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Following Backlash, Elle Apologizes for ‘North Korea Chic’ Item

Screenshot via

Screenshot via

Elle has apologized and pulled an item touting 'North Korea Chic' as a fall fashion trend, following an outpouring of criticism from various news organizations. The offending piece was part of a slideshow which was posted to the magazine's website on Tuesday (it had initially appeared in the glossy's September Issue). (The Washington Post presciently captured the screengrab, "just in case the article disappears," before it was deleted from the site.)

The original copy, written by the publication's fashion editor, Joe Zee:

"Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring."

The Washington Post's Max Fisher first noticed the item and responded searingly:

As an example of North Korea Chic, Elle points to a pair of designer camouflage pants that sell for $425. (The average North Korean is thought to make about $4 per day.) …

…The words "North Korea" are practically synonymous with "human rights abuses," which makes it an odd choice for Elle's list of fashion trends. That multiple staffers at the magazine would presumably see this item going through production without thinking to stop it makes one wonder whether they are unaware of North Korea's reputation or simply don't see it as important enough to get in the way of their clever fashion coinage.

Still, it's only fashion, and perhaps it's easy for foreign policy observers to take ourselves too seriously. What's really wrong with winking at North Korean militarism to sell $400 pants? For that matter, why not a line of footwear by Pol Pot? Or grooming tips by Stalin? Maybe affix Mao's name to next month's diet plan?

Think Progess weighed in:

Zee’s listing is evidence not just of geopolitical cluelessness, but of analytical laziness. The rise of military-cut clothing and embellishments could say any number of things about the mindset of designers and consumers. Maybe it’s a matter of a recession-inspired pivot away from business as an inspiration and towards a more sober regard for somber institutions. Maybe it’s a reflection of the emotional needs of a destabilized world. Maybe it’s a flirtation with authoritarianism.

But a fashion editor’s job should be to make sense of these impulses and to analyze them, not merely take the quickest route to edginess himself.

As did Foreign Policy, which noted that Elle's reference to North Korean fashion wasn't just "tone-deaf" but also wholly inaccurate — North Korean style is less militaristic than colorful and decorative. 

Surprisingly, not a single fashion outlet weighed in before Elle issued an apology:

We regret the reference to North Korea in our post on the season’s military trend, and have removed the image. We apologize to those we offended.