Elle Tries (and Fails) to Make 'North Korea Chic' Happen

ELLEAfter the world collectively cringed at Elle’s recent fall fashion guide “A to Zee,” which spotlighted a so-called trend it dubbed “North Korea Chic,” the magazine has issued an apology.
On Tuesday, Elle published the following statement on its website: “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.” However, as of Wednesday morning, the offending image could still be viewed on elle.com. 

Among the boyfriend jeans, classic tailcoats, and metallic pumps featured in the guide was a pair of $425 designer camouflage pants. Instead of simply calling the pants part of a “military trend,” the magazine boldly dubbed the look “North Korea Chic” with the accompanying text: “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.”

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Interestingly, the item was published in Elle’s September issue, but it managed to go largely undetected on social media until this week. Given North Korea’s dismal track record on human rights — the country has been blasted by the United Nations and Amnesty International for disallowing free speech and keeping captive an estimated 200,000 political prisoners subjected to extreme labor and torture — Twitter exploded with reaction.

Elle is the latest example of a fashion magazine that seems to be out of step with the real world. In its March 2011 issue, shortly after antigovernment demonstrations kicked off in Syria, Vogue published a story called "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert," a glowing profile of the first lady of Syria, a country whose regime (led by Assad’s husband, President Bashar Assad) killed thousands of civilians, including children, according to the United Nations. Yet, Vogue called the country “the safest in the Middle East” and referred to the Assad family as “wildly democratic.” The article also highlighted Assad’s lavish lifestyle at a time when 19 percent of Syrians lived below the poverty line. After the inevitable backlash, Vogue pulled the article from its website. That same year, Vogue Italia promoted a pair of hoop earrings it called “slave earrings” with the tagline, “A classic always in evolution.” After receiving backlash, the magazine changed the name to "ethnic earrings." And in February, Sports Illustrated caught flak for depicting racial stereotypes when the magazine juxtaposed Caucasian models with native people from the various countries it used as backdrops for its annual swimsuit issue.

“It may seem as though the fashion world isn’t in tune with the real world, but the North Korea reference was probably an intentional move to create chatter,” Ruth C. White, a sociologist, tells Yahoo Shine. “Much of what the fashion industry promotes — $500 bags, $300 shoes — are unnecessary items. We don’t need them and camouflage is certainly not a new trend, so fashion has to convince us that we do,” she says. “The United States has a military and the magazine could have called the trend a patriotic one. Instead, they choose one of the most polarizing, controversial countries in the world right now.”

Since fashion can be a flip and irreverent business, White says fashion magazines are most likely not trying to outright offend, but rather push buttons. "The industry wants buzz, not backlash, so they will push it until someone notices," she says.  

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