Monday, September 01, 2008

Vogue’s Fashion Photos Spark Debate in India -

Vogue’s Fashion Photos Spark Debate in India -

A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way — except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000, if you can find one) prominently displayed on her wrist.

Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).

Welcome to the new India — at least as Vogue sees it.

Vogue India’s August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.

... The juxtaposition between poverty and growing wealth presents an unsavory dilemma for luxury goods makers jumping into India: How does one sell something like a $1,000 handbag in a country where most people will never amass that sum of money in their lives, and many are starving?

... For now, the Indian middle and upper class — and the companies that aim to cater to it — are just getting used to having new money, said V. Sunil, creative director for advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy in India, which opened its first office here last September. “No one thinks they need to do something deeper for the public,” like address India’s social ills, he said.

Still, the in-your-face poverty of India, where beggars sometimes sit outside five-star hotels, does present challenges that companies do not face in other markets. In China, most of the very poor live in rural areas, said Mr. Debnam. “Most of the luxury companies don’t consider these people,” when they’re thinking of selling products, he said, “and even the consumer product companies don’t look at them.”

Not taking a close enough look at the “real people” is drawing criticism for Vogue, too. “The magazine does not even bother to identify the subjects” of the photos, said Ms. Gahlaut, the columnist. Instead, Vogue names the brands of the accessories in the captions, and says they are worn by a lady or a man.