the American Vogue with Keira Knightley from 2007. It is called The Chronicles of Keira and is shaped as a traveling diary by Keira in which she writes about her experiences in Kenya. It strengthens the idea of the exotic and strange and the local people she encourages as “the other.” She is The English Rose with pale skin and covered with clothes with an obvious 1900’s aesthetics with long white dresses, straw hats and khaki.

Am I too sensitive and PC? Thankfully does not the rest of the newest Vogue contain any more “exotic photo shoots”. It is just a few skinny models in studios as seems to be the most common form these days. Do we love the exotic photo shoots? Is that the reason we buy them? Am I as much of an arse by buying and loving some Moroccan jewelery and indian shawls?

Please drop me a comment with your views on the subject. Would be interesting.



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