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Putting a gloss on our lives

07 October 2016

TERESA MAY’s luxury on Desert Island Discs was a year’s subscription to Vogue, which would be no small matter to deliver to a distant island. All that heavy shiny paper weighs a ton.

Richard Macer’s recent TV two-partner Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue revealed the anxiety and nail-biting tension that goes into the production of this iconic magazine. British Vogue is a small world, controlled by two powerful women who have been at the helm for nearly three decades: the fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, and the enigmatic editor-in-chief, Alexandra Shulman.

During the filming, the Vogue team treated Macer and the film crew with considerable suspicion. They were clearly not comfortable with the cameras around. The editor pulled off an astonishing deception, lying to Macer about the cover for the centenary edition, pretending it was to be a gold-and-white numeric design when, in fact, she had the Duchess of Cambridge lined up.

The whole Vogue operation revealed a wonderful feminine ruthlessness that simultaneously fascinated and appalled. What, perhaps, was most poignant was the portrait of Shulman herself; for, although she is editor of the most glamorous magazine in the business, she is not herself terribly glamorous. Even at the grand centenary dinner, she was seen off-stage, as it were, clutching the script of her speech like a nervous teenager.

She seemed to see her position as guarding the mystique of Vogue. More recently, we have seen Vogue editors attacking the new bloggers who are taking the fashion industry into younger territory.

Vogue’s mystique is important, because surely this is what its traditional readers are buying into. Each photo-shoot is crafted not only to show off clothes, but to do so by encapsulating a moment of desire.

It is difficult to respond to this from a faith perspective. Well-meaning Christians with connections to the fashion industry attempted to do so in London Fashion Week, but the reflections that they produced on human creativity seemed a bit lame. Vogue knows that we need to be attracted, awakened by something that goes beyond mere stuff.

Fashion could remind us that we are vulnerable to the seductive power of images, but also that, as images of the divine, our desire reaches beyond vanity, beyond ourselves. Attend a well-orchestrated high mass with all the bells and vestments, lights and incense, and you are not far from the Vogue world.

God does not condemn us to struggle for the perfect nude body, but invites us to dress up for worship “in garments for splendour and beauty” (Exodus 28.2). Vogue is thus perhaps best suited to the places I usually come across it: in doctors’ surgeries and dentists’ waiting rooms.

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