“Will I Get A Ticket?” Commentary on Former Fashion Director Lucinda Chamber’s Firing From British Vogue
“Will I Get A Ticket?” Commentary on Former Fashion Director Lucinda Chamber’s Firing From British Vogue
Yesterday an interview with the former British Vogue Fashion Director Lucinda Chambers went viral. Chambers discussed her firing with Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vestoj, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg and the instatement of the new Editor-in-reign Edward Enninful. The interview has now been removed but here is the commentary and musing. It may take you longer than three minutes to read it.
“It took them three minutes to do it”.
Okay, there is nothing to learn with this first point other than ouch. Clearly, Enninful is trying to live up to the expectation of reshaping British Vogue by bringing it into 2017 and making it a genuine reflection and outlet for millennials, i.e. doing what Teen Vogue in the States and the numerous DIY independent magazines in London (ahem) do so well.
“Later I was having lunch with an old friend who had just been fired from Sotheby’s. She said to me, ‘Lucinda, will you please stop telling people that you’ve been fired.’ I asked her why – it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. She told me, ‘If you keep talking about it, then that becomes the story. The story should be that you’ve had the most incredible career for over thirty years. The story shouldn’t be that you’ve been fired. Don’t muck up the story.’ But I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the person who puts on a brave face and tells everyone, ‘Oh, I decided to leave the company,’ when everyone knows you were really fired. There’s too much smoke and mirrors in the industry as it is. And anyway, I didn’t leave. I was fired.”
Fashion is notorious for being fickle. Journalism is now rarely not personal i.e. a brand’s ethos is expected to be transparent in its staff. There is no time for wishy-washy. In one’s Instagram feed. In who you expect to be in your Senior team. In your reputation and your next big move.
I agree, there is too much smoke and mirrors in an industry which invented the highlight reel. Remember our issue a few years ago – The Smoke Screen Issue? This was based on starting off in fashion and journalism in 2012 and feeling as though both industries were not willing to give new faces, minds and processes the time of day. Chambers’ honesty is refreshing. It sounds as though she understands it is a business and though it must have hurt to be fired and to have left a company she has been a large part of for the past twenty-five years, this is a prime example of other people being upset for you, in the name of keeping face. It resonates with me and the responses I got when I told people I was moving back home and would be commuting to London because financially it worked better for this business. The looks of pity were pitiful as frankly, London is not going anywhere and Chambers, to be brash, is not dead. There is more than enough time to keep producing the work you like to see in the world.
“Fashion can chew you up and spit you out. I worked with a brilliant designer when I was at Marni – Paulo Melim Andersson. I adored him. He was challenging, but highly intelligent. Fragile, like a lot of creative people. We had our ups and downs, but he stayed with us for seven years. Then Chloé came along. The CEO at the time asked my advice about Paulo and I told him, ‘Paulo is great, but you have to know that he won’t turn the brand around for you in a season or even two. You’ve got to give him time, and surround him by the right people.’ ‘Absolutely, absolutely,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that.’ Three seasons later Paulo was out. They didn’t give him time, and he never got his people. I felt so sad for Paulo. If you want good results, you have to support people. You don’t get the best out of anyone by making them feel insecure or nervous. Ultimately, that way of treating people is only about control. If you make someone feel nervous, you’ve got them. But in my view, you’ve got them in the wrong way. You’ve got them in a state of anxiety. I’m thinking of one fashion editor in particular: it’s his modus operandi. He will wrong-foot you and wrong-foot you, and have everyone going, ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.’ “
This makes me sad because it feels as though we have a faulty yet human algorithm in the industry. We are constantly being pumped for ideas when fashion, although it is the smallest creative industry yet brings in the biggest revenue for the UK, is essentially about escape. A great volume of work which has been either ahead of culture or pushed it to the tip, has been produced in a time where being artistically experimental was still a point of pride because eventually there would be a hit. Instead of seeking a revolution every couple of months when you are doing eight to sixteen seasons a year.
“You’re not allowed to fail in fashion – especially in this age of social media, when everything is about leading a successful, amazing life.”
Sometimes as a journalist or an editor, a fear of everything being absolute creeps up. This feeling that what XXY produced in the last two months will either make readers stay or leave as audiences can judge and shape up a brand in one image instead of seeing the whole picture. Loyalty towards a publication, even one which is self-branded as “fashion’s bible” is sadly becoming rare because there is such oversaturation. But that is as rocky as the internet in where we are laying our news, truths and stories. The internet is not a place for the black and white – it’s changing so fast, it’s a blur of colour. And on the plus side, I would rather the internet be up to the brim with ideas and a democracy of voices than be as elitist as say, when Vogue began.
