Fired Vogue director calls out brutality of fashion industry

Ms Lucinda Chambers, the former British Vogue fashion director, says the business cajoles, bullies or encourages people to buy things they do not need.
Ms Lucinda Chambers, the former British Vogue fashion director, says the business cajoles, bullies or encourages people to buy things they do not need.PHOTO: NYTIMES

PARIS • Hell hath no fury like a fashion editor fired.

At the couture shows in Paris this week, the front row was abuzz with news of an incendiary interview with Ms Lucinda Chambers, the former British Vogue fashion director, that was unusual in its frank criticism of the 21st-century fashion ecosystem.

Soon after its publication, however, and amid talk of legal action, the piece was taken down, only to resurface less than 24 hours later.

First published on Monday in Vestoj, an annual academic journal about fashion, the first-person account charted Ms Chambers' abrupt departure from British Vogue in May as well as the broader brutality of the fashion business and the apparent power that heavyweight advertisers have over publishers.

The article was removed from Vestoj's website the same day it was published. But multiple screen captures and photos of its contents continued to be widely circulated.

"A month and a half ago, I was fired from Vogue," Ms Chambers told Vestoj's founder and editor-in-chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, referring to her removal by Mr Edward Enninful. He was hired to replace long-time editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman in April.

"It took them three minutes to do it," Ms Chambers said. "No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The management and the editor I've worked with for 25 years had no idea. Nor did HR.

"Even the chairman told me he didn't know it was going to happen. No one knew, except the man who did it - the new editor."

After conceding that the fashion industry could "chew you up and spit you out", she went on to criticise some of the magazine cover shoots she had produced (saying the blame lay in part with Vogue's allegiances to major advertisers).

She also suggested that Vogue had become an increasingly uninspiring read.

"Truth be told, I haven't read Vogue in years," she said. "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.

"What magazines want today is the latest, the exclusive," she continued. "It's a shame that magazines have lost the authority they once had. They've stopped being useful.

"In fashion, we are always trying to make people buy something they don't need. We don't need any more bags, shirts or shoes.

"So we cajole, bully or encourage people" into buying.

Many industry power players in Paris were tight-lipped after the article was published.

Mr Enninful said he had "no comment" as he sat in the front row of the Chanel show on Tuesday.

An hour later, Conde Nast, the publisher that owns the Vogue titles, released a statement that contradicted Ms Chambers' account of the end of her employment.

"It's usual for an incoming editor to make some changes to the team," the statement said. "Any changes made are done with the full knowledge of senior management."

Dozens of readers, meanwhile, were quick to praise Ms Chambers' candour. Her profile outside the sector increased after her star turn last year in Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, a BBC documentary in which she won legions of fans thanks to her upfront approach, artistic vision and eccentric yet elegant fashion sense.

And then at lunchtime on Tuesday, the tale took a further twist when the article reappeared online.

"Due to the sensitive nature of this article, we took the decision to temporarily remove it from the site, but have now republished it in its entirety," Ms Cronberg said.

"In terms of the reasons why it was removed, they are directly related to the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her interview," she noted.

"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," Ms Cronberg added. "We hope Lucinda's republished interview will spark a discussion which might, in her words, lead to a more 'empowering and useful' fashion media."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2017, with the headline 'Fired Vogue director calls out brutality of fashion industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe