The September Issue of any magazine is the crowning glory of its year, the defining issue, it draws in the big advertisers, big brands and inspires reader fanfare. It is important, in some ways political, topical, and the cause of many a fuss. The September Issue separates the players from the settlers; it is fashion’s new year, the new season’s collections hit the stores and editors try to make sense of the looks in various editorials whilst we, the consumers, fit them into our wardrobes. Equally as important, maybe more, is the cover star of the September Issue, it is subject to debate, round table discussions, speculations, even wagers. To be on the cover of a September Issue tells the world that you are at the pinnacle of your profession, certainly of fashion.
Without question, the best in show for September 2015 is Essence Magazine with Misty Copeland on the cover. I love everything about this cover, it’s beautiful, and reverent. It is of a feeling, a mood…it’s romantic and worldly. Misty Copeland effuses that essence and charm, on pointe in a bohemian maxi by Zimmerman. It is sublime. The choice for Misty Copeland as a cover speaks volumes; she is more than just a ballerina, she is a symbol of empowerment for black women the world over. She was the first black lead dancer in Swan Lake, in June of this year she was appointed the first Black principal ballerina of the American Ballet Theatre in its 75 years of existence. This moment, this woman, is singular.
Another stellar September Issue cover is Vogue US with Beyonce on the cover. There is something about this look, that effortless sex appeal. Bey is striped almost bare and paired down, the wet hair even works with it.
This is the September Issue, of the “fashion bible” and a black woman is on the cover; its a HUGE deal. We are in politically charged times, race relations are taking centre stage in American, global, dialogue, and no industry comes way untouched, especially the fashion industry. Several September Issues feature black women- Kerry Washington on Self, Willow Smith on i-D, Ciara in Shape etc. Before that, Taraji P. Henson on W Pop Issue, and Serena on the cover of NY Mag was spectacularly impressive. Strong, diverse, women kicking arse above and beyond in their respective fields. I love, love seeing women who look like me, women I can relate to, on the cover of mainstream magazines, not buried within the pages. On the other hand I must take this with a dollop of salt. Fashion is obsessed with trends, they create and devour them, everything about it, is a popularity contest. At times it can become a casualty of its own hipness; too big to push the envelope, too worried about the status quo to have a different point of view. For a long time we have lamented fashion’s absolute lack of diversity, from the powers that be to the new brands about, black women have gone unrepresented, save for one or two spots. So when things like this happen, one cannot help but question the motive behind it; this season fashion seems to have found its new “it”.
Last year Prada broke its all white cycle by casting a black model in its ad campaign; twenty years since Naomi Campbell. In 2008, Jourdan Dunn walked Prada show, before her, the only other black woman to walk for Prada was, again, Naomi Campbell in 1994. In February Dunn landed her first Vogue UK, the last time a black woman was solo on the cover was Naomi Campbell in 1998. You see where I’m coming from? There is room for only one. Subtle yet glaring institutional racism, that keeps telling us we are not good enough to be mainstream. You flip through any magazine and fashion and beauty editorials are white washed; take Elle’s September Issue which celebrates designers and their muses but lacks diversity. Pop into an off-licence and the black magazines are kept at the bottom shelf or relegated to the back; this second rate mentality filters down.
For a long time in fashion black women have not been a part of the conversation, we are relegated for “special occasions” but our cultures gladly appropriated, and misinterpreted. We have to give 200% before getting a quarter of the acknowledgement. The fashion and beauty industries may only now start to realise that black women are a part of their customer base, and respect our potential as muses for fashion houses- but I need more than a moment in time. More than the cliched Beyonce aesthetic. I need a celebration and an uplifting of black women in the mainstream media. I don’t want to wait twelve years to see a black woman on the cover of Vogue UK, I wish it didn’t take twenty years for Prada to realise they have a black customer base. The fact that it takes them that long to acknowledge, is no cause for applause, its time to call them out on the bullshit. Everyone involved. Black women are not just items on a to-do list, a trend to cover for a fashion cycle, we are a part of the community.
It is important for them to realise that.