In the "Talking Back: Letters From Readers" section of the new issue of Vogue, there are two, yes two letters regarding the controversial LeBron James/Gisele Bündchen cover. We read them this weekend, and the folks over at The Fashion Bomb have already posted them. The first is from Christine Fox of Santa Ana, CA: "I'm an African-American women who sees nothing wrong with the April cover. I know there has been a lot of buzz about it, and folks are outraged, but it's ridiculous!" Her letter goes on to say: "It is just fashion, dahling." The other letter, From Stephanie Jackson in Brooklyn, states: "The April cover bothers me. More devastating than the perpetuation of stereotypes in mainstream culture is the dismissal of the counterargument as if it doesn't make sense. If controversial imagery rubs a minority group the wrong way, shouldn't the appropriate response be an apology?"
Anyway, as if to prove that the magazine is part of the solution and not part of the problem, this same issue of Vogue has a story called "Is Fashion Racist?" The piece has "interviews" with models Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and newbie Arlenis. See? Vogue is not racist — some of its best friends are black!
The funny thing is that the editorial "proof" that Vogue embraces black models — a single page highlighting their appearances in the magazine — has, as its most recent usage of a black model a 2006 shoot with Liya Kedebe. Two years ago! The most recent cover on this page? Kiara Kabukuru, in July 1997.
The first issue of Vogue hit stands in September of 1916. Beverly Johnson was the first black model on its cover in 1974; she also appeared on covers in 1975 and 1981. In the '80s, models like Louise Vyent, Kara Young, Shari Belafonte, Sheila Johnson, Karen Alexander and Naomi Campbell had covers, but the number severely decreased in the '90s and since the turn of the century. (Anna Wintour began editing Vogue in 1988. Recently celebs like Oprah, Halle Berry and Marion Jones have graced the cover, but black models? Not so much. The May 2007 issue had Chanel Iman on the cover… but far to the right and therefore under the fold, where Conde Nast — or is it Annie Leibovitz? — seems to think black people belong.)
Last year, we took it upon ourselves to count black models photographed for fashion editorials. Vogue's October issue? Zero black models. Vogue's November issue? Zero black models. Vogue's December issue? Zero black models. In January, one black model, Chanel Iman, appeared in Vogue, a good three months after Bethann Hardison's summits on the "lack of color" in fashion. Vogue has a three month lead time, by the by. (Sometime in February, Style.com, the online "home" of Vogue, labeled a picture of Jourdan Dunn with the name "Chanel Iman." Whoops!)
In any case, we'll have more to say about this when the "black model" issue of Italian Vogue hits stands, but here's a question: If Vogue is the leading fashion magazine, should the question "Is Fashion Racist?" actually be "Is Vogue Racist?"?
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