Can extreme weather ever really be in Vogue?

The answer to this question is a literal yes. Extreme weather can and has been in Vogue. February 2013 Vogue US paid tribute to the men and women who played key roles as first response in the Hurricane Sandy disaster. The shoot (as discussed by Corey Seymour below) was developed to shine attention on those who rolled up their sleeves and helped out while the storm was underway and during the aftermath. With photography superstar Annie Leibovitz and some creative post production crew on board, the Vogue team did what Vogue do best, photographing the editorial you see above. A fusion of high fashion models and emergency rescue team workers who were involved in the real life event (that caused damage $75 billion USD worth of damage and killing at least 233 people were killed across eight countries) wasn’t well received by all. The folks at The Society Pages weren’t convinced that high fashion and natural disaster shoot was necessary. Claiming that a tribute shows a class hierarchy between the made-up emotionless models and the baggy clothed, make-up free response teams. A commenter on The Society Pages article made an astute observation in the photographers defence:

Annie Liebovitz did an excellent job making the models appear unneeded, something useless that the world can easily live without in contrast to the workers in the picture. She made an excellent statement on beauty vs. presence. The models are in the picture, but they are not present in the reality.

The Guardian also shed a little more light on the link between hurricane Sandy and the fashion pack appeal by discussing fashion based fundraising  and awareness initiatives that supported the natural disaster recovery efforts. Other commentary on the shoot wasn’t so complimentary. With negative feed back that says the shoot is ‘awful‘,’crossing a line‘ and ‘tacky or tasteless‘. Whatever emotions the shoot stirred in the viewer at the time (or even several years later) there is no denying that it made the recovery fundraising efforts front and centre stage at the time of the publication.


 An academic reflection on Storm Troupers.

I came across this Vogue editorial through an academic journal article published in January this year in the Australian Feminist Studies journal that looks at this shoot in regards to fashion, disaster, and urban neoliberalism. According to the researcher Ilya Parkins, Vogue in conjunction with the Council of Fashion Designers of America raised $1.7 million for the Fashion For Sandy relief effort. The paper starts by giving some background to the disaster and the relief efforts and then states that this specific shoot was uncomfortable for people to view, due to it’s use of the common fashion photography strategy of incongruity (making the models look out of place in their surroundings). The images were accompanied by text boxes that gave statements from the emergency services and response workers that Parkins argues made the juxtaposition between the models and the ‘real people’ even greater. However, her agenda in the assessment of this editorial is focused specifically on what this isolated photo shoot tells the World about the state of neoliberal (a small-state economic ideology based on promoting “rational self-interest” through policies such as privatisation, deregulation, globalisation and tax cuts) urbanisation (which the author simplifies as being a ‘cities’ state of existing has been re-oriented around a sense of impending crisis’) and where fashion fits in envisioning the future of cities.

From an American viewpoint, it is stated that disasters offer an opportunity for facilitated capitalist redevelopment, that redevelopment is focused on specific social strata, and that disaster recovery shouldn’t be the governments responsibility. These Vogue images are said to be part of a visual narrative or ‘branding’ that New York has been establishing for itself since 9/11 as a city of reliance and social contrast. In fact the whole issue that the shoot was featured in is based around patriotism as the ‘American Fashion’ edition, creating a visual story of American culture at the time of publishing. In the article Hurricane Sandy In Vogue: Fashion, Disaster and Urban Neoliberalism Parkins unpacks a variety of layers of how this editorial relates to gender, racial and class divides within the New York and what this means for fashioning cities.  I will admit that the language used in this piece was far far removed from my sustainability and straight science background and required quite a lot of Googling and I’m 110% certain that I have missed the meaning of at least a quarter of the analysis. None the less this is a fascinating analysis to unpack from a single magazine editorial. If you have academic journal article access it’s worth a look. The crux of the the analysis is that this visual representation of urban America highlighting the importance of cities as frontiers for disaster relief and as story tellers for the future of the cities economic, political and social structures. That this photo shoot was  a wasted opportunity to rebuild a strong local community and remove social and racial divides. And that it instead, despite it’s inclusion of some racial and implied socioeconomic diversity, perpetuates a vision of a New York city where the rebuilding agenda is for the ‘desires’ of the minority as opposed to the needs of the majority.  A sentiment that is echoed by the Society Pages reader quoted above. The shoot shows the removal of the minority from the majority despite the implied collaborative and inclusive nature of some of the images.

What do you think about fashion taking on issues like natural disasters? Is it tasteless or a great way to use a big business industry to raise funds and awareness? Are you offended by this shoot? Share your brain with us below.