The September Issue 2019: Not a Force For Change

Every September, fashion is heralded by the inaugural issue of September Vogue, the crown jewel in the publication’s collection. This year, The Duchess of Sussex guest-edited the iconic issue, which revolved around ‘Forces for change’, a parallel theme to our own September issue. Needless to say, the backlash was uniformly vitriolic from certain facets of the press, who cited her efforts as disgracefully patronising,  and devoid of monarchic tradition. Thus, what should have been a brilliant light shone upon Liberation themes became another public debate about royal privilege.

The mirror is one of the sixteen cover squares that front the issue, and  is shockingly condescending, missing the mark. The cover images of the fifteen women,  who represent groups that historically are not profiled in fashion magazines, should be entirely inspirational, but comes off as sour and pontificating.  The mirror is so that readers can see themselves as forces for change, equally valid as any glamourous actor or model, but connotes pity instead of piety. This is intended to be an important statement on feminism, a break from the fashion narrative, not PR for a tween magazine. ‘’Virtue signalling’’ is a buzzword often flung about when celebrities turn to political activism or even humanitarianism, and as this is a wholly profitable endeavour, Markle is not protected under the guise of doing it for charity.

Her refusal to shoot the September cover herself is hypothetically quite selfless, but when the hordes of royalists inevitably compare her to the Duchess of Cambridge, who did shoot the cover for the 100th anniversary issue of British Vogue, it becomes political. Royals have been doing Vogue for years, prolifically in the 1930s, 1940s, and Princess Diana herself shot three covers. Ergo, the pretext of not appearing on the cover herself as to not seem ‘’boastful’’ becomes just that, a pretext. Meghan is also often criticised for cherry-picking her royal duties, such as making an appearance at the BAFTAs or The Lion King premiere, but not at more subdued charity events and visits.

Furthermore, the overwhelming press coverage that this issue received did not focus on any of the cover women, but the one who deliberately chose not to be on the cover. Whilst Markle is not culpable for the barrage of insults to which she is subject, it is disappointing that the core of the publication was disregarded due to the celebrity behind it. British Vogue does not usually get reviews by Mail Online, The Sun, or even by such journalists as Camilla Long, and in this rare case that it did, it was torn apart, as part of a hatred that extends beyond the realms of fashion. There have been claims of racism, such as from Jessica Mulroney, the mother of two of Markle’s pageboys and one bridesmaid, but this answer seems oversimplified and derivative at this stage. Meghan and her mother Doria Ragland were adored at her wedding, and the complaints are not focused on shrouded racism. Where the celebrities who defend her see subconscious racial bias, a lot of the public see a woman marry Britain herself,  and chose to snub her in favour of more glamorous celebrity friends.

What happens to The Firm when it is no longer a firm, rigid set of rules by which each member must conduct themselves? Needless to say, Markle’s tabloid presence is harmless next to The Duke of York’s association with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, but any pejorative press bites the hand that has fed the monarchy for aeons.

More importantly, the beauty of fashion has historically been an extremely exclusive community, aesthetically.  The question then becomes; how does the fashion industry reconcile its superficiality with the real woman? Or man, or anything other than the standard, size 0, high-cheek-boned model that still dominates the industry?  The answer is nebulous, though it is definitively not apologising for the entire industry,  in the editor’s letter, as Markle did.

When Meghan Markle describes Vogue being a ‘’fashion magazine’’ as a ‘’caveat’’, she is haphazardly abandoning the hours of hard work, dedication, and dreams that go into creating such campaigns and collections. The Ralph Lauren spread that opens the issue is an example of a fifty-year legacy that changed the world. The LOEWE pearl jumper featured in the C’est Chic editorial would have taken many hours of hard, intricate, skilled labour, yet in Markle’s opinion is symbolic of the ‘’shallow end’’ of life, where she would ‘’rather swim in the deep’’. In other words, hers are thoughtless at best, a proverbial middle finger at worst.

On the face of it, the conglomerate of diverse women on the cover is brilliant; shattering glass ceilings everywhere. Jane Fonda sits, smiling at eighty-one years old when the cultural expiration date for many female celebrities is a lot lower. Gemma Chan, star of the revolutionary film Crazy Rich Asians, Yara Shahidi, founder of an initiative that encourages teenagers to vote, Jameela Jamil, who constantly fights back against airbrushing and photo editing.  The latter a small victory, perhaps, but a big triumph for womenkind who have been inundated with airbrushed, unrealistic beauty standards for too long. ‘The girl in the magazine does not even look like the girl in the magazine’, except now she does. Essentially, what has been overlooked is that these women really are forces for change.

This September issue should have been one to remember, a piece of work transcendent of its industry. Technically, it did transcend normal media coverage, but for all the wrong reasons. The world may have loved these women for all the right reasons, but Britain, the true audience for this publication, cannot see past the blatant irony of a princess who, according to every media outlet from The Daily Mail to The Times, does not see that charity begins at home. Liberation vis-à-vis the monarchy has its limits, even in the days of Meghan and Harry.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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