That Interview


6 July 2017

Rather a few feathers have been ruffled by the publication of a certain interview on critical fashion writing platform Vestoj.

In the interview, Lucinda Chambers, the former fashion director at British Vogue, delivers a bracingly candid exposé of her 36-year career at the magazine. It was taken offline shortly after it was published, and then re-uploaded again with an editorial statement explaining that the "sensitive nature" of the article meant it had been temporarily removed.

Chambers does a number of things in the interview that warrants the charge of "airing dirty laundry". Among the things she does is rail against the magazine's new editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, who will formally take up his role on 1 August 2017, but who has already begun reshuffling his senior editorial team, allegedly having fired Chambers in May. It took him all of "three minutes to do it," claims Chambers.

The staggering superficiality of editorial recruitments at Vogue is another peeve that gets vented. Stylist roles are readily dished out to people who have "never done a shoot before", but who "look fantastic and confident," which is Vogue-speak, we are made to understand, for wearing "a red velvet dress and Wellington boots" to your job interview. "Fashion is full of anxious people," Chambers summarises.

Renzo Rosso, the OTB chief who bought the fashion house Marni in 2015 – Chambers used to work as a consultant for the brand – gets short thrift, too. "He is the antithesis of everything Marni stood for," says Chambers. "The last womenswear collection at Marni was a disaster; it had terrible reviews. The show was appalling."

So much for the sass. Mainstream media outlets have been quick to cover the explosiveness of these types of statements as an instance of salty bridge-burning, or, somewhat condescendingly, as an indignant posh girl's diatribe. What these platforms fail to register is the extent of truth-saying that emerges from the interview. "The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap," admits Chambers, and it may sound like an outburst. But she explains why it is crap: "He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway." That advertisers are in the position to dictate editorial decisions large and small is, both tellingly and understandably, something few media outlets are comfortable talking about. Kudos to Chambers for having the guts to.

Deeper psychological insights into the world of fashion magazines and advertising are also to be gleaned. "In fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need," says Chambers. "We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying." Some of most frequently used words appearing in the interview are different variations on "anxiety".

"Businessmen are trying to get their creatives to behave in a businesslike way; everyone wants more and more, faster and faster," says Chambers, alluding to the speeding-up of the fashion cycle at the demand of big corporations. "Big companies demand so much more from their designers – we’ve seen the casualties. It’s really hard. Those designers are going to have drink problems, they’re going to have drug problems. They’re going to have nervous breakdowns. It’s too much to ask a designer to do eight, or in some cases sixteen, collections a year. The designers do it, but they do it badly – and then they’re out."

Chambers may be part of a departing generation of senior editorial staff at British Vogue who are currently forming a "posh girl exodus". The departure of deputy editor Emily Sheffield, for instance, was announced shortly after the Vestoj interview was published (Sheffield is Samantha Cameron's sister). That Enninful should want to recruit a new diverse team for his impending editorship should not be considered news, however. That's a given. Let's take Chambers' industry-wide critiques seriously instead, and consider their implications for design and magazine culture in earnest. It's an alarming picture of exploitation and restricted editorial freedom that emerges.