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Home > Media

Vogue: the advertiser's choice

Whether the latest look is 'Uzbekistan women on acid' or 'Cecil Beaton in rubber' - you can trust the people at Vogue to turn it into a hook to sell you something.

9 September 2003

We live in a period of history that is more aspirational than any that’s gone before. This is partly because advertisers have realised you can sell more with a lifestyle than a product, and who can blame them? Which ad campaign is more likely to have you running to the shop?

B) Coke is it!

There’s something slightly evil about having aspirational images foisted upon you. Quite apart from the fact that it’s either advertising or someone else’s perception of how you should behave, there’s the wider moral question of whether it’s right to bombard people with idealised versions of life that all but a tiny few will find it possible to live up to.

This is a question that doesn't trouble Vogue magazine, which not only manages to foist aspirational shite on its readers, but is also probably the most shameless attempt to separate readers from their money that we’ve ever seen.

Take the August edition. Once you finally get to the first article, after 30 (yes, 30) pages of adverts, it’s, er, an advert. Called 'shopping list' and 'edited' by one Susie Forbes it consists solely of things to buy. Turn the page, and there’s an article called 'Vogue shops', with, you probably guessed, 'good buys'. Some of the good buys include an £885 handbag, but as the publishers of Vogue realise, most readers won’t be able to afford this, so they include some cheap handbags from Debenhams and Top Shop.

Several pages of adverts later, the next article is... more 'good buys'. Finally, on page 50, we get an actual article about what’s 'in' Actually this turns out to be an uncritical plug for various films and assorted products. Finally on page 52 we get an actual article...

...no, hang on, it’s another uncritical plug for books plus a column entitled 'Vogue loves..'. Vogue, incidentally, loves Paul & Joe face powder, Villandry summer hampers and various other products which may or may not have been supplied to Vogue editorial staff.

Finally, on page 60 we get an article, by highly attractive 'fiction writer' (although she seems to be primarily a model) Laura Bailey. It’s a sick-making think piece about her wonderful life. Retch-making moments are too numerous to list, but some sort of prize should be awarded to Laura for her self-regarding and twee description of visiting her brother at uni:

Brasenose College, Oxford was a traditional college which had never seen two blond ragamuffins cartwheeling across the manicured quadrangle... our beloved Bill, a college scout, kept a mahogany cabinet stuffed with Quality street and art supplies - 'our treasure chest' - we made papier mache sculptures and learned the names of all the trees and birds in Christchurch meadows...

Stop. Please. Just stop.

A little later we meet some fashion 'individualists'. All of these people are dressed like Goth versions of Coco the clown. All of them are a bit odd. Says Susan Irvine, journalist: "[Boudica clothes] made me question my identity. It was almost as though I was wearing my own subtext." (!)

What’s remarkable about Vogue is that almost every quote featured in its articles is a prime candidate for of friends at Private Eye's Pseuds’ Corner. Here are a few random selections:


"Legs are the new erogenous zone"

- fashion bod Julien Macdonald.

"I go for four weeks every year [to Ibiza] and take 80 pairs of shoes and 100 dresses."

- model Charlotte Tilbury

"I always have a massage at my villa by Francis D’Angelo from the Ibiza Massage company... he also teaches Hatha yoga."

- model Camilla Lowther

"We set out to invent an interactive clothes system that would allow the wearer to morph the silhouette according to mood and need."

- designer Helmut Lang

"The look was inspired by the idea of a woman borrowing from a child’s wardrobe."

- designer Nicolas Ghesquiere

"McGrath’s work is ultra-innovative and she has a quiet, almost alchemic ability to intuit exactly what every designer wants. You say ‘Uzbekistan women on acid’ or `Cecil Beaton in rubber’, and she’ll know exactly what you mean."

- Hilary Alexander, Daily Telegraph fashion editor


What the hell is going on here? Not content with reminding the reader to buy things every few minutes, Vogue is touting a lifestyle that is not only unreachably glamorous, but also based on complete, unadulterated shite. Even if you were earning what these fashion wonks were earning, would you still be able to say 'Uzbekistan women on acid' without wanting to kill yourself?

There’s only one article in the whole magazine that smacks of anything unpretentious or genuine, and that’s because it at least admits to being what it is: a ten page advertising feature. There are some must-have products here, not least an ice-maker (£299), a 'body glove' for your mobile phone, and, most pathetically, a glowing review of Bounty Mousse. Apparently they can be found in the chiller cabinets of all leading supermarkets.

At last, a taste of the Vogue lifestyle.

NB: A kindly PR person sent us a freezer bag full of Bounty mousses the other week. They taste like coconut vomit.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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