Vogue, Instagram Models and the Death of Fashion as We Know It

The September issue of Vogue is the magazine’s biggest, both physically and spiritually—it was even the subject of a 2009 documentary, The September Issue, which followed longtime editor-in-chief Anna Wintour through the creation of the inch-thick tome as she declared, “People are frightened of fashion because it scares them or it makes them feel insecure, they put it down … they feel in some ways excluded or not part of the ‘cool group,’ so as a result they just mock it.”

The September 2016 issue featured Kardashian sibling Kendall Jenner on the cover, continuing Wintour’s policy of including at least one member of the reality TV family in every issue. Jenner not only got the cover, but also an entire fawning article on “the face that launched a thousand likes.” Vogue has become completely social media–fixated: After 124 years of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon and Steve Meisel shooting Veruschka and Iman and Christy Turlington, the focus has become reality stars’ selfies. Perhaps, like many grandes dames of style before her, Wintour is fighting fears of aging and irrelevance by grabbing on to whatever the kids are doing—trying to become part of their “cool group.”

Of course, there was a time when Wintour reportedly swore no reality star would grace her chic and glossy pages, but that all changed in 2014 when Kim Kardashian and Kanye West celebrated their wedding with a cover. Wintour was suddenly ecstatic, stating that if Vogue “just put deeply tasteful people on the cover, it would be a rather boring magazine! Nobody would talk about us.” Why set trends when one can follow the dictates of the masses? Of course, how can Wintour presume to tell anyone what is chic after endorsing Kim Kardashian wandering Manhattan in Daisy Dukes, a bra and a pair of thigh-high transparent plastic boots, a look that would have been considered tacky for a backup dancer in a Whitesnake video? Or after declaring Kanye’s latest collection of spandex shapewear and broken-heeled shoes “wonderful”?

Anna Wintour

One cannot help but think of Vogue’s past doyenne and perhaps the greatest fashion editor of all time, Diana Vreeland. She was the inspiration for the expansive, adventurous fashion editor Kay Thompson played in Funny Face, exhorting the world to “think pink!” as she turned Audrey Hepburn from duckling into swan. Wintour, of course, was reportedly the model for the icy bitch in $2,500 heels portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Today, Vreeland’s wild fantasies of models posing in ancient Cambodian temples or wrapped in 10 yards of fake braids in the middle of the desert have given way to Wintour’s monthly spread of a bunch of random models, accompanied by a handful of artist/son-ofs and musician/daughters-of, all standing around in nondescript clothes in front of seamless gray paper, as well as the de rigueur appearance of Gigi Hadid and her two facial expressions (three if you count “mouth open”).

Vogue used to be everything to weird suburban art kids. We all had torn pages tacked on our walls—even rock legend Patti Smith ripped out pictures of Edie Sedgwick, inspiration for a New Jersey teen to become a New York City hipster. It was proof that sophomore year’s 6-foot beanpole nerd could become the toast of Paris and consort to rock stars, proof that the boy who spent recess in the art classroom hiding from bullies could rake in six figures from his flair for color and composition. It fed fairy tales from The Ugly Duckling to Cinderella to America’s Next Top Model.

Today’s models are cheerleaders who received the most votes for prom queen, rich girls who got the right plastic surgery. The article compares Jenner to legendary ’90s supermodel Linda Evangelista, declaring that both worked their way up and “willed it to happen.” Huh? Linda Evangelista was not dropped at the top of the heap by family wealth and fame. Hell, she didn’t even make runner-up for Miss Teen Niagara Falls—starting out, other models mocked her as too skinny and too ugly. She went on to become the diva of hundreds of runways and thousands of glossy pages, an accomplished chameleon who was a mysterious Novak blonde for Chanel, a coltish Hepburn brunette for Ralph Lauren, a redhead bombshell for Versace and the woman who who coined the phrase, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.” Kendall Jenner is no Linda Evangelista: She’s a pretty girl with dead eyes and no particular flair for posing. But she is popular. Which begs the question: What do we need fashion editors or even fashion magazines for, if all they’re going to do is point at whomever is at the top of the InstaTweet that month?

The fantasy of fashion is no longer a photo that evokes a mood, an emotion, a dream captured in 1/16th of a second. Now it’s about being on television, going shopping without looking at price tags and having a pop star boyfriend. Is it a wise move that responds to the times? Perhaps, but remember that the 12-year-old who gives a thumbs-up to a Keeping Up With the Kardashians YouTube video isn’t shelling out $2,500 for a Gucci “Ghost” bag. One cannot live on likes alone …