The fearless young editor-in-chief and advocate of diversity aim to bring the world of fashion closer to ordinary people.
Many eyes will be on Lindsay Peoples Wagner when New York Fashion Week begins on Wednesday – effectively the first since the epidemic stopped, then intersected with, the social justice movement to compel recalibrations throughout much of the industry.
She represents a new generation of fashion editors, in this instance of the Cut, a prominent supplement to New York magazine, at the age of 30. She and her friends want to shift the focus of fashion, putting greater attention on the variety of gestures and messages that individuals make with their garments, subtle or not.
Peoples Wagner takes up the post, which has been imbued with near-mystical importance at times, at a difficult time in an industry looking for hopeful new beginnings following widespread criticism for underperforming on themes of inclusiveness, representation, objectification, and sustainability.
In a nutshell, her strategy is to recognize fashion’s reflexive and self-isolating racism – the outlines of which she had personally experienced – and take action in the other direction. Peoples Wagner told the Observer, “It’s about presenting tales that seem more intimate and having people feel included in the community because traditionally magazines have encouraged people to feel extremely far away.”
“It’s easy to sell a publication if you don’t feel like you can be a part of it, and it’s part of a myth that you have to be hip, attractive, and wealthy enough to be a part of it. That, however, is just not the case. It’s a logical fallacy. Our strategy is to create something approachable rather than aspirational.”
Peoples Wagner is a graduate of Teen Vogue, a newspaper with fewer restrictions than its adult version, where she worked her way up from intern to editor. She joined the Cut earlier this year, just before Teen Vogue’s successor, Alexi McCammond, quit due to statements she made on social media years ago.
Peoples Wagner stated in an editor’s letter on the cover of her debut fashion issue, “Is There Room for Fashion Criticism in a Racist Industry?” that the industry’s attempts to make apologies had created “even more of a complicated environment for people of color like me.”
Her strategy is to let the floodgates open: “I want all those unpleasant things that weren’t being stated openly to keep rising up,” she added
“Obviously, it isn’t easy,” she continued. “In the best of times, creating art that aims for both beauty and significance is a delicate line to tread. Cancel culture thrives in the nooks and crannies of awkward conversations.”
It’s an attitude of transparency and accountability, of welcoming individuals from all walks of life and with all levels of access, and of “creating a fashion magazine that challenged the assumption that if you’re a ‘fashion‘ person, you can’t still care profoundly about the world around you.”
Peoples Wagner was born in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, went to college in Iowa, and then moved to New York, where she worked in a variety of fashion professions before settling on publishing.
“I grew up adoring magazines and what I saw in them, but I never felt like I belonged. Because I knew no one in the fashion industry, I took every job I could to get experience. It’s been a difficult path, as it is for any young black woman in a business where you don’t have the same trust fund, connections, or point of view as many others.” It’s an attitude of transparency and accountability, of welcoming individuals from all walks of life and with all levels of access, and of “creating a fashion magazine that challenged the assumption that if you’re a ‘fashion’ person, you can’t still care profoundly about the world around you.”
But it was in New York that she made her mark, with a harrowing essay headlined “Everywhere and Nowhere: What it’s Really Like to Be Black and Work in Fashion,” published three years ago. The American Society of Magazine Editors gave her an award for the piece, which she claimed took six months of painful interviews to put together.
When Peoples Wagner was elected editor of Teen Vogue in 2018, she became the youngest editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast magazine and the third black editor to lead one of the publisher’s American publications. She was given a diversity and LGBTQ-focused editorial remit by Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Three years later, the Cut still emphasizes representation. The cover features Naomi Campbell, with an article headlined “The worldwide quest of a larger butt” about the “frenzy for curves that imitate – and distort – black beauty norms” and “The girlboss is dead.” The girlboss is here to stay.” The hotly tipped Vietnamese-American designer Peter Do, a Phoebe Philo protege who is presenting a debut collection of clothes this week; the exodus of fashion editors to better-paying jobs in Silicon Valley; and a celebration of Kim Kardashian’s underwear line Skims, with the writer admitting that the Kardashian clan queen “offends me to my core” are also featured.
Personal or political realities are topics that brand advertisers, the major funders of fashion media, want to avoid. Peoples Wagner, on the other hand, believes that in these turbulent times, people are “now more than ever ready to see the things we’ve been talking about, front-facing and in conflict with what the fashion business truly cares about.”
“There’s no way around it; the only option is to go through it. You can’t get paralyzed and say, “Oh, this topic makes me uncomfortable, therefore I’m not going to have it,” even if you’re not a person of color. That isn’t constructive, and it won’t get you anywhere. So we’ve arrived at a difficult point where we need to have these in-depth discussions, but people are scared of cancel culture. They don’t want to make a mistake.”
“I’m a supporter of accountability culture instead than cancel culture because I believe a lot of this time is holding people accountable for their behavior – and not addressing someone’s character in reductive ways,” she says. It’s fine if others don’t agree.
“At the end of the day, I just want the Cut to be a space where people can talk.” It’s not about having discussions with famous people, but about getting out and talking to regular people.”
It’s a lofty goal, and one that Peoples Wagner has pursued in ways other than publication. She and publicist Sandrine Charles launched the Black in Fashion Council last year, which is endorsed by hundreds of black models, stylists, executives, and editors and aims to assist businesses diversify and cultivate inclusiveness.
She believes that necessary change will occur when corporations combine creative talent to a commitment to inclusion. “Businesses want to claim that they value change and variety. However, as part of their corporate strategy, they aren’t really interested in comprehensive transformation. They also don’t want to be canceled or summoned.”
The fear is that the fashion business, like so many others in and out of the creative and commercial worlds, will end up with nothing more than showy displays.
“Things are changing, but what we’re talking about is a systematic transformation of infrastructures that have been in place since before I was born,” Peoples Wagner says. “What we’re calling for is fundamental change, which will take time and require difficult talks that people haven’t wanted to have in the past.”
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