· A review of the 2016 documentary ·
In 2016, British Vogue celebrated its 100th anniversary. The British offshoot of the famed fashion magazine started during World War I when the fighting halted the import of Vogue to its British readers. Instead of going without the arbiter of taste and culture, Condé Nast conceived a British version and since then, it has been its own entity. Anyone who has read both publications knows that they are as different as an American bar and an English pub. While Vogue is the arbiter of highbrow fashion, taste, and culture, British Vogue is closer to American Glamour – fun, accessible, but not quite as elite as its American counterpart.
Last September, appropriately, the BBC ran a two-part documentary on the magazine. Following mostly Alexandra Shulman, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue at the time, along with some of the other key players in the production of the magazine, the documentary offers an insight into an important year for British Vogue. It documented the incredible exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery documenting the magazine’s one hundred years and the shocking announcement of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, as the centenary issue’s cover star. This was a coup – the Duchess had not and has not since posed for a cover shoot. However, it also shows the drama and suspense, the competition and cut-throat nature. Most importantly, it shows how undesirable working in the industry is.
Fashion is notoriously exclusive and snooty. It’s catty and competitive and this documentary only reinforced our preconceived notions of it. It shows how one personality dominates a publication like British Vogue (in this case Shulman) and it makes one question why we give so much stock to one person. In one memorable scene, almost everyone on Shulman’s team votes for one cover photo and she votes for another. Guess which ends up on the cover?
If you’re a fan of fashion magazines, you’ll enjoy this insight. If you’re dismayed with the fashion industry, it will confirm your feelings. It shows that our taste is being dictated by one middle-aged woman who has an ego and feels that her opinion trumps that of anyone else. An unpleasant character who never once smiles and never defers to anyone (except Anna Wintour, her counterpart at American Vogue) but whom everyone defers to despite their better judgment.
It’s interesting to note that one year on and the two biggest “stars” of the series are no longer with British Vogue. In January, just months after the centenary issue and the debut of the documentary, Shulman left British Vogue. In April, Edward Enninful, former editor of i-D magazine (a magazine that could not be further from British Vogue in terms of tone, style, and aesthetic), was announced as the new editor-in-chief. Shockingly, Lucinda Chambers, the magazine’s fashion director and a 36-year-old veteran of the magazine, was fired from the publication. In a dramatic exchange, a candid and accusatory interview with Chambers was posted on the online fashion journal Vestoj, purporting the firing. It was then quickly taken down, amended and reposted. The intrigue was more exciting than British Vogue has been in years.