Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vogue India Strikes a Vexing Pose

While the U.S. edition of Vogue magazine is not one of the must-read glossies on my list every month, I must say I was excited to hear that Conde Nast International was launching Vogue India this month. A glance at the cover of the inaugural issue, however, was less than thrilling. Desi beauties Bipasha Basu, Priyanka Chopra, Monikangana Dutta, Preity Zinta and Laxmi Menon grace the special fold-out cover...with blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aussie model Gemma Ward smack dab in the middle of the main cover in between Bips and Priyanka.
My first thought was "Why in the world?!" What is Gemma's significance in India and Indian culture? Are the desi models and actresses not sufficiently beautiful and glamorous to hold their own? Couldn't the very first cover of Vogue India be a celebration of only Indian beauty, something that is rarely celebrated in the west with the exception of Miss World and Miss Universe pageants?
At its best, the cover is an attempt to display the rise of India and Indian culture in the international world of fashion with Gemma representing the traditionally western dominance over the fashion world. Priya Tanna, the Managing Editor of Vogue India, says, "Vogue's launch in India symbolizes India's arrival onto the global fashion scene. India is ready for a magazine that is intelligent, sophisticated, and that understands the stylish, modern woman." Still, if this was the rationale behind the cover, it could have been been accomplished in a different way...I would have preferred two Caucasian models flanking Bipasha or Priyanka in the center rather than a Caucasian model as the clear focus of the cover.
At its worst, Gemma on the cover is not particularly original (Gemma was centered in between two Asian models in Vogue China's inaugural issue) nor, in my opinion, appeals to the Indian woman, even if that woman is the worldly, sophisticated individual that is Vogue India's target. Sure, she is a beautiful international model, but Gemma Ward is not exactly a household name in India. If a desi woman living in the west doesn't even use Gemma as a beauty role model where she is more recognized, what woman in India will?
Even further, Tanna states that the magazine's target woman "has come into her own, is more exposed to the world, has a great job and spending power, so consumption patterns have changed." If Vogue India believes in embracing Indian women that have "come into their own," then why did they decide to stick blue colored contacts on Bipasha and Priyanka? Sorry, but my vision of the modern Indian woman coming into her own involves her acceptance of her God-given features without scary accroutrements.
I hesitate to make this an issue of race, ethnicity and the residue of colonization in India and would like to believe that the magazine's editorial staff simply has skewed ideas of what appeals to their audience. Though I am ecstatic that Vogue India decided not to be boring and put Aishwarya Rai on the inaugural cover, this cover is just tired in itself. Here's hoping the contents of Vogue India are not as disappointing.*

*Despite my head shaking and eye rolling, I am making every effort to get my hands on this issue...not only to write the editor a scathing letter but also to discover the makeup magic behind our desi cover girls.

photos via mediaguardian.co.uk and www.indiafm.com

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the heads up! I will certainly look out for this issue. Meet me on www.surmantra.com

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  2. Nicely stated opinion. Whole-heartedly agree with you. These desi girls are actually more striking than the "average" model they're posing with.

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  3. I actually did the make-up breakdown for the cover, check it out:
    http://ixlovexmakeup.blogspot.com/2007/09/vogue-indias-cover-make-up-breakdowns.html
    I am so glad u started this blog!!!
    It was long awaited!
    If u need anything, email me at:
    saniyairshad@gmail.com
    xoxo,
    ---Saniya

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  4. I definitely think it's cool to put demi-desis (my friend Cagey invented that one) like Lisa Ray on the cover though.

    For me this isn't a white vs. ethnic issue but if it's a magazine aimed towards desi women...well, they have a ton of goodlooking desi women to choose from. I guess I feel a little melancholy that even on the cover of VOGUE INDIA I have to see the standard of beauty I'm used to. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't care that every chick on the cover of Cosmo USA is blonde etc...because I choose to live in a society in which I'm a minority. But on a magazine aimed to a minority population, a fashion magazine where it helps to see stuff on people who look like me and have that typical desi frame, I'd prefer someone from the Middle East to India.

    I personally vote for Nayonika Chatterjee, she's one of my faves.

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  5. I actually read your article while looking for photos of the Vogue China cover for a post I did on this topic and I think you're writing was on point! Very well said!

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  6. Sorry this is such a late comment - have just discovered your blog and have been reading it all!

    It does seem a little incongruous. If there were another non-obviously Indian woman in it, I'd have dismissed it as a 'United Colours of Benetton' "women of the world! we're ALL beautiful!" type thing, but the sole inclusion of Gemma is odd.

    However, this picture disturbs me more because all the desi women are styled in more or less exactly the same way: fair skin (although that's a can-of-worms debate for another time!) strong eyes, neutral mouths, and of course pin straight centre-parted hair. Very little personality coming through at all. It almost feels like they're getting "as close to" the Gemma look as possible... (esp given the blue contact lens issue!) Hope Vogue india have done better since then!

    sorry this turned into such an essay - great blog btw.

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  7. Amen, amen, amen! I just wrote about this, am certainly not Indian, not even close. But i'm INCENSED. My article may be found here: http://www.stylechile.blogspot.com/

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. um whats with the above comment? newho i so agree. you know who they shodve kept on the cover. just bipasha, priyanka and add deepika. the three of them are somewhat newbies in bollywood so it would've been fresh to see them there together in all their beautiful dusky skinned glory. they represent the new and changing face of indian beauty.

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