The March 2013 issue of Vogue US had Beyoncé as the cover star. 31 days later, the May 2013 issue of Vogue UK has Beyoncé as the cover star. I guess she forgot to say something in the US issue that was so pivotal it warranted a whole cover for the UK issue. Or maybe there is no other person on the planet right now but Beyoncé. She is everywhere. I’m a Bey lover but damn! I’m beyond bored of seeing Beyoncé everywhere. Both issues are on the newsstands right now in the UK, because we get US issues quite late, which is rather unfortunate for the UK publication because it looks rather pedestrian in comparison. Not that US Vogue is anything spectacular, but it wins the battle of the Beyoncé covers if we are handing out an award.
There was a time when VOGUE stood for ingenuity, brilliance, difference, creativity, intelligence…but the Vogue of today reads more like a rolodex of the best high fashion designers and photoshoots, they are still unparalleled in that respect, but fall flat in other aspects. Sometimes we see flashes of that brilliance but its few and far between; we are lost in a deluge of ads and advertorials. I’ve never been a fan of Vogue UK, to be honest, I find it lacklustre, rather like the ugly step-sister, which is not to say Vogue US is the Cinderella in this tale, its more like the better looking ugly step sister.
The front cover of any magazine is the most important space for the publication because it precedes our expectations. We see the cover before we read the content and one look at the cover star can turn on or turn off the reader. I don’t want to read what Beyoncé has to say twice over, no matter how riveting it sounds. There are other people out there who could benefit from a platform like Vogue, much more than Beyoncé will because let’s face it, she doesn’t need any platforms, she is a platform. She has dominated them all; 7.4 millon followers on twitter and only 4 tweets, her last tweet on world humanitarian day got 11k retweets that’s just to give you an idea. Kerry Washington, for example, star of the hit series Scandal, would have broken new ground for a magazine like Vogue UK, one not known for its penchant for putting black women or women of any other ethnicity for that matter, on its cover.
- In 2012, there was no black woman on the cover of Vogue UK, no Latina, no Asian etc.
- In 2011 there was one black woman; Rhianna for the November issue,
- Prior to that Jourdan Dunn shared a cover with Eden Clark and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in November 2008
- Before that Naomi Campbell graced a cover in August 2002.
This is bloody disgraceful.
Vogue US is a little more accomodating of diversity, Jennifer Hudson, first Lady Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry etc have graced its covers, even Oprah Winfrey. However, as a publication that claims to be all inclusive, ethnicity is grossly under represented. Yes there are other international issues, but despite falling under the Vogue umbrella they don’t possess the global influence of Vogue UK and US, both of which are flagships of Condé Nast and trade heavily on universality they seriously lack. Its bad enough the content can at times be vapid and disguised with freebies; lipgloss, nail polish, sunglasses etc. or they rely on the latest scandalous it-girl to move copies in the slower months. Some are on a sexual revolution giving us thorough how-to guides on all things kinky; if that’s your thing, there is a whole literary genre to satisfy your curiosity; Fifty Shades anyone? Content is seriously lacking in substance, the ABC figures show us a continuous decline in sales of women’s lifestyle magazine and this lack of substance is a disrespect to its readers; “ageless style” “the cool people” style this, chic that, big fashion issue…oh kill me now! Substance fosters loyalty from your audience and lack there of will slowly see print magazines diminish. This new digital age is radical and print is trying to find its footing online whilst holding on to what’s left of its relevance offline.
The buck does not just stop at Vogue, other publications are doing it too. In its issue nō 141 published in March, Numero magazine used heavily bronzed Ondria Hardin in its African Queen editorial. It faced backlash and in its defence Numero argued that whilst it had no part to play in the creative process, it supported the “artistic statement” of the photographer. Sebastian Kim, the photographer, in his mea culpa said his intent was never to make “mockery of race”, his “inspiration was Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Benson with middle eastern and moroccan fashion inspiration…” and was unaware of the “unfortunate title” of the editorial at the time. Be that as it may, I’ll be hard pressed to believe that models with this specification or close don’t exist; Sabrina Nait who is part Moroccan Part Algerian or Liya Kebede who is Ethiopian, would have been just as effective. In its issue for AIDS in Africa out on the 21st of September 2006, The Independent decided to blacken Kate Moss for charity’s sake with the caption; NOT A FASHION STATEMENT; The Africa Issue. I’ve often wondered at the absurdity of this; would it have been ineffective if an African woman was used in the campaign? Were all African models away on holiday or suddenly unavailable for the shoot at the time? Kate Moss sells, she’s an icon so she creates the impact needed, certainly, but sometimes the value of a concept is reliant on its substance and such substance is derived from the message implied by its image.
In the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, in her interview with Derek Blasberg, Joan Smalls gives us an insight into her struggles in the industry. “there’s only room for one” she was told, “one girl of colour.” Jourdan Dunn also echoes the same sentiment in her interview in The Edit, net-a-porter’s magazine; there were incidents when she’d been informed by her agent halfway to casting that the client “didn’t want anymore black girls.” A makeup artist once refused to work with Dunn on a shoot because she was black. This is something that should not be surprising to hear, but it is. And the fact that we have to throw a party each time a black woman graces the cover of a flagship magazine only serves to reinforce such ideals. During the US elections of 2008 and 2012, we witnessed a change in the voter demographic, sixty years since Roosevelt the minority have become the voice of the majority and the face of politics has changed. Fashion is not unlike politics, but it is slow to embrace change despite the change it advocates season after season. The nucleus still remains status quo, generic, if you will.
Personally, I would kill to see Dames Maggie Smith or Shirley Bassey on the cover of a magazine like Vogue.
Anna Wintour admitted that happenstance led to her first Vogue cover and although she was pilloried for putting a girl dressed in jeans, of all things, on the cover of an iconic magazine, it marked a turning point in fashion. In her words, “it served to reinforce the idea to take couture’s haughty grandeur and playfully throw it headlong into real life and see what happened.” The model was Michaela Bercu, fresh faced with a big smile and fly away hair. Even though she was styled she looked like the girl next door who borrowed her mother’s treasured couture jacket and threw it with a pair acid wash jeans. It remains one of the most memorable covers, not least because she was relatable and you’d actually want to hang out with her. Today, happenstances like these are hard to come by and the industry has become too predictable.
Its not all wrong however, when fashion people get it right, they really do and this gives me hope for change. Vogue Italia’s Black issue was hailed as one of the most defining moments in fashion that we will never forget, four black women on four different covers of the same magazine; this was a moment to remember even if it wasn’t the much needed turning point. There was also the curvy issue with three plus size models on the cover; Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine and Robin Lawley. It was a moment in time that moved fashion away from that myopic view it enforces about sample size being the only acceptable size. Other publications have also been encompassing of diversity having had women of different aesthetics on their respective covers but this doesn’t happen often enough for us to be satisfied. The war may not have been worn just yet, but someday it will be. Hopefully someday soon.
The disparity in representation is mostly down to pigeon holing. There is a clear cut mark of what is mainstream and what isn’t; a model of ethnic origin is not mainstream neither is a curvy model, so like trends, to see one on the cover of a magazine would be cause for excitement. But who determines what constitutes mainstream anyway?
I may not be a magazine editor so its easy for me to sit here on this little blog and voice my opinion, being all high and lofty, but what I am is a reader and what I do know for sure is what I want from a magazine and it is not two Beyoncé covers in a space of 31 days; this is stupidity in Vogue.
At the end of the day, its not just a black and white issue or a plus size-sample size matter, its bigger than that; it boils down to substance and innovation. Look beyond the label and think outside the box. Push the envelope. Push something.