While fashion made be viewed as wildly creative industry, at the executive level where the big bucks are being made, executives are as tight-lipped as any corporate culture. Thus, fashion people were over the moon with delight when British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers decided to speak the unvarnished truth about her time at the magazine. Granted, it was after she was fired, but all things considered, she still let loose some gems, taking on Vogue as a publictation, plus labels Marni and Chloé
Employed by the magazine since 1992 (plus 11 more years at the magazine before an in-between stint at Elle), Chambers’ account as told to Vestoj editor-in-chief Anja Aronowsky Cronbergwas went live on Monday (July 3, 2017). The furor over the article was so intense that initially the magazine took it down, but then reposted it yesterday.
Chambers started out by describing her unceremonious firing, which took her by complete surprise. “A month and a half ago I was fired from Vogue. It took them three minutes to do it. No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The management and the editor I’ve worked with for 25 years had no idea. Nor did [human resources]. Even the chairman told me he didn’t know it was going to happen. No one knew, except the man who did it, the new editor, [Edward Enninful].
While Chambers’ behind-the-scenes ousting sounds harsh, the magazine officially announced her departure in its pages in May, lauding her influence, describing her decision to leave as her own. In the article, Chambers was quoted as saying, “I adore British Vogue and am so very proud to have been a part of it for so long.”
While taken aback by the event, in the Vestoj article, Chambers acknowledged the business’s reputation for harshness, and cited as an example designer Paulo Melim Andersson, who she met while they worked together at Italian label Marni.
Chambers personally recommended him to Chloé’s CEO, at the same time warning him that Andersson would need time and a good team to start producing results. Chambers said the CEO promised he would be patient, but went against his word. “Three seasons later [in March 2008] Paulo was out. They didn’t give him time, and he never got his people. I felt so sad for Paulo,” said Chambers.
Marni also receives a lashing with Chambers describing the founders decision to sell the company to Renzo Rosso as a mistake. “[Founders Consuelo and Gianni] Castiglioni were naïve. They sold sixty percent of the company, thinking that the new owner would respect what they had built. I never understood why they sold it to Renzo Rosso. He is the antithesis of everything Marni stood for. The antithesis,” said Chambers.
In her critique of Rosso, she also managed to throw some shade at Vogue head honcho Anna Wintour. “And who is Renzo Rosso enthralled by? Anna Wintour,” she said. “The last womenswear collection at Marni was a disaster; it had terrible reviews. The show was appalling. I heard the cost to produce it was two-and-a-half times what we used to spend, and it sold fifty percent less. A lot of American buyers didn’t even bother to turn up.”
While a Vogue employee, Chambers admitted she hadn’t read the magazine in a long time because in her view it had grown out of touch. “I haven’t read Vogue in years,” said Chambers. “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.”
She also noted that magazines had lost their way and no longer made sense. “In fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need,” said Chambers. “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?”
Perhaps one of her more eye-popping quotes was her admittance that fashion magazines pay for play, describing a “June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors t-shirt” as “crap,” adding, “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.”
In one of her less surprising criticisms, Chambers took down the fashion industry for its tendency to higher people for superficial reasons, and described an editor being hired based on the outfit she wore to her interview. “She was a terrible stylist. Just terrible. But in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident,” said Chambers. “Fashion is full of anxious people. No one wants to be the one missing out.”
Not everything the ex-editor had to say was critical. She had high praise for designer Demna Gvasalia, describing his Balenciaga presentation as beautifully executed. You know what was smart about it? It was the scale,” said Chambers. “You saw this tiny model emerge and it took forever for her to get close to the audience. It built up expectation. Everything was thought through: the casting, the music, the space. Everything. And I loved how we were all seated: so far from each other, it all felt anonymous. Normally at a fashion show, everyone looks at each other, who wears what, who sits where. ‘Oh, she’s got the new Céline shoes.’ But here you felt as if you were on your own. It was a new feeling.”
Despite her issues with the industry, as the “Will I Get a Ticket” title of the article implies, Chambers is not looking forward to being on the outside of the bubble. “I’m fifty-seven and I know that when the shows come around in September I will feel vulnerable. Will I still get a ticket? Where will I sit?” she asked. “Most people who leave Vogue end up feeling that they’re lesser than, and the fact is that you’re never bigger than the company you work for.”
Image above via Jonathan Daniel Pryce.
Lucinda Chambers is to step down from her position as fashion director of British Vogue. She will depart this summer after a career spanning 36 years at the publication. “Lucinda has been the most wonderful creative collaborator, as well as friend, throughout my whole editorship,” said Alexandra Shulman today. “She has produced many of the most influential and inspiring fashion shoots in the world during her time as fashion director of this magazine as well as a huge number of our most remarkable covers. It is impossible to overstate her vision, commitment, imagination and her ability to bring the best out of teams that work with her.” Read more via the link in bio. Photograph by @garconjon for @britishvogue