So it has finally happened. Thanks to the beautiful and talented Camille, I now have a copy of Vogue Italia's much discussed ode to the black model. My feelings about this issue have run the gamut from excitement to reserve to disappointment and back again as spread after spread was leaked onto the Internet.
Yes, there was animal print. No there were not many advertisements with black models in them. Yes it is all in Italian. No I can't read it. Yes that pisses me off.
The first few pages of the magazine are full of ads that represent the Who's Who of top fashion labels. There's Valentino, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel. All of the ads featuring white models and actresses. Ad sales in this issue were up 30% according to WWD. That just doesn't happen with summer magazines. Even telephone book sized upcoming September issues are feeling the pinch with American Vogue's 50 page drop from last year and an overall page decline of 4%. Clearly these advertisers anticipated that the (gimmick maybe?) presence of black faces would translate into big sales. They were right. For the first time ever, the issue is being reprinted to meet demand. But to me it seems there is still a disconnect.
So what about those pictures? There were new faces (including Hollis) in the comp card "You Have a Go-see" spread and a line-up of "Hey, I recognize that face!" photos in the "Modern Luxe" spread. There was Tocarra, and Naomi and Liya and Chanel.
A few phenomenal looking spreads, a few dull ones. Lots of pictures of lonely models. With Meisel snapping all the pics there is only one point of view represented. There's none of Thierry Le Gouès sensuality or Tim Walker's dreaminess and color. There's just what Meisel gives us in this cattle call for the ages.
Solo images. A camera flash and you're in. I can almost hear Meisel's assistant ticking off the names as the models line up in this high fashion mugshot to get registered on Vogue Italia's pristine pages. Old faces. Legendary faces, Newer faces. Click and they're done. Here's your toaster. Thank you for being our Negress under glass.
Most of these women don't even get props to work with. Just a colorless background and if they're lucky, clothes. I mean, wouldn't it have really been something if Toccara was wearing something from a fall collection? I did wonder why the mechanics in her spread appeared to be Latino instead of a racially mixed group or even just black guys. All I have to say is that I never want to be hanging around in a garage or the trunk of a car in my skivvies. Not even with the guys from Car Talk.
Naomi's spread is solo. In it she's reduced to looking like a Russian billionaire's Desperate Housewife or better yet modern day Marie Antoinette without lavish wardrobe or the friends.
Which brings me back to the articles. There are many touching on everything under the sun: There's Michelle Obama, Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," an interview with Naomi Campbell highlighting her humanitarian side, a profile on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' upcoming book and HBO documentary "The Black List," a profile on Essence and Ebony magazines, a look-back at Donyale Luna by fashion photographer Edmonde Charles-Roux, an interview with (South?) African jazz musician Simphiwe Dana, an article about modern black artists, a two page article on Tyra Banks the mogul , another article profiles models Carol La Brie, Pat Cleveland, and Donyale Luna, Grace Jones, and then another profile of "Outstanding Ladies" like Aretha, Tina and Latifah. Lastly, there is a conversation with Bethanne Hardison by Veronica Chambers.
By the time I'm done flipping through the magazine, I'm angry that it's full of articles I want to read but can't and probably never will (Bablefish will only get you so far) because I know that there isn't a fashion and lifestyle publication written in English that would bother to publish an issue full of stories like this.
So I have my magazine, and I am sure I will look at it often but now that the anticipation is gone and my enthusiam has dwindled, I wonder what's next. Will it change anything or has this become a quick fix financial savior for Vogue Italia to be archived and never spoken of again?
Does this special issue just legitimize the notion that white is "normal" while black is nice to look at but "special" and not good enough to be mainstreamed?
Honestly, I would have been more impressed if the runway report special issue included with the magazine had more black faces. But then, designers really don't need to hire black faces for the runway when black celebrities are more than happy to model and celebrate those designs for free on the red carpet.
I'm just glad I can finally close the chapter on this issue. Whew!