Fashion is a famously difficult industry to break into, and based on the interest we see in any and all of our career-related posts on Fashionista, it's one that a lot of people are desperate to be a part of. Another fact that's well-documented on this site: many of the people that have made it to the top of the fashion ladder, whether in an editorial or more visually creative field, did so by working really, really hard. They started from the bottom and are now here, with years of working long, grueling hours for little (or no) pay in between.
Others have had an easier time. For instance, it's no secret that many of today's most successful models benefitted from name recognition, family connections, family money and/or social media followings that superseded skill and allowed them to bypass that "paying your dues" phase. Still, a model has to be young, tall, thin and beautiful to make it; it's an inherently unequal playing field. It's the more behind-the-scenes gigs where a strong work ethic and talent tend be valued over fame and followers, or at least that's what we thought when we got into journalism.
While not the case everywhere, it feels like more and more employers are considering the wrong attributes when making hires. The most recent and Internet rage-inducing example was Burberry's decision to have 16-year-old Brooklyn Beckham, son of Victoria and David, photograph its next fragrance campaign: a career-making opportunity that so many photographers — aspiring or established — would have killed for, but that Beckham got because of his family and 5.9 million Instagram followers. Fashion photographer Chris Floyd told the Guardian that it represented a "devaluation of photography," while another photog Jon Corrigan said, "It infuriates me because I learned my trade and other photographers learn their trade but he's not learning his trade." Christopher Bailey defended the decision saying simply: "Brooklyn has a really great eye for image and Instagram works brilliantly for him as a platform to showcase his work. His style and attitude were exactly what we wanted to capture the spirit of this new fragrance campaign."
Last week, Condé Nast-owned UK fashion magazine Love announced that it had appointed socialite and model Poppy Delevingne to the role of senior contributing editor. Not only is her debut column for the magazine literally called "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Perfect," but she also follows in the footsteps of her supermodel-turned-actress sister Cara, who was named contributing editor of the same glossy one year prior. Oh, and the Delevingnes' godfather, Nicholas Coleridge, happens to be the managing director of Condé Nast U.K. Edie Campbell and Georgia May Jagger have also held editor titles at Love. When asked for further detail on their roles at the magazine and whether or not they receive salaries, a rep said only that "Edie has a first class Honours degree in History of Art and Poppy and Cara are both accomplished writers as well as being friends of the magazine," in addition to providing the following excerpt from Katie Grand's most recent editors' letter as anecdotal evidence of Campbell's role:
"...sitting in an editorial meeting with our new editor Harriet Verney and contributing editor Edie Campbell, who were divvying up the front-section talent by deciding whether or not they wanted to shag them. The agenda of the meeting was basically 'Snog, Marry, Avoid'. So when you flick through Sølve's portfolio in the early part of this issue and notice that there are a lot of photogenic people, there’s a reason for that."
Vogue UK has gotten in on this phenomenon too, hiring Alexa Chung as a contributing editor and Kate Moss as a contributing fashion editor (which perhaps she earned with a prolific, almost 30-year modeling career under her belt). There's also actual princess, Elisabeth von thurn und Taxis, who possesses the plum title of style editor at large at American Vogue. Then there are the more mainstream celebrity examples: Jessica Alba was named a contributing editor at Self last year; Zosia Mamet has a column in Glamour; Rachel Bilson was a longtime contributor to InStyle; Kendall and Kylie Jenner were contributing fashion editors for an issue of Seventeen in 2012; and Pippa Middleton contributed regularly to Vanity Fair from 2013-2015.
This trend has spread to online news outlets as well. Drew Barrymore and Lauren Conrad have acted as contributing editors for Refinery29 and WhoWhatWear, respectively. Conrad, a blogger in her own right, has also contributed to Forbes, Lucky and Allure. Meanwhile, model Coco Rocha took on the fashion-tech beat as a contributing editor at PC Mag back in 2013.
Not to mention countless other, less visible instances where celebrity, nepotism, social standing, social media presence and street style regularity were considered legitimate job qualifications by magazine editors and the like. This also happens in photography. See: Theo Wenner shooting for Rolling Stone, which his father founded.
Sure, many of these people turn out to be talented or have an interesting point of view, but as someone who has worked countless hours for free in order to get my foot in the door (and acknowledges the fact that I was even able to do that means I'm more privileged than some) and has to write/edit to pay the bills — like many people — it can be frustrating to see actors, models and socialites get such big-time opportunities right out of the gate. Ditto people who just made the right social connections, have amassed huge Instagram followings, or spent more time and money planning their Fashion Month wardrobes.
That said, perhaps the problem here lies not with those editors themselves, but with the increased pressure brands and publications face nowadays to break through the noise, or stay afloat when your medium is the ever-doomed print. Just like a brand might cast an Insta-famous model, or put those with more "influence" in the front row at a runway show, a magazine or fashion house might hire the "editor" or "photographer" with his or her own built-in following, simply to get a leg up over the competition or see a bump in page views. And for celebrities, models and rich girls looking to try something a little more cerebral, that's working out quite well.
As Jess Cartner-Morely wrote in the Guardian, "The purpose of an advertising campaign for Burberry Brit is not to promote photography as an art form; it is to promote and sell a fragrance aimed at young people." Or as Elton John, Beckham's godfather, recently told Metro: "How much publicity are Burberry getting out of it? That's the whole point." Likewise, the point of a fashion magazine isn't necessarily to promote the best writing, but rather to sell subscriptions and newsstand copies. And also, ya know, when was life ever fair?