Earlier in July Lucinda Chambers, British Vogue’s former fashion director, expressed her concerns with the industry in a candid interview with Vestoj Editor in Chief, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg. In the viral piece Chambers reveals many industry secrets including the power that advertisers have over publishers and the darker side of the magazine business. Amid the whole controversy, Sleek spoke to Anja to catch up on the fall-out, on what it means for fashion and the industry’s problem with honesty.
“It’s worth asking whether ‘authenticity’ is still a relevant word in culture” – Anja Aronowsky Cronberg
SLEEK: How are you surviving the turbulence after the so-called scandal of the Lucinda Chambers interview?
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg: Now things are back to normal for me: the reporter requests, reader comments and lawyer’s letters have subsided. It’s curious how things explode and then blow over in the blink of an eye.
How does Chambers’ interview relate to authenticity, a tricky subject in the fashion world?
The concept of “authenticity” is very much on my mind right now since it’s this year’s subject for Vestoj Journal. One thing that keeps returning is how often we in the fashion industry presents one persona publicly and reserve another for private interaction. Since the fashion industry tends to be shaped by the collaboration between brands and the media, this dual nature is particularly obvious. I’ve interviewed many insiders over the years and it’s very unusual to hear anyone openly criticizing anything – there is too much at stake. It’s mostly self-censorship though: journalists and editors are often wary of publishing things that can jeopardise their good relations to a person or a brand. The goodwill of brands has a direct influence on the financial success of a publication, so the “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” mentality is very common. Though this is understandable, it also makes for a very limited range of creative and journalistic expression. With Vestoj I want to encourage a more open and transparent attitude, and many of the topics I’ve worked on for the annual journal, like “failure,” “power” or “shame,” are attempts to reflect on the issues that drive us but that we prefer not to talk openly about.
“All I can hope for is that hearing someone in power be open about their vulnerabilities might make you feel a little less alone with your own” – Anja Aronowsky Cronberg
Do you think the Chambers case relates to gender issues within the corporate environment? I heard some people say “she was so boring, it would have only taken me two minutes to get her fired instead of three”.
That sounds like a rather troll-ish declaration to me – it’s easy to throw controversial statements around if you don’t have to face the consequences. Frankly, I haven’t been thinking about this episode as one played out a certain way because it involves a woman in a corporate environment – to me it’s more an example of what happens when the smoke and mirrors that we’re used to being surrounded by in fashion crack. The story very quickly took on a life of its own. With the speed at which news travel today, the story itself becomes the news, and the most important thing is to be in on it – not to add anything new to the narrative.
To me, both Chambers and you have been courageous, but one could also think of people seeing it as petty reaction to getting fired.
People make of things what they will. All I can say is that while on the surface this is the account of a fashion editor’s refusal to remain in line, it’s also about the notorious difficulty to publicly say or publish anything even vaguely critical of the fashion industry’s status quo – for someone who wants to remain an insider that is. Even the things that „everybody knows“ are obfuscated from the wider public via that screen of smoke and mirrors. We see this in how bland show reviews often are, how magazines kowtow to advertisers and how most write-ups are barely disguised promotional pieces, primarily intended to maintain the existing power dynamic.
“Maybe more people will ask whether it is in fact possible to challenge the status quo” – Anja Aronowsky Cronberg
So in the end it’s all about reputation?
Marketing is all about reputation, isn’t it? Branding is not about what or who you are, but what you can make people think that you are. It’s not about what’s fake or real, what’s at stake is usually the brand’s image – “image” being the operative word. It’s worth asking whether “authenticity” is still a relevant word in culture. Maybe we’re better off asking questions like that – at least that’s what I’m hoping to achieve with the issue of Vestoj I’m producing now.
Do you believe it has consequences for you or Vestoj?
It’s too soon to say what the consequences of this whole affair will be for anyone involved. As for Vestoj, it’s true that the platform has received a lot of media attention recently, but what that leads to, who knows? Media storms blow over quickly, and often very little remains. As for me, all I can do is to keep working, creating this alternative way of engaging with fashion that a few more people know about now. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, all I can hope for is that hearing someone in power be open about their vulnerabilities might make you feel a little less alone with your own. I hope that Lucinda’s interview, and its subsequent fall-out, also presents an opportunity to examine why it is so hard to be critical in fashion, and look at who gains from the industry’s rigid and static power structure – but also at how the fashion system mimics a wider social environment where elites dominate the media and dissidents are typically marginalized. And in light of Lucinda’s sincerity and candidness, maybe more people will ask whether it is in fact possible to challenge the status quo, and, if so, how?