Abby K. sent me a link to this New York Times article about the August issue of Vogue India. The issue has sparked controversy because of a fashion spread that shows poor Indians modeling extremely expensive brand-name accessories, such as this child modeling a Fendi bib that costs around $100 while being held by a woman prominently missing teeth:

Or this one of a barefoot man, also missing teeth, holding a Burberry umbrella that costs about $200:

From the article:

Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s message to critics of the August shoot: “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.

I’m not sure where to even begin with this one. The objectification of the poor, who are used as props in a fashion magazine aimed at people very different from them? The oblivious discussion of the “power of fashion,” while ignoring the issue of how much these luxury items cost relative to average incomes in India? I’m especially struck by the way that the inability to spend $200 on an umbrella is no longer seen as a privilege because “anyone” can “carry it off”; it’s not about having $200 extra dollars, it’s about having the mindset to know you can carry these items and won’t make them look ugly or tacky, apparently. There’s a complete denial of privilege and power having anything to do with wealth,  social stratification, or any inequality more consequential than some people maybe worrying that they won’t “make” fashion “look beautiful” (which in and of itself is an interesting idea–it’s not whether the fashion items make you look beautiful, it’s what you do for them).

NEW! Geerte S. sent in a similar advertising campaign for Suit Supply (all images here).  She writes:

Suit supply is an international chain that offers affordable suits – the kind of place that mainly caters to people who just graduated and need their first suits for jobs interviews, first job, etc – definitely a predominantly white audience… [The] campaign apparently centers on black families, seemingly from some third world country.


Text:  Aubrey’s ambition is to send his son to school and to have a car so he can get supplies for his shop.


Text: Faeez Vanniel’s ambition is to own the taxi he is driving and to be his own boss.


Text: Timothy’s ambition is to open a fish restuarant and serve up his daily catch.


Text: Neil Cornelius’ ambition is to build a stone house with a real fountain and to send his children to a safe school.


Text: Landi’s ambition is to be a successful music producer and to make his wife, a singer, famous.


Text:  Zacharia’s ambition is to expand his TV repair shop to the container next door and the one next to that.


Text: Lamla’s ambition is to get his driver’s license and start a chicken-selling business.

NEW! (Oct. ’09) Mihai L. alerted us to a fashion spread in the Romanian version of One Magazine in which a model is posed with Tanzanians:




Mihai says,

Andreea Marin Banica is the star in these photos and the interview is about her career. She is a Romanian TV celebrity and philanthropist…In the interview, Andreea Marin explains the idea behind [the shoot]: “ put face-to-face two different images, two civilizations, two cultures, two distinct lifestyles – nowadays Europe: very stylish, elegant, with attitude and self-awareness versus Maasai Africa… Me from today confronting Eastern Africa that keeps its last century perfume.”

Compare these to other interesting fashion spreads here, here, here, here, and here.

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