Vogue's Awkward Superstorm Sandy Fashion Spread Sparks Controversy

(Annie Leibovitz/Vogue)When tragedy hits New York City, the most financially and culturally diverse 300 square miles in the country, we are all the same. But in the recovery processes, our differences are more pronounced than ever.

Look no further than Vogue's controversial Superstorm Sandy-themed fashion spread in this month's issue for proof. "Storm Troupers," a photo shoot by famously exorbitant photographer Annie Leibovitz, features supermodels dressed in couture gowns "celebrating" the heroes of the storm that knocked the whole of New York City temporarily on it's behind, and left portions of the outer-boroughs permanently in crisis.

It's a dedication to "New York's Finest"--both the heroes of Sandy and the heroes of fashion, explains the the feature's clunky opening statement. But if you ask a legion of outraged media critics the comparison is way off.

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Slate's Katherine Goldstein calls the spread "awful" and describes one particular image, of two models (in contrasting stripes by Mark Jacobs and Michael Kors!) surrounded by one city hospital's heroic neonatal staff, "downright bizarre."

In another image, the models throw their arms around New York firefighters as they triumphantly bound through the tattered streets of the Far Rockaways. By the estimation of Vogue's feature the area is now "on the mend." But if you ask anyone who lives in Far Rockaway area, where 10 percent of residents were still with out power as of January, Hurricane Sandy is still in effect and no high-fashion photo-shoot will change that.

(Annie Leibovitz/Vogue)Salon's Daniel D'Addario calls Vogue's decision to combine luxury fashions with a crisis that's largely become an issue of poverty "clueless." New York Magazine's Charlotte Cowles calls the six-photo spread "ridiculous."

Commenters on Vogue's website and Facebook page are more direct. "What is there to celebrate when people are still suffering?" writes one commenter. Another calls the spread "tasteless," adding, "Egregious wealth juxtaposed with human loss isn't fashionable." Others shared the following sentiment posted by a Facebook user: "I think you should have left the models out of this and just focused on the workers and citizens of New York."

In a statement to Yahoo Shine, Vogue Senior Editor Corey Seymour defended their creative direction. "Like others in the city, Vogue responded to Hurricane Sandy by showing our support for those affected and our gratitude to the rescue workers," explains Seymour. "We chose to celebrate the hard work of the teams who responded to the crisis in a way appropriate to the context of a fashion magazine."

But Vogue's take on what's appropriate hasn't been aligned with the general public in recent years. The magazine's decision to use devastation as a background for luxury and impeccable, fantastical eye-candy is becoming a bit of a sticking point.

There was the 2007 Italian Vogue shoot featuring models wrestling soldiers in a war-torn Iraq-inspired setting, and the 24-page spread of models seductively portraying oil spill victims. More recently, there was the Italian Vogue trend story on so-called "slavery" jewelry, all of these creative choices resulting in accusations of exploitation and Zoolander-levels of callousness.

On it's own, you could almost interpret the spread as an artistic meditation on the different ways people experience public devastation depending on their financial status. But with the clunky captions that quote first responders recalling the initial horrors of Sandy, followed by credits for the dress designers, that interpretation flies out the window.

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Still, Vogue has its defenders. The Guardian's Rosie Swash points to Vogue's contribution to Sandy relief, as a co-sponsor of a fashion-based fundraiser back in November. "The magazine helped to raise $1.7million for the relief effort," writes Swash. "If it wants to photograph the Air NYPD and put those men in its magazine, it has earned the right."

Vogue's staff also directed us to a Con Edison spokesperson, who came to their defense.

"We have great respect for the magazine and the industry it represents" Con Ed's Alfonso Quiroz told Yahoo Shine. "We think it's fantastic that Vogue chose to honor us along with the first responders after the most devastating storm in New York City history."

Quiroz is referring to a particular image in the Vogue spread, set in Con Ed's East River Generating Station. In the shot, six uniformed service employees in hard-hats cluster beneath a model. She towers above them all on a platform—as if cut and pasted into the image-dressed dramatically in a billowing Oscar de la Renta gown.

It's an expression, if awkward, of how the city comes together in crisis regardless of their occupation. But it also suggests that even when they come together they're still worlds apart.



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