Vogue India’s Fashion Spread Stirs A Controversy

Vogue’s Fashion Photos Spark Debate in India by Heather Timmons

I came across this article in the NY Times a couple weeks ago about a fashion spread in Vogue India that showed “normal” Indian citizens posing with high fashion accessories. The thing is, the accessories they’re posing with were with hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars, while the Indian citizens portrayed make somewhere in the ballpark of $1.25 a day. Some people are outraged by the spread, claiming that it was “tacky” and “distasteful,” while editor of Vogue India Priya Tanna thinks that people should “lighten up”, that “We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world.”

Personally I side with Ms. Tanna on this one, mostly because I found the photos to be absolutely beautiful. The subjects, though not identified, are all smiling and laughing. Though the man above is holding a $200 Burberry umbrella in a mud hut, I feel like he’s portrayed in a beautiful light. You can see another photo from the shoot by clicking here.

What do you all think? Leave your take on the photos in the comments.

22 Comments Vogue India’s Fashion Spread Stirs A Controversy

  1. Michael September 20, 2008 at 10:38 PM

    my favorite part about the times article is the link that says Enjoy the convenience of home delivery of The Times for less than $1 a day.

    might have been smart to leave that one out of this article.

  2. mrfb September 20, 2008 at 11:45 PM

    I have a great book of photography called Sonomama Sonomama by Taishi Hirokawa.

    The book description:

    “Taishi Hirokawa travels around rural Japan in a wagon loaded with designer outfits of namely, Issay Miyake, Comme de Garcon, Yohji Yamamoto and others. He meets people who live with nature, bearing sun and the earth, such as a farmer ploughing his feild, a fisherman, a man working in a gas station, a builder at work, a country watch-maker, a general grocer, an icecream man, and an amateur archeologist doing research on his own. He asks them to dress into the designer outfits on the spot and captures them on film.

    sonomama sonomama (Adv.) – Just like that; just as you are. unchanged; as before; in a natural state; don’t move inch…”

    It might be hard to find but it’s a pretty interesting series.

  3. Angele September 20, 2008 at 11:58 PM

    Why not let them forget their hard life and live some kind of fairy tale for a few hours?

  4. arnie September 21, 2008 at 1:34 AM

    hmmm…i have to agree with the critics on this one. I’m pretty sure they never realized that the accessories that they carry worth A LOT but the idea it self maybe pretty good in conception but went bad in execution. I used to live in third world country and although I got lucky to live as middle level class, those guys in lower level income have a really hard life. For me, the picture is saying that their survival is less valuable compared to that expensive lifestyle. The picture is beautifully done but it disregard the unexpected social condition of india.
    Fashion or even design never exist to save the world but to make it a better place.

  5. Denise September 21, 2008 at 3:12 AM

    I love the atmosphere of the photo and don’t feel offended at all by matching the beauty of the named fashion matches so beautifully with the colour of the sari.

  6. pedro freenandes September 21, 2008 at 3:33 AM

    got hands on to free beautiful design pieces stacked them on to beautiful normal indian people. the relation between the indian and the high fashion is just an aesthetic action taken by the photographers / art directors. for me it is ok!
    i just hope the indian involved got some fair money for this operation. the rest are just cynical-oriented observations towards other artists.

  7. pedro freenandes September 21, 2008 at 3:38 AM

    i would do this often in india, so more indians could get a share. i find it awesomely inspiring to wander around the cities to find models for the shootout. can you imagine?

  8. cdm September 21, 2008 at 4:57 AM

    Unfortunately the people who would find this series more than offensive don’t have a voice in which to air their complaints.
    The Indian Middle class which find this all faintly amusing and believe that fashion\design\photography have nothing to do with mass suicide by Indian peasantry do.

    I like your blog but you’re mistaken, this isn’t funny, it isn’t fashion, it’s at best wholly ignorant and at worst abuse.

  9. Linda September 21, 2008 at 9:19 AM

    I don’t think it’s about tossing these people a “fairy tale” for a few hours. What I want to know is if these “models” were fairly compensated for their work. They should have been paid a going rate for starters, and additionally they should have been allowed to keep whatever merchandise they fancied, as is common practice with models at a shoot. Not, presumably, to wear or use, but to sell. If they could find the right forum to sell a Birkin bag, they would find themselves suddenly transported to the middle class.

