The Third-World Photo Shoot Returns

After all the hoopla about the all-black Italian Vogue, which underscored the lack of black models in magazines and fashion shows, American Vogue retaliated this month with a single article featuring all black models--not exactly mind-blowing. Issues of race have infiltrated fashion in other ways as well. The late '80s/early '90s practice of photographing fashion models in third-world countries against a backdrop of native people has returned without much noise from the critics.

J. Crew keeps actual Moroccans mostly out of the picture in their newest "Morocco" catalog, like the blurred sheepherder in this shot (click on the images for larger versions):

The one time they do incorporate native Moroccans, we get an unintentionally hilarious shot--notice where the "local guerrab (water man)" is looking!

You would think Vogue would stay away from controversial images involving race considering the criticism they recently endured for their LeBron James and Jennifer Hudson covers. This may be why they cast black Ethiopian model Liya Kebede in their photo shoot in Mali (an unfortunate reason to cast a black model). But does it erase the elitist overtones when you use a model of color?

The piece is breathlessly narrated by Sally Singer, who writes of Djenne that "everyone in this bustling market town looks as if they've stepped off the Dries Van Noten catwalk." Riiight. The contrast in expressions and attitudes between the women in the marketplace and the model, despite the similar prints on their clothes, is what fascinates about this photo:

There is another strange photo whose caption reads "Malian children mix traditional textiles with items recycled from the West--'a testament to a visual culture that's profound and inclusive.'" It seems doubtful that the boy in this photo ordered his stained Beaver Creek Colorado sweatshirt from Net-a-Porter trying to mix and match. Aren't these Western clothes castaways donated by American charities?

It's hard not to see the colonialist overtones in this next photo: the traditional outfit, the sherpa walking several paces behind the model, carrying a tiny leather handbag. Notice how many cars are waiting in this ferry line to Timbuktu. The narrator has just informed us that while native Malians wait for hours and hours to be ferried across, the photo shoot crowd simply left their cars with drivers and "hired a boatman to row us across in a long canoe."

Given the number of global, particularly African, influences in fashion this season, it's not surprising that fashion editors would choose to set photo shoots in Africa. But the resulting photographs raise issues that were easily forgotten in the sanitized, rock-music-fueled environs of an Oscar de la Renta show. Where are these prints from, how did Western designers end up appropriating them, and what does it all mean? Are Americans any better than the Europeans who became infatuated with Orientalism at the turn of the last century, or have we merely adapted the same attitudes to a different continent, 100 years later?



Tom Tom and I stopped into Macondo the other evening for a drink or three. Though it would be cruel to subject a place to an official review just a couple of days after it opened, Macondo is already showing some winning traits.

The decor verges on the kitschy, with rope baskets slung above the bar holding bananas and pineapples, but it's also creative, since rope netting is used elsewhere as a screen to separate the dining room from the bar area. One side of the room is tricked out in the grocery-staples-as-decor trend, this time focusing on a Latin theme, while the other side of the room is a long bar. At 5:30pm when we visited, the four bar stools outside on the street were already taken for al fresco cocktails. LES shopping break, anyone?

We came more for the cocktails for the food, but the food at this pan-Latin spot, brought to you by the folks behind Rayuela, more than stands up to the drinks menu. The humita, a sweet corn tamal dressed with a black bean sauce and surrounded by generous hunks of morcila, a spicy sausage I haven't seen on these shores before. The spicy thread continued with the zingy ecuatoriano, a shrimp ceviche made with rocotto cheese, a hidden pepper ingredient, and lots of citrus. Fortunately for the non-spicy Tom Tom the carne empanada was a nice counterpart to the heat.

There were a ton of specialty ingredients in the cocktails, some of which were unfortunately not available, like the guanabana-coco and rum frozen cocktail (Zaya rum, Kahlua Sour SOP, coco, and lime), alas. Next time? When asked how they could possibly source all these ingredients, the bartender confided: Whole Foods. Of course! We should have known the comprehensive wackiness that is Whole Foods' buying strategy would pay off in the cocktail world.

Banana + Cachaca was as good as an alcoholic smoothie, though the chunks of banana made it hard to swallow. Acai + Ron might have been my favorite: a mix of pomegranate syrup, acai juice, mint, Bacardi Razz rum, and Sprite. Thankfully they aren't above using Sprite at this cocktail bar.

All in all, Macondo looks like a promising place to bring friends, especially that bizarre breed of friend that always wants to meet at the dinner hour "for drinks." Here the unsuspecting friend could be easily tricked into ordering food, even anorexics posing as vegetarians, since there are many vegetarian dishes here as well.

Cocktails for a liquid diet, food for everyone--what more could you ask for? Macondo should be around for the long haul.

157 East Houston Street
between Eldridge and Allen Streets
New York, New York