The Fashion Industry Interview Heard ‘Round the World
07.05.17

The internet all but exploded this week when Vestoj, an academic journal about fashion, published a salacious interview with Lucinda Chambers, former British Vogue Fashion Director (the post has since been taken down — twice — and is currently unavailable on Vestoj‘s website, but true to 2017’s form, screenshots abound). Chambers didn’t waste any time getting to her point: “I was fired from Vogue. It took them three minutes to do it.” In those two short sentences, she revealed multitudes: not only does she admit to being fired (a rare confession in fashion media, where shuffling from publication to publication is quite common, making it beneficial to keep quiet about a dismissal, lest it hurt your chances of being hired elsewhere), but she also pointed a finger at British Vogue (Vogue! of all places) for handling her ousting poorly. As she said, “It took them three minutes to do it.” Chambers worked at British Vogue for 36 years, and spent 25 of those as Fashion Director.

Just last week, I compiled a series of interviews with four fashion industry veterans who weighed in on the accuracy of The Devil Wears Prada’s fashion industry stereotypes. They very generously answered my questions honestly, which meant their responses weren’t all positive. I changed the names of all four people in the article to protect their anonymity, even the three who had left the industry years ago. I knew that anonymity would be a condition for anyone agreeing to speak with me for a plethora of reasons — personal, professional and legal.

That’s why Lucinda Chambers’ tell-all is so provoking — jarring, even: she’s standing behind it, 100% out in the open. “There’s too much smoke and mirrors in the industry as it is,” she says. “Any anyway, I didn’t leave. I was fired.” Fired. It’s a word fraught with so much anxiety, despite how common an experience it is. Even Anna Wintour once admitted to being fired from Harper’s Bazaar at the start of her career — but she didn’t say so until years later. We rarely admit to being fired immediately after it’s happened, when the wound is still fresh and you’re navigating the world with wide eyes like a newborn, untethered from the lifeline of the career you were building, not to mention your source of income.

The brazen immediacy of her honesty, and her willingness to reveal the details around her exit, makes the rest of the interview all the more explosive. Because if she’s willing to fall on her own sword, she must really be telling the truth, right? She has nothing to lose, and the story she tells is illuminating, especially in the context of an an industry as mythical as print fashion media.

“Fashion can chew you up and spit you out,” she says. As an example, she cites the ousting of a designer she worked under at Marni, Paulo Melim Andersson:

“The CEO at the time asked my advice about Paulo and I told him, ‘Paulo is great, but you have to know that he won’t turn the brand around for you in a season or even two. You’ve got to give him time, and surround him by the right people.’ ‘Absolutely, absolutely,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that.’ Three seasons later Paulo was out. They didn’t give him time, and he never got his people. I felt so sad for Paulo. If you want good results, you have to support people. You don’t get the best out of anyone by making them feel insecure or nervous. Ultimately, that way of treating people is only about control. If you make someone feel nervous, you’ve got them. But in my view, you’ve got them in the wrong way. You’ve got them in a state of anxiety.”

Anxiety is a common thread throughout the interview. “You’re not allowed to fail in fashion,” she says. “Nobody today is allowed to fail, instead the prospect causes anxiety and terror. But why can’t we celebrate failure? After all, it helps us grow and develop. I’m not ashamed of what happened to me.”

The most startling revelation, to me at least, was her honesty around the impact big advertisers could have on the creative process: “Oh I know [my shoots] weren’t all good – some were crappy. The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway. Ok, whatever.”

I mean, whoa. That’s quite a takedown — and a believable one, too, because she’s taking herself down with it.

I was also fascinated by Chambers’ commentary on how, in fashion, a projection of confidence is more important than confidence itself. “In fashion, people take you on your own estimation of yourself,” she says. “You can walk into a room feeling pumped up and confident, and if you radiate that the industry will believe in what you project. If, on the other hand, you appear vulnerable, you won’t be seen as a winner.”

I think this general assessment of the importance of conveying confidence could be applicable to any industry, but Chambers goes on to discuss an aspect of it that does seem particularly endemic to fashion:

“When I was on maternity leave, Vogue employed a new fashion editor. When I met with my editor after having had my baby, she told me about her. She said, ‘Oh Lucinda, I’ve employed someone and she looked fantastic. She was wearing a red velvet dress and a pair of Wellington boots to the interview.’ This was twenty years ago. She went on, ‘She’s never done a shoot before. But she’s absolutely beautiful and so confident. I just fell in love with the way she looked.’ And I went, ‘Ok, ok. Let’s give her a go.’ She was a terrible stylist. Just terrible. But in fashion you can go far if you look fantastic and confident.”