“Nobody today is allowed to fail, instead the prospect causes anxiety and terror. But why can’t we celebrate failure? After all, it helps us grow and develop. I’m not ashamed of what happened to me. If my shoots were really crappy… Oh I know they weren’t all good – some were crappy. The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt 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. Ok, whatever. But there were others… There were others that were great.”
Two things: failure on any end of the spectrum is necessary to push ahead. But can we expect less innovative editorials if we know we have a big advertiser to please? When it’s less than what we know we can do, is that failure too?
I have seen editors in the industry act a certain way to their staff because they are scared if it is not right the first time round, it is the end of the world. I have (naturally) seen assistants feel crippled by this idea of possibly failing in some point of their career. In the words of our Fashion Editor, is it because being successful in fashion is pushing on until you can retire?
“In fashion, people take you on your own estimation of yourself – that’s just a given. You can walk into a room feeling pumped up and confident, and if you radiate that the industry will believe in what you project. If, on the other hand, you appear vulnerable you won’t be seen as a winner. I remember a long time ago, when I was on maternity leave, Vogue employed a new fashion editor. When I met with my editor after having had my baby, she told me about her. She said, ‘Oh Lucinda, I’ve employed someone and she looked fantastic. She was wearing a red velvet dress and a pair of Wellington boots to the interview.’ This was twenty years ago. She went on, ‘She’s never done a shoot before. But she’s absolutely beautiful and so confident. I just fell in love with the way she looked.’ And I went, ‘Ok, ok. Let’s give her a go.’ She was a terrible stylist. Just terrible. But in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident – no one wants to be the one to say ‘… but they’re crap.’
Fashion moves like a shoal of fish; it’s cyclical and reactionary. Nobody can stay relevant for a lifetime – you always have peaks and troughs. The problem is that people are greedy. They think, ‘It worked then, we’ve got to make it work now.’ But fashion is an alchemy: it’s the right person at the right company at the right time. Creativity is a really hard thing to quantify and harness. The rise of the high street has put new expectations on big companies like LVMH. Businessmen are trying to get their creatives to behave in a businesslike way; everyone wants more and more, faster and faster. 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. They fail in a very public way. How do you then get the confidence to say I will go back in and do it again?
This paragraph I find true. Whether it is online or in real life. I have seen those who may not have the most substance in real life flourish on social media and vice versa.
But this attitude is the same for how failure is dealt with within the fashion industry – everything is based on appearance. I know that is not groundbreaking as fashion I suppose is about the outside but with the political climate and this flurry of emerging creatives with something to say, I sometimes forget much of it is based on what it looks like. It makes me ask the question – how many minds are we missing from the fashion industry who would be useful if they didn’t suffer from anxiety, for example? The potential a fashion assistant could have if the time is taken to nurture them? I suppose it is not businesslike to see the numbers as individuals but I make it a standard to see those I work with as humans first. Maybe that’s what we’re lacking for those working across the board in fashion right now.
I feel as though many people in the industry are worried about missing out on the things which may not last a career. In Emma Gannon’s recent episode on her podcast Ctrl Alt Delete with author, beauty editor and journalist, Sali Hudges, author, they discuss how your career is actually a really long time. It’s not just for your twenties, there is not a rush. Maybe we need a reminder that the Instagram count is great but it’s okay if you don’t get that press invite as in all honesty, who knows what will happen to social media – it may even disappear one day and we’ll be onto the next thing. Maybe people care so much more about their following than making real relationships because there is this ticking clock with being the most successful you can be, in the quickest time. Is it because you want your followers to be able to follow you wherever you go or because numbers is how we measure success? I would hate to feel as though my legacy of some sort and place of work for thirty-six years could be over in three minutes. It just seems hollow and almost, a waste of time. Sometimes faking it doesn’t pay off.
“There are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden, for not having the right kind of dinner party, setting the table for the right kind of way or meeting the right kind of people. Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years. Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive. What magazines want today is the latest, the exclusive. It’s a shame that magazines have lost the authority they once had. They’ve stopped being useful. In fashion, we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational? That’s the kind of fashion magazine I’d like to see.”
Gal, have you heard of XXY Magazine?
Commentary by Tahmina Begum,
CEO & Editor-in-Chief
Snippets taken and owned by Vestoj titled ‘ “Will I Get A Ticket?” A Conversation About Life After Vogue with Lucinda Chambers’
Visuals courtesy of British Vogue