In a post yesterday, I quoted Thomas More about fancy clothing: “how fine soever that thread may be, it was once no better than the fleece of a sheep, and that sheep was a sheep still for all its wearing it.” Maybe I’m going have to start using that quote every day.
On Saturday, Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, a German princess and Vogue style editor, tried to be amusing. While in Paris, she saw a homeless woman named Maryse Dumas reading a copy of Vogue. Von Thurn und Taxis took a picture. Having found, she thought, the perfect human prop and punchline, the princess posted the image on Instagram with this caption: “Paris is full of surprises….and @voguemagazine readers even in unexpected corners!”
Surprisingly, even people who spend time looking at and commenting on Vogue editors’ Instagram posts found the image offensive. (Actually, come to think of it, “in poor taste” and “tasteless” were the preferred terms of opprobrium, suggesting that the Vogue vocabulary influences even its readers’ outrage.)
After initially standing by her decision to post the photo, von Thurn und Taxis deleted the image and offered these words: “I wanted to extend my sincerest apologies for the offence my post has caused.”
The episode was so shameful that even Britain’s far-right Daily Mail published an article unsympathetic to the princess. They even interviewed Ms. Dumas, who said “It’s no joke being destitute.” Regarding von Thurn und Taxis’s apology, Dumas stated, “No one has said sorry to me.”
The Mail then returned to its standard editorial practice of bellowing for policies that increase poverty and homelessness.
I don’t expect von Thurn und Taxis to learn anything from this experience, any more than the Daily Mail will. But here is what I would say to her and her Vogue colleagues. Your class privilege does not make you superior to anyone. Nor does your job marketing staggeringly expensive totems of snobbery to the posh and frivolous. Quite the contrary.