Fashion is an industry grounded in aesthetics. That’s not to say that being smart, creative, thoughtful and a good leader aren’t important in fashion, as in almost any other industry, but what she’s saying is that “looks” can carry you to a unique degree.

Chambers also picks apart one of the most infamous and obvious indicators of hierarchy in fashion: fashion show seating. “Fashion shows are all about expectation and anxiety,” she says. “We’re all on display. It’s theatre. I’m fifty-seven and I know that when the shows come around in September I will feel vulnerable. Will I still get a ticket? Where will I sit?”

I’ll admit I found it comforting that after 36 years in the business, she still felt like a small fish when fashion week rolled around. That’s certainly how I felt at my first fashion week this past February, but I assumed it was because I was a newbie. I suppose this anxiety stems from fashion’s blessing and curse: cloaked in a certain mystique, it can be an incubator for vulnerability. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing — it’s a more ubiquitous human trait than cheek dimples, when you think about it — but it can be terrifying when it seems like you’re the only one experiencing it. I’m grateful Lucinda Chambers shouted her vulnerability into the void. Because, honestly, why can’t we celebrate failure when someone is standing on the other side, cupping their hands around their mouth and saying it’s all going to be okay?

Get more Fashion ?
  • Adrianna

    Loved every word of this

  • Maria

    I LOVED EVERYTHING SHE SAID, it was so honest, fashion industry needs a change right now! Everything about its ways is old and its supposed to all about anticipating the future.
    Anna wintour resembles more an Old mother queen thats there just because “she is the queen” and ” she is supposed to” than because of her interesting, innovative, or avant garde ideas!
    we need new blood right now!

    • Danielle Cardona Graff

      I also loved everything she said, and don’t understand why the whole interview would’ve been taken down.

  • JO King

    I love Lucinda Chambers and her bonkers fashion shoots, most of the time – amongst the astronomically prices clothes – she sneaks in stuff that we can all afford and access. Years ago she styled me as Edith Sitwell, it was an experience. My feeling is to now cancel my subscription to Vogue as I have a suspicion it’s now going to be more exclusive and clique-ridden….

  • Nikelle

    Great piece Harling, on the wake of your Devil Wears Prada article, this is a great follow-up. I am wondering about your use of salacious, though?

    • Harling Ross

      “Salacious” was intended to mean “juicy” in this context, but you’re right that it was misleading. Headline has been edited!

      Glad you enjoyed the DWP article. That was so much fun to compile.

  • Sophie

    This is so interesting – for someone considering going into fashion (like myself)

  • Dev

    What lucinda said is prevalent within many professions, the cloak and dagger ness as well as the clickiness that you can face from people. I hope that she is successful in find a new venture.

  • Audrey

    “The most startling revelation, to me at least, was her honesty around the impact big advertisers could have on the creative process.” Honestly Harling Ross, are you serious? You work for a website who’s founder has made a career from wearing gifted clothing and whose advertisers pay to be called out in articles. (And if I am incorrect here, how else do you keep the lights on?) How can you honestly find this “startling” that Michael Kors’ ugly tee shirt finds its way onto a Vogue cove? Wake up girl.

    • Harling Ross

      Hi Audrey! The fact that advertisers keep the lights on wasn’t news to me, but Lucinda’s indication that the influence of an advertiser could compromise her creative integrity, as an editor and stylist, to that big of an extent was what caught me off-guard. I only have my experience at Man Repeller to base my perspective off of, but our sales team and editorial team work together very closely to maintain our voice and aesthetic *within* sponsored collaborations, striving for the ultimate goal of only publishing paid content regardless of whether or not we were profiting from it. Digital publications like Man Repeller are also different in the sense that we’re required to disclose all of our paid partnerships explicitly, which we do. Hopefully all of this explains why Lucinda’s comment was revelatory to me!

    • Ciccollina

      Oh come on! Name three times when a celeb, stylist, actor or blogger has actually admitted that they wore/made someone wear something for money and hated it? Seriously, three examples and I’ll let you win this little battle, because I have worked in fashion for years and I can’t think of one revelation that comes close to this. Also, I find the comment about Leandra making a career out of gifted clothing a little below the belt tbh. Leandra has always written articles and MR has always been about much more than selling out.

      • Paul Pham

        That’s why I prefer MR’s non-fashion articles now. I still admire how Leandra styles her clothes, but when I look at the price tag, I no longer feel that it’s even aspirational. The clothes here are turning rather cartoonish. I prefer bloggers who buy their own clothes with much debate on how much to spend, and then style it from there.

