Irene Silvagni died on March 23 after a long illness, but throughout her long career she was one of the fashion industry’s many éminence grises: one of those rare few who spoke fearlessly about fashion, as she saw it.
“Fashion designers have traditionally been men and their employees women, starting with Worth. And at the risk of sounding simplistic, male designers do often exercise power over their female employees by being callous or cruel; there is nothing new under the sun there. Women always have a second life that men don’t, family and children that perhaps help to bring some balance. I think there is something about this industry that attracts people with very strong egos, male and female, and that can unleash a sort of hysteria at times. Fashion designers are ‘artistes’. There is something about all types of creation that is about putting a piece of yourself into your work, and that can be very draining.”
We practice what we call ‘security with a velvet touch.’ We stay in the shadows. The PRs check people in, and most of them don’t know what they’re doing but that’s another story. Anyway, we stand behind the PR people. If we see them lingering with an individual, we might catch the individual trying read the guest list. People do that you know – they can read upside down. If we see that one of these PR persons is taking more than a minute or two with someone, then there’s usually a problem. Basically, we play the bad cop. But we always try to give people a gracious way out, like, ‘Sorry you’re not on the list, obviously there was an issue with your invitation, maybe you didn’t RSVP in time?’ You never say, ‘Oh get outta here,’ even though you want to. But you can’t, because like I said they cry very easily and you never know who they know.
Nose-diving profits mean that Vogue is more than ever beholden to advertisers, which pundits consider a barrier to candid coverage. Yet I’m always surprised when people criticise Vogue and similar publications for a lack of fashion journalism. These magazines were never intended to provide incisive and balanced commentary, and its staff is not made up of journalists. This is worth demarcating, since for the majority at Vogue their job is to protect and attract privilege, to network, organise, promote, publicise, but not to write critically. The actual contents of fashion publications thus becomes of minimal interest. What remains of the name is not a print product but a nebulous structure composed of soft power.