The Fashion Bible’s New Testament: Vogue’s Response to COVID-19

 

Vogue’s June/July Cover, featuring a vintage still life by Irving Penn, circa 1968

 

We humans are frail creatures in search of hope and comfort. Therefore, in times of crisis, we turn to religion. It’s supposedly easier to make sense of chaos if you believe there’s something greater at work—and nothing has been more chaotic than the last few weeks. Just two months ago, showgoers were making their bi-annual pilgrimage to the four fashion capitals in search of the next new trends. But If there’s a sermon on the mount, will anyone listen if we’re all sheltering in place? 

 

During the COVID-19 crisis, clothing remains the hardest hit sector of retail. Collection development, production and department store drops are stalled until shoppers feel comfortable to spend money on clothing again. Sensing this rising tide of confusion, brands made a jump to lead their customers, fellow industry members and the general public into solace and comfort. Immediately, major luxury houses and small, independent brands alike started making masks, gowns and other PPE, along with hand sanitizer and hefty donations. 

 

With the help of Zoom and a rose ready to bloom, Vogue has begun their attempt to lead the masses through this time of confusion. But does this fashion bible have the spirit to save and inspire the ruins of the modern fashion landscape? 

 

When the track pants-clad Anna Wintour announced in mid-April the beginning of Vogue Global Conversations, a four day Zoom conference centered on the future of fashion, I was hopeful. If Anna could let herself be seen by the world in loungewear, maybe we could finally see a more vulnerable side to the stark institution. 

 

Bella Hadid in the infamous Alexander Mcqueen rose dress, shot by Vogue in March 2019

 

I signed up for the first lecture, The Future of Creativity, with Marc Jacobs, Edward Enninful and Kenneth Ize. Jacobs, ten minutes into his conversation with the British Vogue EIC, said one thing that made me think about the perspective of these resident designers, editors, and creators that hold command without the emotional understanding of fashion and its meaning to younger designers today. 

 

He touted digital connection and social distancing as the most dangerous part of the coronavirus—claiming that phones took away the magic of live fashion shows. It’s this digital connection that democratizes and feeds this new generation of fashion. And to the point that digital communication is the most dangerous aspect of the pandemic—Kim, there’s people that are dying. This felt less like a lecture on creativity and more like a window into Vogue’s fashion philosophy: One that turns a blind eye to real, everyday struggles of people, whether they participate in fashion or not. Marc, from his suite in the Mercer Hotel, living his extravagant lifestyle, quickly lost my hope and attention for these institutions. 

 

Then, to the magazine’s merit, Enninful brought on Kenneth Ize, who humanized the zoom call. He didn’t glamorize fashion or its consumers, rather, gave tangible answers into the future of how fashion may operate. Right now, voices of small designers are more important than ever—the same designers that are often steamrolled from exposure due to high ad rates in Vogue pages. While Ize saved face, I was still more than skeptical—if this was Vogue’s only attempt at unity, consider me an atheist.

 

But there is no black and white, nor wholly good or bad. Their response is muddled between trying to do right by the industry today and traditions of icy luxury.  Old habits die hard, and Vogue comes from a place of privilege and wealth. While lackluster editorials and an aging readership isn’t doing much to win over the purveyors of fashion today, it quickly became clear they’re in this fight for the long haul. 

 

Vogue recently announced that, in tandem with the CFDA, they would be launching A Common Thread, a fashion fund for COVID relief, targeted towards brands with revenues under 30 million and under 30 employees. According to the New York Times, over 800 designers have applied for a splice of the 4.1 million dollar pot of funds raised in the past month. This will hopefully keep the lights on for a generation of budding designers. A Common Thread will do much to shape how the fashion industry recovers, more than content grabs like Instagram Lives, FaceTime photoshoots or Zoom calls.  Even I’ll admit, there’s a piece of me that just wants to fall back into familiarity and complain about Vogue, as was the status quo for as long as I can remember. But now may be their last chance to change for the better. There’s no denying that the fashion industry is beginning to build on new ground.

 

Another rose still-life by Irving Penn for Vogue, circa 1948

 

Vogue has long been criticized for being out of touch with a majority of democratized fashion, despite being the leading fashion magazine around the world. Though their editorials don’t pull at any heartstrings, this crisis will no doubt drive fashion to the comfort and support of this storied more-than-a-magazine. We are humans, after all, and thus we turn to the religion we know best: Vogue, the fashion bible. 

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