    • Gregory Apparel

      what an interesting response to an article that highlights vulnerability and yet out come the claws…. For assumed cluelessness. It’s pretty funny how quickly you jumped on that train. I think everyone gets so nasty because most are taught in this industry that it’s okay, or even encouraged.

    • Leandra Medine

      Hey!! I’m going to jump in too and say: yeah! I do get gifted clothes – it is super awesome, but I still end up shopping a-still decent amount of my own clothes because the way I process style is such that it genuinely feels like I’m not living my truth if I don’t love what I’m wearing. Maybe it’s trivial, but it keeps me real, though this might be irrelevant. On the point about sponsored content, we are very proud of the way we work with brands and how transparent we are when stuff is sponsored, which I think is precisely the reason harling was surprised? If and when you’re reading a paid post, you know it! And even for those pieces, we really, really REALLY take them to a place where we extremely excited to both style and write them. If and when you’re reading something and wondering whether its paid even though there’s no clause stating it probably means that whoever wrote it probably has an alt. burgeoning career in house with the brand at hand. Pls don’t poach my ppl though! I luv them so much

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    I don’t understand why the post was ever taken down. A kind of censorship of what most intelligent folks already know? I would have to agree on what she says about confidence and appearance-thought confidence, fake or otherwise definitely takes one the farthest.

  • I would not call the Vestoj article salacious, it is honest and rings true to my own experience working in design for nearly as long as Lucinda’s career at Vogue. It was heartless and messy the way she was fired, unfortunately I’ve seen it happen over and over again to people who were actually doing a great job but were swept up in a regime change and cast aside. The industry also does not take kindly to people getting old, as I wrote about in my post, Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret. http://www.primadarling.com/fashion/fashions-dirty-little-secret/
    I applaud Lucinda for her bravery in speaking out and hope the conversation her article sparked will continue.

  • BuffyAnneSummers97

    On a day when I made a massive fuck up at work and could have fired…. this exposure and celebration of vulnerability and mistakes and basically taking a right bollocking is very welcome.

    • Harling Ross

      i agree! being vocal about vulnerability and failure is such important lip balm for existing as a human in this world

  • I was just today watching the series Alexa filmed interviewing Lucinda at British Vogue. So rattling to think such a long and dedicated career could be ended in mere minutes. Just another testament to how desperately classic publications want to hold on to traditional exclusivity in a rapidly changing and expanding industry.

    Rabeyah
    http://byrabeyah.blogspot.com/

  • Néo Bourgeois — Montecito

    Another tranche of the proletariat thinking they can get over hanging-out all day in an office setting. Clearly the universe doesn’t work like that, no mistakes. Enterprise isn’t daycare. The world is saturated in debt so look for alternatives, before being shown the exit, there is no shortage of warm bodies.

  • allison fargo

    oooo this was too good. makes me sad to read about advertising taking priority over creativity and honest, original content.

  • #THIStm
  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    I will just note that as much as I love the hyperlinks to discover additional articles, some are misleading when referencing an outside article or piece or magazine cover and then you click through to just another MR article rather than to where you were expecting (example here is the Michael Kors tshirt cover reference).

    • Lori

      me too!! i wanted to see the shirt! lol

    • Harling Ross

      good point! I will swap that link out for one that directs to the cover

  • Kimberley Boehm

    I’m glad Lucinda Chambers spoke up and out, but she’s learned what many of us learned early: you are so easily replaced. Even when you think you own the room.

    • Celina Ann Chan

      Rings true for *any* industry, not just in fashion.

  • Kimberley Boehm

    At 2:23pm PST, the interview is back on the site. http://vestoj.com/will-i-get-a-ticket/

    • Harling Ross

      THANK G

  • tmm16

    I wondered if MR was going to cover this. I found the interview refreshing and honest. It’s a shame what happened to Lucinda. I really wish her good vibes and an exciting, new career venture her way.

  • Gregory Apparel

    After 36 years at the same company and to be fired in that way, I’d be indignant as well. I missed that article and I’m going to have to go read it. Full support to Lucinda and her need to speak out. I don’t know labor laws in the UK but maybe she gearing up for a lawsuit.

  • The underlying message here is that fashion is a business. The creative comes second. While they can work harmoniously, you can’t have one without the other and Vogue’s direction here is business first. Vogue is dead, sure, but I think that Lucinda should have directed her creative energy elsewhere. Why work for a company you don’t embody? Free Fiji water? There are so many more magazines other than Vogue to work for!

  • Bee

    Um, this is incredible. I’m very early on in my career and already wish that failure was celebrated as an opportunity to learn and grow. I personally hold that belief but it is so easy to be knocked down by those around you who see failure as being unacceptable. Good for Lucinda for being so real. Such an inspiration!

