What is wrong with this picture?

I’m sure Vivienne Westwood sleeps at night but I’m still sure this is a terrible campaign.

Vivienne Westwood has been working with Ethical Fashion of Kenya, which is, I suppose, better than not working with Ethical Fashion of Kenya.

She has made bags with locals and some of the profits from those bags will find their way to “improve livelihoods and empowering people in rural areas.” (Round of applause for the lady in the expensive clothes parading on the rubbish dump please.)

So far so Bono, I suppose. And I guess, that if this collection is to be a success it should be promoted. So, what better than to have Juergen Teller shoot Viv in every African poverty porn cliche? (I’m sure I coud find a picture of her surrounded by merry / grateful little African orphans, if I looked hard enough.)

Here’s a classic image: How chic, on a rubbish dump in a slum because …that’s Africa, don’t you know. Just waiting for European designers to swoop down and empower and improve it. (Deep breath) Maybe her bags have made a massive contribution to the wellbeing of the people in front of whose humble homes she posed and gurned? I am not sure or convinced.

Am I graceless, missing the bigger picture, overly sensitive? I know Kenya. I’ve worked there. It seems to me that as a country, it has many real talents who are more than capable of making a decent noise for themselves on a global platform, if they were to given the courtesy of being showcased in a dignified manner. I wonder how much more effective showcasing viable local enterprises for e.g, that could flourish with some assistance, could be? I suspect there are more people who would consider investing substantive amounts of energy and belief in watering a seed that looks viable, rather than pathetic and tragic. I don’t think there’s much dignified or empowering about reinforcing stereotypes of a poverty-stricken, rubbish-strewn Africa, being temporarily “helped out of the mire” by the grace and favour of a visiting monarch. In fact, by using images such as these, I believe she’s reinforcing every prejudice that exists about the African continent. And until perceptions change, nothing changes.

Of course I could be wrong.

Is it good enough that Vivienne Westwood has given work and money to so many Kenyan’s through the manufacture of her collection? Should the reputation of the country even be a consideration?

Vanessa Raphaely is Editor of South African Cosmopolitan and Editorial Director of Associated Magazines, publishers of Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine and House and Leisure.

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