It seems we won’t always have Paris. According to an editorial in the prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro, the next issue of the 101-year-old magazine, due out on November 4, will no longer be called Vogue Paris, but will instead, simply be titled Vogue.
Au revoir, then, Parisian exceptionalism, as it joins the other 26 editions of Vogues in being known simply as, er, Vogue. No biggie you’d think. Yet the expulsion of the French capital’s name from the cover of what is arguably its premier fashion magazine has triggered a certain frisson of existential consternation. Le Figaro described what might, in printing terms, be called a streamlining of five consonants and vowels, as “wiping Paris off the map” and was moved to mutter darkly of that most pernicious of viruses, the Anglo Saxon influence.
As per, fingers are pointing at Anna Wintour, who, from her eyrie atop the new World Trade Centre in New York, is uber alles: no longer merely editor-in-chief of the most powerful Vogue in the world (nb, that would be American Vogue, not Vogue New York), nor ”just” artistic director of Conde Nast, Vogue’s publishing house, but global director of Vogue (as in, all of them).
Indeed Le Figaro has accused Dame Anna of imposing the values of online influencers and social activism movements such as #Metoo and Black Lives Matter on the individual and previously distinctive cultures of a proud nation. From their language, anyone would think she’s a Bond villain intent on single-handedly dismantling la Republique. Quite drôle, considering Dame Anna herself came under considerable fire last year for not being sufficiently alive to the issues of social, racial, economic and just about every other form of inequality.
One can see why the powers that be at Le Figaro might be sensitive. Dame Anna is rumoured to have been aghast at the dearth of diversity on the covers featured in a recent exhibition celebrating a century of French Vogues. She may well be planning an overhaul in the Gallic monthly’s tone and content. And, to paraphrase Prince Harry, what Dame Anna wants, Dame Anna gets.
After a mighty bumpy 2020, she’s more powerful than ever, having overseen the departure of a veritable moue of editors-in-chief at many other Vogues. In their places comes a new generation of mostly much younger names, many of whom rose to prominence through social media rather than “legacy” print media. The new brigade has been appointed by Wintour, including the new incumbent at French Vogue: the thirtysomething Eugenie Trochu, who succeeds 54-year-old Emanuelle Alt, who was editor-in-chief at French Vogue and an icon of French style for ten years until earlier this year. Trochu is markedly different from both Alt and Carine Roitfeld, the leopard print-stiletto-wearing editor-in-chief at Vogue Paris from 2001 to 2011.
It was allegedly Roitfeld, who at 67 still looks as though she just stepped out of a Helmut Newton photograph, who insisted Paris be incorporated into Vogue’s iconic typography. Never knowingly under-glamorous, Roitfeld belongs to a different era from Tronchu who wears a lot of baggy denim, lives in the kind of small apartment furnished with stylish vintage finds many Gen Z-ers can relate to and originally wanted to work with horses until she “ended up” at French Vogue. Where Roitfeld was once posited as a possible successor to Anna Wintour at US Vogue (a character remarkably similar to Roitfeld appeared in The Devil Wears Prada), Trochu, for the moment, seems more amenable to being Guided By Anna. The next cover of French Vogue according to Le Figaro isn’t just minus the word Paris, it breaks with the magazine’s long tradition of a certain kind of “sexy a la Newton” (white) Parisian, in favour of Aya Nakamura, a young black rising French star.
Vogue’s new staffers aren’t just considerably less expensive to run than the editors they’ve replaced, they’re currently humbler; happy, it seems, to accept the title of Head of Editorial Content rather than the grander sounding Editor-in-Chief. Far from enjoying the autonomy of the past, each of the European Content Heads must answer not just to Wintour, but to Edward Enninful, the editor in chief of British Vogue. Images and words, rather than being generated locally by each Vogue, will be shared across the titles and it’s assumed that as the wealthier, senior “partners” in glossy publishing’s answer to NATO, it is the US and British versions that will provide most of each, with the smaller Vogues plugging the gaps with locally generated filler. This is not how it is being spun by the powers-that-be, but the fashion industry anticipates that the once mighty Conde Nast, which lost $100 million last year just on its US operations, will be hoping for less expensive, albeit blander material that can be endlessly repurposed for different markets.
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For the French, in particular, who have been more cynical about the #Metoo movement than the Anglo Saxons and impervious to much of the woke agenda, this is insupportable. With exquisite timing, the whole brouhaha coincides with Emanuel Macron’s declaration that he’s leading the charge against woke. The president has charged his Education Minister, Jean- Michel Blanquer with purging the world of this American imported plague. “The [French} Republic is completely contrary to wokeism”, Blanquer recently told Le Monde.
This is war make no mistake, and it is the plucky French and their empirical, sophisticated values that will save us.
Meanwhile, back at the coal face of fashion (ie last month’s round of catwalk shows in London, New York, Milan and Paris) many fashion houses not so privately lamented the toppling of the old guard of editors-in-chief with whom they had, over many years, established mutually respectful relationships based on trust and expertise. As if by way of admonishment, one house seated Eugenie Trochu in the third row at its show in Paris – an unthinkable slight previously. (The house later said it had been a terrible error). Also unusual was Wintour’s response – she placed herself in the third row offering her ringside side to Trochu. Who’d want to be Trochu at that point?
The hysterics over seating may sound Zoolander-absurd, particularly in an industry jostling to reposition itself as egalitarian and modern. But egalitarianism and modernity are, in many instances, still aspirations rather than reality. For the moment, where you sit remains a key indicator of how each house perceives your – and your publication’s – worth. In a cut-throat climate where every publication is battling for a dwindling share of the advertising cake, status is key.
That’s partly why French Vogue is in such a sensitive position. Paris fashion week is still considered more prestigious than any of the others, more than 50 years after Saint Laurent exploded on the scene with his new fangled ready to wear clothes. And yet, Parisians have an ambivalent relationship with fashion. Compared with Londoners, New Yorker or Seoul-ians, Parisians are classic, stubbornly impervious to fly-by-night trends. With that comes advantages: they buy less, they buy better quality, and what suits them. But that also means as a domestic spending block, France punches below its weight. Rather than going more mainstream in an attempt to attract a more general French reader as British and US Vogues have, Vogue Paris was happy to be niche. It left the cultural conversation and accessible fashion features to the much more widely read (and weekly) French Elle. Under Roitfeld in particular, French Vogue offered salaciously sexualised imagery, somehow managing to combine only-in-France style visual shocks with staggeringly soporific articles.
Or maybe that’s just me. Le Nouvel Observateur recently wrote that under Wintour’s watch, American Vogue has lost much of its soul and all its intellectual credibility.
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