Review: The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements

Kirstie Clements is probably not a name people cite when asked to list present and former Vogue editors – those honours go to Anna Wintour, Alexandra Schulman and Carine Roitfeld.

But for 13 years Clements was the editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia. Granted, it’s not the brand’s biggest or most important title, but Vogue is Vogue, and Clements played a crucial role is shaping the magazine, until she was sacked in May 2012.

In The Vogue Factor, Clements recounts her career, from working as a receptionist at the magazine, through her time in Paris as a freelance reporter and the period she spent working on the upstart Harper’s Bazaar, before her ascension to the top spot at the most famous name in fashion magazines.

Clements begins her book at the end, recalling the day she was called into the office of the CEO of Vogue‘s parent company and told she was being fired, before taking us to the start of her career in magazines. This beginning made me think that Clements would circle round to her last days at Vogue, giving an insight into what happened as the end neared, and her thoughts on why she was sacked. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. Instead, we get a few pages at the end in which Clements muses on how companies like to change staff when new management comes in, which I felt was diplomatic of her, but also didn’t make for great reading.

Other parts of the book are equally bland. Clements likes to list the many, many people she worked with over the years, when I’d rather have heard about what she was doing, both because it would be more interesting and because I love to hear about the inner workings of the journalism industry. Instead, there’s endless lists of photoshoots, and hirings and (not that many) firings. Clements also occasionally does the really annoying thing of starting a story but not finishing it. This most stood out to me in the chapter when she starts hiring a team at Vogue. After spending a page talking about needing to hire a new art director and the qualities needed, she fails to the reader who she hired. What was the point of that? 

The endless lists and recounting of trips are not very exciting, but when Clements delves into the big issue in fashion – the size of models – that’s when the book comes to life. She recalls the practices she has encountered, and details exactly why certain types of models are used, holding the fashion industry as a whole to account for unhealthy female models. Her stories are quite horrifying (models eat tissues to feel full), more so because they’re told in such a calm way. The story of a Russian model so hungry by the end of a multi-day shoot that she couldn’t sit up and had to be laid down so the magazine could get its final shot is awful on many levels, not least because Clements and her team have a role to play in stopping this kind of practice, and on this occasion, while they called the model’s agency to report the problem, they also didn’t bother putting a stop to the shoot.

Clements is also interesting when she’s talking about the role of Vogue Australia in relation to other Vogues, with the basic idea that Vogue Australia is the poor relation. It’s in these discussions that the book fun is funny and witty, but unfortunately they’re few and far between. What could have been an insightful look at the fashion magazine industry instead turns into a rather bland recounting of a career in The Vogue Factor. Unfortunately, this book is the Vogue Australia of books about fashion magazines.

How I got this book: From the room of unwanted books at work.

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