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How fashion became a serious business

Vogue editor Edwina McCann talks plus-size models and politics on TICKY.

Azal Khan

Digital Journalist, Your Money

Few people can say they have the same unique view of the fashion industry as Edwina McCann, editor-in-chief of the Australian outpost of iconic fashion magazine Vogue.

Daily she and her team witness the powerful business and fashion worlds collide.

McCann started her career at Vogue Australia in the 1990s, where she stayed for seven years before various editorship stints including GraziaHarper’s Bazaar and The Australian‘s fashion pages.

She has since come full circle to helm Vogue Australia as editor-in-chief since 2012.

Speaking to TICKY, McCann said has seen a shift in how fashion is perceived during her decades in media, saying the industry has become more cerebral.

“Writing fashion for The Australian, fashion was ‘women’s issues’ and a healthy interest in fashion and intelligence were taken as two mutually exclusive things,” McCann said.

Flash forward to today, McCann said fashion is now viewed increasingly as a serious business, with serious influence over politics and culture.

Can fashion and politics mix?

The upcoming issue of Vogue Australia features former foreign minister and Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop, who has written about her life in the public eye.

McCann said Julie Bishop was among the first female politicians who wasn’t afraid to declare her love for fashion.

“A lot can be said with a wardrobe. She knew that and used it very well,” McCann observed.

“For a long time, Australian female politicians have felt like they want to look like everybody else. But I actually don’t know that we want our politicians to look like us.

“I think what Julie did incredibly well was look presidential and people like that.”

Recently appointed ABC chair and long-time media trailblazer Ita Buttrose is another Australian leader renowned not only for her talent but for her wardrobe and personal style.

“Before Julie Bishop, there was Ita Buttrose, a highly intelligent woman who does have the ability to cut through,” McCann said.

“She can be heard and her messaging is very clear and Australians trust her. To have a woman stepping up like that and at the age she is doing it, is just remarkable.

“I do think it changes perceptions and for young women, it’s quite remarkable for them to witness.”

There are celebrated women and then on the other end of the spectrum are women leaders across business and politics who have fallen from grace.

Former Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop donates her red high heel shoes to the Australian Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, November 28, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Host Ticky Fullerton named former ABC chair Michelle Guthrie, Labor MP Emma Husar and former AMP chair Catherine Brenner examples of those women squeezed through the wringer.

It begs the question, Fullerton said, of whether the criticism was justified and whether men in those positions would have attracted the same amount of flack.

But McCann said criticism, regardless of gender, comes with the territory when you’re at the top.

“These are women at the top of their game. They shouldn’t have to be treated differently because of their gender, just fairly.

“I think when you are on the top of your game, you are subject to more criticism and you have to stand up for what you’ve said and take responsibility for it,” McCann said.

“It’s difficult to say whether the criticism was on the basis of gender unless there is specific criticism that is directed at their gender.”

The Victoria’s Secret debacle

Billion-dollar lingerie company Victoria’s Secret’s fall from grace late last year is a prime example of where business and fashion collide, with abysmal results.

The company’s CEO Jan Singer was ousted in November after profits dipped and the share price slipped.

The global behemoth has been criticised for its overtly sexualised imagery and advertising and being tone deaf to the #MeToo movement. But the biggest backlash was following comments made by the company’s chief marketing officer, Ed Razek.

“Their CMO made a huge error of judgment in an interview with American Vogue,” McCann said.

Asked by Vogue about casting transgender models in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show, 70-year-old Razek said no, saying “because the show is a fantasy”.

Savage X Fenty fashions are modeled for photographers before a performance at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at the end of Fashion Week, Wednesday Sept. 12, 2018, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)

Razek also said the company had “looked at putting a plus-size model in the show” but always decided against it. 

Victoria’s Secret and its youth-focused brand Pink were already facing ongoing sales pressure and closing stores as a result.

The polarising comments sparked outrage online.

“This was all in the context of Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line being released which was all about this more inclusive message,” McCann said.

“She had plus size and pregnant models on her runway, it was really diverse.

“I think the youth voted with their feet and said, ‘this is not a brand we want to engage with anymore’, and you can see it in their [Victoria’s Secret] sales.”

Watch the video for the full interview with Vogue Australia editor Edwina McCann.

Read more: Is the Victoria’s Secret fantasy souring?
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