The September issue of Elle magazine included a fashion shoot photographed around the city of Detroit, featuring model Carolyn Murphy (who also appeared in Shinola’s campaign and is now the company’s Women’s Design Director), under the guise of our shifting economic landscape, and our endeavor to make a comeback. I say guise because, while the intro paragraph of the fashion editorial certainly made it sound like the Elle folks saw the incredible changes happening in the city, specifically in the downtown and Midtown areas, the photos tell a completely different story.
The 11 pages of photos had two obvious focuses: the dilapidated Michigan Central Station – the once glorious and now common ruin-porn image used in negative press about Detroit – which was shown not once, but twice, and tons and tons of graffiti. Does the graffiti make for interesting backgrounds? No doubt. If the location theme was cool graffiti, the bulk of the editorial would have been a success. But that wasn’t the theme.
The majority of the images, with the exception of the obvious Michigan Central Station, show absolutely no sense of place. We only know where they are when they bother to note it in the credits on the page. And within the graffiti-backdrop images, we see cracked cement, overgrown grass, stickered-over traffic signs, empty streets, rusted-out light posts and colorless skies. Save for the presence of young people clad in black riding by on Shinola bikes – a too-easy prop placement – the city looks empty. Dead.
As long as Elle was bringing its crew to the city, would it have been too difficult to put together an inventory list of the many exciting, vibrant backdrops that tell the positive story of Detroit’s comeback? (Once again, that WAS the theme.) The beauty of Belle Isle. The jaw-dropping magnificence of the Guardian Building. The installation of the M1 Rail. The hustle and bustle of Midtown. The glory of the DIA. The excitement of Comerica Park. The colorfulness (and yumminess) of Mexican Town. The hip, cool vibe of Corktown. I could go on and on and on.
Elle, you sold us short. Does Detroit still have issues? Yep. Tons. But we can’t discount what is happening. How it’s changing. Sure, it’s going to take time for more and more of the city to experience what is happening in downtown and the surrounding areas. But we’re making progress. And that’s what this fashion shoot was supposed to be about.