    The criticism about not naming them in the photo captions is not as important in my opinion, as models are almost never identified by name in this manner (unless you’ve made the cover).

    My guess, however, is that they weren’t informed what models typically make for a photo shoot. They weren’t informed that they could pick an item or two to keep and do with what they please. My guess is that they were, in fact, taken advantage of–making money for the magazine and for the product lines, without seeing any return for their own role in that venture.

  10. faz September 21, 2008 at 2:35 PM

    I don’t care if they were trying to make these people feel equal to people who can afford this stuff. I’m all about that. But fashion shouldn’t be about how expensive or exclusive something is, and putting the idea into these people’s heads that it’s ok to have things like this when they obviously cannot afford it is ludicrous. I’m not saying they don’t deserve nice things, but unlike us more privileged people here in the western world, they know the difference between necessity and desire. The pictures are beautiful, no doubt about that. the people are gorgeous. And yes, it would be nice to own a wallet that costs more than my life insurance policy, but lets keep our materialistic ways out of their culture. If anything, this makes me think of our country’s (the US) future. The crumbling economy could easily put us in the same dollar a day budget that they are on.
    The idea of the photo shoot is interesting, and maybe even a little cute, but you have to put more thought into what you’re doing, and saying not to take fashion too seriously is silly. It’s a statement, and it can be taken a million different ways, all of which should be put into mind when making it.

  11. pedro freenandes September 21, 2008 at 6:20 PM

    you really are such lame asses. you don’t know nothing about their asian world whatsoever. “western does this, western does that…” you really got a nerve to regurgitate political correctness, but you would make the exact same work.
    you know what is true. it is in the exact same moment when you say “yes” or “no”. i don’t know if the majority of answers here are from artists. but if you are one, ya should be ashamed to create a world of preconception in your head. coreless people!

  12. faz September 22, 2008 at 5:31 PM

    hmm let’s see, me?
    3rd world working class immigrant parents…check
    knowing a thing or two about being broke…double check
    not to mention that your post did nothing to prove a point besides sounding elitist.
    if you want to start calling people lame asses, we each have email addresses, contact us directly and lets keep bobby’s blog clean.

  13. jayant ugra September 23, 2008 at 3:59 AM

    Two questions??….
    Could u guys define a Third world country for me, cause i have come across something called “Trailer parks” and rodent infested ghettos in the united states…safely placed 30 miles away from the big cities…and what does “White trash” mean ?? heard that a lot in ur movies ?!?

    What would the West coin a Second world country !?
    Perhaps some country which has a lot of Asian immigrants now….i’d love to hear your answers

    So we indians are not really good in hiding our poverty as compared to the west.out here it’s all out in the open. But we can live with that. Health care is still affordable and possible in India. We are still working on that and lot of other issues.

    We have made the mistake in the past of selling India as a land of uneducated/poor/miserable fucks but things have changed now. Please come and take a look.

    Lets talk bout fashion, not everyone here reads Vogue for fashion[thank god !!],we go by our home budget…mostly in the metros and upcoming cities…we copy Bollywood stars…in fact they are on the magazine covers most of the time…and i am waiting for the day when only full time professional models be clicked for Vogue covers, but that’s just a stupid fantasy and a different story altogether. It would be great if fashion editors copy the west on that point all the time.

    Some self respecting Indians are not going to be amused by this fashion spread…not because most of us call ourselves “educated” or we don’t have a great taste in fashion or is that the only way you want look at us..as seen in this Fashion spread, its just plain mockery…unless it works out there for most of you to make a living off. Which is the case for many photographers and docu filmmakers. Average work i say.

    I feel really sorry for the new age Indian aspirational monkey…fashion editors/ self declared Fashionitas [wannabes with lots of money to blow…in India]
    IMHO he/she is not getting enough good editorial quality, unlike the trash that we just saw. We all would love to ape the west, but a little respect is all one can expect. One step at a time i guess.

