Letter from the Editor
Fashion's New Face
Within limits, Americans are exceedingly tolerant. We pride ourselves on our "live and let live" ethic, and it's probably safe to say that we show more respect for racial diversity than any other country in the West. The kinds of hideous public insults that Jackie Robinson endured 50 years ago are now virtually unknown in the United States, although they can still be heard on Saturday afternoons at rowdy soccer matches in Great Britain. While there continue to be unrepentant racists in the States, of course, they do not have the necessary mainstream support to mount major political parties that capture significant portions of the vote - as they do in France and Germany.
That said, American is a country of people with varied backgrounds, many of whom are not above exposing their racial biases. In terms of fashion magazines, for example, it is a fact of life that the color of a model's skin (or hair, for that matter) dramatically affects newsstand sales. Although it is rare for an issue of Vogue to go to the printer without one or more black models featured prominently inside, black models appear less often than I, and many of you, would like on Vogue's covers - which, no one will be shocked to hear, are designed to appeal to as large a group of potential readers as possible. This month, we feature a young, fresh-faced black model named Kiara Kabukuru on our cover, and I am crossing my fingers that Kiara will be embraced by magazine buyers everywhere - not because she's black but because she's beautiful.
Eleven years ago, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, featured Ugandan model Kiara Kabukuru (photographed by Steven Meisel) on the cover of the traditionally low selling July issue of American Vogue. I excerpted her letter here because it’s something that I find myself referring to often on this blog and I wanted everyone to be able to read Ms. Wintour’s words as she wrote them. What is interesting to me is that in spite of the fact that Wintour believes Europe is so much more intolerant that the United States, Kiara appeared on several fashion magazine covers there, including the French and Spanish editions of Vogue. To the best of my knowledge, neither of the editors of those magazines, printed letters begging their readers to “embrace” Kiara in spite of her blackness. Also, as a magazine editor with control of which models appear inside the issue as well as outside, Ms. Wintour puts the onus for change and acceptance directly onto the reader and not herself.
In the July 2008 issue of Vogue, which features an article called “Is Fashion Racist,” Ms. Wintour doesn’t refer to the piece, or this 1997 cover at all which surprised me. For all the criticism heaped on Vogue magazine lately, and Vogue Italia’s decision to dedicate their July issue to black models, I thought for sure she would use this issue as an opportunity to stand on her studded Balenciaga soap box and pat herself on the back for being so inclusive.
But there was nothing, which is probably just as well since really, after 10+ years what could she possibly say?
Photo Source: TFS