Sometimes, gentle readers, it may happen that an ex-employee departs her former employment under less-than-amicable circumstances — a shocking scenario to contemplate, I know.
And sometimes it’s a total f-in’ train wreck.
The pressing questions are obvious. First, does that employee have any embarrassing dirt to dish to the press? Second, did her bosses have the foresight to make her sign a non-disparagement agreement before shitcanning her out the door?
In the case of British Vogue and its recently fired fashion director Lucinda Chambers, it would appear the answers to these questions are “oh my yes” and “whoops,” respectively. That's judging by the brutal flaying Chambers performed on the publication in a now-legendary interview with Vestoj, an online academic publication about the fashion industry.
(Chambers had been British Vogue for 36 years.)
Still, British Vogue publisher Conde Nast is determined to limit the damage from the interview, by legal threats if necessary. It's an open question whether these high-profile legal maneuvers aren’t just digging the hole even deeper.
Media watchers predicted some kind of legal action as soon as the incendiary interview was published. It's not hard to see why.
Among other revelations, Chambers said fashion magazines are guilty of trying to “bully” women into buying expensive clothes they don’t need — and admitted she hadn’t read the magazine in years because the clothes it featured were “irrelevant.”
Perhaps most damaging, she also confirmed that fashion magazines’ supposedly objective coverage of new designs is heavily influenced by the interests of advertisers.
While humiliating for British Vogue, it’s not clear that any of her claims are actually legally actionable. That seems to be the conclusion reached by Vestoj, which initially deleted the piece at the request of Conde Nast, but then posted it again. (Deleting it was symbolic; it had already been widely re-posted on the internet).
But Conde Nast hired lawyers and they were going to get something out of it, darn it all.
They succeeded in forcing Vestoj and Chambers to retract a few claims, including her description of her firing by the new editor, Edward Enniful. “It took them three minutes to do it. No one in the building knew it was going to happen. The management and the editor I’ve worked with for 25 years had no idea. Nor did HR. Even the chairman told me he didn’t know it was going to happen. No one knew, except the man who did it — the new editor.”
Enniful seems to have taken offense at this particular claim, prompting the lawyers to demand a retraction. Whatever their reasons for focusing on this detail, it is one of those Pyrrhic victories that makes you wonder what exactly the complainants believe they are accomplishing.
The rest of her statements stand, and their success in forcing a single retraction just highlights the fact that Conde Nast couldn’t force her to retract any of the other claims, such as: “The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser, so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway.”
It might have been wiser — and more dignified — to just let the whole thing pass unchallenged, perhaps with a general statement that the magazine’s editors dispute her claims. It’s still embarrassing, of course, but turning it into a legal drama doesn't change anything.