    For many of those not educated about fashion or things in general would never see this Fashion spread or read this blog…I guess we are not missing much.

    I did not use elephants/donkeys to go to school, not that i have ever been abroad or been asked that…but its still nice to know what does not happens out here.

    India is not a exotic/miserable location as its made out to be, please come and take a look for yourself.
    Its like any other country, full of people and different things.

    I am just an average Indian who happens to be a Photographer by profession, I hope like every other working human to be judged by my work and not the racial background or the stereotypes people have been fed with.

    Hope my english was not that impossible to understand.

    warm regards
    jayant ugra [Mumbai]

  14. tipere September 23, 2008 at 5:32 AM

    there are more issues about indian wealth then annual income. There are some indians that will never have access to wealth and it has nothing to do with western influences but a local dichotomy of castres. Nothing is fair in this world. I hope also that fair paiements were made. The pictures are indeed breathtaking, the subjects beautifull. I don’t even care what they are peddling but I like the contrast and it is a clear indication that these indians look rich culturaly and spiritualy, the luxury items in the pictures do not clash with the overall picture like it would if some homeless slum villager from southern US would be… Sorry folks, this is a global issue, soon, many countries might create the same photo shoot in your town but with a different twist. We are all zoo animals.

  15. jayant ugra September 23, 2008 at 8:29 AM

    Zoo animals don’t choose to be zoo animals, but we have a choice. We also have the dangerous choice of turning each others into one.

  16. penny lee September 28, 2008 at 12:32 AM

    i agree with tipere. and besides, i think these photos also tell us that these items could look good on anyone and anyone could wear them regardless of race or financial status. they just happen to be real expensive. so all in all, these photos kinda bring people from all walks of life together and we have to admit, though it seems like the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, we are already aware of this reality and we’ve started to do something on it, right? maybe we aren’t half way through yet, but c’mon, let’s all stop being cynical and pessimistic. we’ll never get through with this if we stay that way.

  17. TG September 28, 2008 at 8:37 PM

    for me, something just doesn’t feel right it, even though the photo came out quite nicely.

  18. yeehaw October 1, 2008 at 12:36 AM

    i saw the spread in the magazine and the photos themselves are technically great…the fendi and dior, on the contrary, look cheap and tacky next to these real people.

  19. Veronica October 1, 2008 at 8:28 AM

    I don’t think it’s that bad.

    Banksy’s whole manifesto [as written in his art book] stems from an amazing Holocaust story involving a shipment of lipstick.

  20. RAHUL SINGH October 9, 2008 at 2:08 AM

    Hey guys !
    This is Ridicilous in the Extreme!!!

    I am from India and this picture is

    just a village and cannot be COMMENSURATED TO the Whole country!

    How can these guys from the fashion Industry dipict such Callous iMAGE behaviour!!

    Guys in case you all So called International; clients are buying a 200$ Umbrella ill SAY IT IS ONLY WORTH 15 $ IN THE iNDIAN MARKET (IN THE mETROPOLITAN cITies ,I MEAN) and max 30$.!! All you guys are being duped out of your cases!!

    But ill STRESS on the point that these Products that are MANUFACTURED BY the INDIAN DESIGNERS (ANNA SINGH, ETC.. are all made by employing CHEAP labour from the villages like these photographs ). and these Designers themselves are busy SPLURGING YOUR Hard EARNED & Duped
    CASh in CLUBS and weekly parties in the CITIES and EVERY DESIGNER has those Expensive
    40.000$ cars like MERCS and BMW’s AND nOW PORSHE TOO HAS OPENED HIS EXCLUSIVE BRANCH IN MUMBAI city,Kemps Corner south of the city area. (city was called Bombay before renaming it Mumbai. Everyone hates the renaming by the Govt.)
    (The rates of houses in this Area inrange of 500-1000 dollars per Sq.Feet residential!!(minimum850Sq.Feet available))(was Bombay before)and live in $$400,000$ (self owned)accomodations in the Proshest areas of the city .

    man this photograph jhas really given me the correct explaination for these AVARACIOUS DESIGNERS!!! sHAME ON THEM FOR DOING SUCH ACTS!!


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