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Alastair Stark/the Gauntlet

Outrageous handbags

Fashion's ethical faux-pas

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It seems that fashion has taken another turn for the worse, if worse is actually possible. The world has already seen garbage bag dresses and skeleton-like bodies laden with overpriced, ridiculous costumes actually making it difficult for the wearer to walk. But now parts of the fashion industry have resorted to an even more preposterous way of selling. In the August edition of Vogue India, a 16-page spread was published featuring an array of poor Indian citizens sporting designer accessories that cost more money than what they will probably make in their lifetimes.

The CBC reported that in one picture, a beggar woman is shown thrusting her baby, sporting a $100 Fendi bib, at the camera. In another, a toothless and shoeless man and his wife pose outside their mud hut, him holding a Burberry umbrella and her an Etro handbag. Not only does this encourage disparity to become more widespread than ever, it seems like a very sad, mean joke. The spread names the designer accessories, but specifies the models only by saying if a man or a woman is displaying the item. Raj Girn, the founder and publisher of Anokhi Magazine, sees the spread as unconscionable.

"When I pick up that magazine, what it tells me, as that particular demographic is, 'Look at these poor people. Look how great they look with these products. If they look that great, just imagine what you'd look like'," she told the CBC.

According to figures released by the World Bank, about 456 million people-- almost half of India's population-- live on less than $1.25 a day. Yet Vogue sees it fit to pose a poor person with a designer accessory they will never be able to afford. India is an up-and-coming country with more billionaires than China and it makes perfect sense to show the middle and higher classes a way to flaunt their new-found money. But it doesn't make sense to use the poor class as mannequins. Even though most hired models are really just props, they get credited with a name and a healthy paycheck. The Vogue India models are credited with a reference to their gender and a picture in a magazine they can't afford to buy. Instead of a picture in Vogue India bringing fame and fortune, this spread, failing to even name the models and actually recognize them as individual human beings, shouts out the view that a poor person has less worth than the gum stuck to the bottom of the fashonistas' Pradas.

The editor of Vogue India, Priya Tanna, had a message for the critics.

"Lighten up . . . You have to remember with fashion, you can't take it that seriously," Tanna told the International Herald Tribune. "We weren't trying to make a political statement or save the world."

Instead, it seems that Vogue India wanted attention and got it in a big way. The publicity of this spread has been felt all over the world and was not well received. The choice to use these poor people in the spread seems almost like a social stab at the industry, while at the same time a sad lonely cry for notice by the magazine. When an aspiring fashionista is looking for her next handbag, seeing it on the arm of a barefoot woman will probably not sell her on the item.

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