So I am really hoping that most women pick up the issue for the same reason that I ever buy the magazine – to look at the ads. I remember my first look at the British edition around the time the buzz around Vogue’s possible entry into India was growing. I was transfixed – but mostly by the advertisements. Beautiful women in the most gorgeous clothes and accessories made by brands I had only ever seen as fakes in India: Donna Karan, Hermes, Chanel, Calvin Klien.
The articles were as visually stunning as the ads and referred pretty much to the same brands – in fact, it was difficult to tell apart the articles from the ads. It rendered a visual consistency to the magazine and converted it into a stunning temple to fashion. So much so, that by the time I turned the last page, even I – a girl so stubbornly proud of her frizzy hair, kurti, and baggy jeans – was feeling a deep yearning to be slim, beautiful and Chanel adorned.
But this is where I find the Indian Vogue diverging from its international counterparts: its incredible paucity of beautiful ads. To begin with, of the 67 full page ads in its latest issue only 3 refer explicitly to clothes – Levis, Monisha Jaisingh and Ritu Kumar. The largest chunk of the ads, 17 to be exact, belong to Indian jewellery stores: the Manubhais, Nothandasses, Gehnas, Shristis etc etc. And no, the ads don’t show smart, modern everyday wear. It is all heavy, traditional, stone-studded, ready-for-wedding wear. Jewellery is followed by watches (9), furnishing (6), skin products (5) and hotels (4). After this it all goes random with whiskey, chocolates, mid-range Australian wine, hairbands, yachts and even realty companies all finding a corner in this Indian temple to fashion.
What makes the magazine experience surreal is that articles and photo shoots – especially, the photo shoots – continue to refer to D&G, Nina Ricci, Christian Louboutins, Roberto Cavalli and gang as if the Nanubhais and Nothandasses never happened.
To me this gap between the ads and the articles of Vogue says a lot about the wide gap between the reality, pretentions and aspirations of middle class India, and the resulting schizophrenia. We already believe that we are a world superpower without acknowledging the illiteracy, poverty, dirt, pollution and corruption endemic to our lives. Instead, we simply ensconce ourselves in air-conditioned bubbles inside our flats, cars, offices, malls, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs dreaming our rose-tinted dreams of a time when Nina Ricci and Christian Louboutin will be just down the road.
Maybe, that time will arrive. I only hope that the road leading to these stores will not be jammed with traffic, beggars in tatters, dust and pollution.