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Vogue’s Annie Leibovitz-Lensed Hurricane Sandy Editorial: Tribute or Tasteless?

Vogue's Feburary Issue includes a big editorial photographed by one of the glossy's frequent contributers, Annie Leibovitz, which stars Karlie Kloss, Kasia Struss, Arizona Muse, Liu Wen, Joan Smalls and Chanel Iman — a veritable Fashion Dream Team USA. I know this isn't the 90s and we're not allowed to call people supermodels anymore, but a rose by any other name would look as fierce, you know? 

The reason Vogue pulled out all the stops: a Hurricane Sandy relief aid tribute post. Cue exasperated sighing. Vogue likes to pretend its wardrobe staples are all crisp cotton shirts and ballet flats, but everyone knows that the magazine could never get dressed in the morning (err, put out an issue every month … boy this metaphor is really rough) without questionable and clueless editorial decisions. Like this one.

I'm going to take a different approach to this CONTROVERSY IN VOGUE post, because I do realize that the only thing more predictable than Vogue doing something scandalous is bloggers being scandalized. So I'm going to try to restrain my glee as I stir this big steaming pot of controversy. I obviously think Vogue is always in the wrong always, both as a person that works on the fashion Internet and as a principled human being — and I will express how and why I think this editorial is tasteless and dumb, but I will also play devil's advocate in Vogue's favor, just so that I don't bore myself. 

Vogue's "Storm Troupers" Editorial Is An Appropriate Tribute to Hurricane Sandy Relief Workers: As a New York-based publication, it should be completely understandable why Vogue would want to use its wide reach to "raise awareness" (as they say in the biz) for the heroic efforts of the first responders and public servants who jeopardized their lives in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The East Coast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and New York was no exception: over 800,000 residents lost power following the storm and recovery efforts are still underway across New England — the House of Representatives just passed a measure to provide $51 billion for further relief. Whatever you think of fashion and the fashion industry, there's no denying that Vogue is a central NYC institutution and that in this city, there's a strong and admirable tradition of disparate parties coming together in the wake of tragedy. To say that Vogue produced this editorial cynically — in an attempt capitalize on the public's gratitude to and concern for the heroes of Hurricane Sandy — is in itself cynical. 

Furthormore, Vogue should be commended for so prominently featuring the real faces of Hurricane Sandy relief in its chic moneyed pages and also for selecting a racially diverse cast of models.

No, This Is Just Tasteless: Ugh, defending Vogue was so hard. 

Look, despite what I believe was an earnest desire on Vogue's part to celebrate the men and women that really did put their lives at risk — men and women that are probably ready to put their lives at risk for New York City every day — this editorial is cheesy and in poor taste. The glossy couldn't help itself, making its favorite models the real stars of this editorial and treating the very people it was ostensibly celebrating as "heroes" as little more than set pieces. 

I respect Vogue's impulse, but still I find it sad that the magazine couldn't run a tribute feature that truly honored the thing it purported to be honoring by giving it space to be itself, instead of lodging it beside the same thin 18-year-old girls and pretty dresses that dominate every other page of the publication. I get that Vogue is a fashion magazine, but do you think that if Playboy wanted to run a tribute to the heroes of Hurricane Sandy, they would do it by plopping a topless lady next to a bunch of firefighters? Nope. They would just run some actual photojournalism. Because you can be a special interest magazine and still acknowledge that the rest of the world exists. 

Images via Vogue