    • jillygirl

      But there are others just like you who WILL hire you, so stay true to yourself as much as possible. Because that’s how they will find you.

      • Bee

        Thanks for this! 🙂

  • JennyWren

    I hate that I’m so cynical that my first thought was that it’s easy to be brave when you’ve been fired when you probably don’t need to work again. But maybe that just makes it more important for those who can to be honest. In many parts of the US you can be fired for no reason, no matter how good a job you’ve done, and it threatens a lot more than your pride. It wasn’t until I was fired that people started telling me about the times they’d been fired, for their own mistakes, someone else’s, and a combination of both. It’s definitely something we could all stand to be more prepared for.

  • This sounds like every workplace I’ve ever been in. Doesn’t matter if you’re any good, as long as you look good and put up a big enough front. Of course you’re kissing the advertiser’s ass: a magazine is only a collection of ads with some filler inbetween. The minute you forget that, you’re out.

    • Lil

      So true. Looks and schmizing can get you halfway there.

  • Alexandra Porter

    I suppose the atmosphere of the industry was working for her, until it wasn’t…

    I appreciate the honest statement and open discussion she has started, but surely, comfortably holding a top position doesn’t lead to shedding light on the dark spaces- that is, until you’re suddenly shoved out the door. Only then does one have the complete freedom to let the rays in for the outsiders to see. Indeed, when all is lost, the truth always remains.

    The industry is beautiful from the outside, and often quite ugly on the inside. Here’s to those that seek to change that! From the inside!

    Great read, MR team on it as per usual xo

  • orthostice

    The honesty of her interview is great and super refreshing, but I would also be interested to hear what others thought of her actual work. As a reader of British Vogue, the magazine (pre-shakeup) was very much the vanguard of posh British whiteness and I do think the drama surrounding this interview has taken some of the attention away from some potentially very exciting changes at the magazine. I know Chambers was hemmed in by advertisers, but I found the magazine’s shoots quite repetitive recently. I am very interested to see what direction the editorial takes now.

    • Ciccollina

      I’m with you, I never found British Vogue to be a particularly inspiring source of fashion editorial. I only buy Vogue Paris and Italia.

  • catfish

    two questions:
    why was she fired? did the boss give a reason or does she know why?
    what was changed in the original article to the re-published one? (obviously the reason it was taken down to begin with)

    • orthostice

      The old Editor in Chief Alexandra Shulman left after something like 25 years and was replaced by Edward Enninful. He came from i-D, which is a very different style of magazine. There’s been a big shakeup with a lot of the old staff leaving (or being less publicly fired). Chambers was replaced by Venetia Scott.

  • spicyearlgrey

    this honesty is what i aspire to have. getting fired makes us feel vulnerable but she comes off fierce as fuck. love and power to her

  • Alex

    Just read this article and absolutely adored it, Harling. In lieu of the vulnerability aspect, how have you and the MR team learned to respond to and emotionally handle criticism of your work? As you know and can see in comment sections across the world, people are so quick to say whatever they please when they are hiding behind their computers. I have noticed that you don’t dodge the nasty comments and handle critique so elequently, just curious how long it took you to get to that point. Though the quantity of positive feedback always outways the negative, that gut feeling of disappointment/embarrassment is a hard one to shake throughout the work day.

  • Rosalba Fiore

    I honestly do not understand a stylist sitting as Editor in Chief .
    Honestly Katie
    Anyone remember Edward Enninful outside Anna Wintour office with his coffee cup in ” September issue ” and comment ???

  • Rachel

    I loved reading her interview. I’ve interned and freelanced at British Vogue and Lucinda was just the nicest, warmest person. That Alexa Chung cover was TERRIBLE and I’m pleased she openly admitted it. When I saw it I thought it was a really odd choice for a cover – I mean the sequin beret with a black and white striped sweater and red lipstick ?! So cheesy. I found out today that Emily Sheffield is leaving too. I wonder if Sarah Harris will stay.

  • ambergris

    The degree disrespect for a member of Vogue management who held a post for 25 years is unbelievably crass, disgraceful behavior. Wow. It says far more about Vogue executives and their shortcomings than about any perceived shortcomings Lucinda may have had. As if we all don’t have them. You just don’t do that to someone unless there was, perhaps, exceedingly ugly illegal behavior involved.

    What kind of message does that send in an industry that largely owes it’s EXISTENCE to women? It says, don’t bother doing your best or establishing bonds of trust because you are literally undeserving of appreciation or even common courtesy.

    Business is only ruthless because that’s how the patriarchy created it –
    women can embody and establish any core values we like.