x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Two Vogues, two very different fashionistas

It's the season of predictions and rumours. The airwaves and newspapers are full of fashion editors and industry experts telling us what this year is going to be about.

It's the season of predictions and rumours. The airwaves and newspapers are full of fashion editors and industry experts telling us what this year is going to be about. Normally this is fine. Being told what to wear by those in the know is the only predictable thing about fashion. But this year, there's a problem. Given what has been happening with the financial industry, there is an issue about being told anything, and believing it - period.

Ever since Chanel, one of the last private fashion empires, revealed that they were to axe a whopping 200 jobs, the designer industry has been nervous. No wonder that women who care passionately about fashion are starting to question catwalk looks - and those in charge of them. If they can't afford designer clothes, why should they endlessly pursue catwalk looks on the high street when trailblazers such as Agyness Deyn and Kate Moss notch up magazine covers and style credibility for daring to go against whatever is on trend?

Many fashion editors I know are already experiencing a shoot-the-messenger backlash whenever they attempt to translate the current catwalk chaos. I hear it's worse for magazine editors. Rumours that the frosty fashionista Anna Wintour is to be finally toppled from her editorship of American Vogue by her feisty French rival, Carine Roitfeld, refuse to go away. Meanwhile, the February issue of French Vogue - which features the model Lara Stone in a shoot inspired by Roger Vadim's movie Et Dieu... Créa La Femme - is being heralded as genius by breathless fashion types.

Roitfeld is that rare thing. An editor you do listen to. She has edited French Vogue for the past seven years just as fearlessly as Wintour has the American counterpart over two decades, but in a very different way. Both editors have their readers in mind, but in terms of circulation the two Vogues are polar opposites. With Wintour at the helm, American Vogue (reported circulation 1.2 million; readership 10 million) doles out sensible advice to the monied ladies of Manhattan and the chattering classes of Midwest America along the lines of what heels to wear with what handbag or hemline, featuring nice wholesome cover girls.

In contrast, Roitfeld's gritty monthly has a teensy circulation of 133,000, but her readers include most, if not all, of the global movers and shakers. Let's just say, if you are anyone in fashion, you read it. An innovative fashion stylist personally responsible for several of the 20th century's iconic images, including those Tom Ford Gucci campaigns of the 1990s, Roitfeld's speciality is fashion with a capital "F". In other words, fashion for fashion's sake.

In contrast, American Vogue has been coming under fire. Previously, no one dared knock Wintour. I remain in awe of fashion's first lady because she was my first employer. As the editor of British Vogue, teetering above us in her Manolos, she was given the mission of bringing high fashion (there wasn't any other kind back then) back down to earth in 1985. (Mine was to sort out tights in the fashion cupboard.)

At the recent October collections, seeing her hunched up on the benches that have replaced rarefied gilded chairs at most fashion shows, I wondered did she ever regret it. Roitfeld, who at 53 is breathtakingly stylish and wipes the floor with celebrities half her age, strikes a chord with many women who buy designer clothes. She is modern, intelligent, sophisticated and treats fashion with the sort of reverence that belongs to a bygone era.

The French-born mother of two's speciality is "take your mind away from it" clothes. Exactly the sort that distract us from the current doom-and-gloom climate (Tim Ryan's fringed jacket and Dior's ivory carved-heel shoes are a case in point). Wintour, a second-generation journalist with a rather too American outlook on straightforward fashion, has spent a lifetime filling her magazine pages with realistic, wearable clothes.

Ironically, it's Roitfeld's fantasy fashion (you dream of wearing anything this woman wears) that everyone wants right now. I'm convinced that the recent two-page ad taken out by Conde Nast in The New York Times trumpeting how American Vogue had the highest number of advertising pages of any US magazine was not to appease Anna Wintour, but to lure Roitfeld. Not that she'd have seen it. She's way too cool to be doing anything as mundane as reading a newspaper.