Vogue magazine, considered to be a leader at the forefront of women’s fashion, is copping flack for its lacklustre cover featuring United States Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
The internet has had a lot to say about Vogue’s February cover, which features Harris wearing plain, casual clothes, Converse and posing awkwardly against a leafy green and pink fabric backdrop.
The backdrop, which is reminiscent of something you might find at one of those professional family photography studios at a Westfield in the mid-1990s, was intended to reflect her Howard University sorority.
And while the image, shot by Tyler Mitchell (who became Vogue’s first black photographer when he snapped Beyonce in 2018), was underwhelming to say the least, it turns out there was a better option available all along.
Social media users were already calling the green/pink cover “disrespectful”, but the real firestorm started when Vogue released a second image of Harris, also shot by Mitchell, intended for the digital cover.
In the second cover, the one Harris’s team expected would make the print cover, the VP is pictured in a powder blue Michael Kors Collection suit in front of a gold curtain, donning an American flag lapel in a strong, cross-armed power stance.
Fans felt the first pink/green cover appeared frumpy and unpolished, while the second gold shot accurately depicted Harris’s status as the soon-to-be most powerful woman in the US.
Vogue released a statement defending the green/pink choice for the print edition.
“The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature – which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.”
Worth a thousand words
Given the current political instability in the US, critics argued that the Vogue team should have looked to highlight Harris’s authority, security and leadership instead of her ‘approachability’.
As the first female vice president, the first black vice president and the first female vice president of south Indian descent, the list of other attributes to highlight above her ‘approachability’ seemed endless to fans.
Washington Post critic Robin Givhan said the casual cover did not give the VP “due respect”.
“It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation,” Givhan said.
“In using the more informal image for the print edition of the magazine, Vogue robbed Harris of her roses.”
Actor Bette Middler shared the gold digital cover on Twitter and called out Vogue for “letting the team down” by printing the green/pink shot.
This is more like it, #Anna and #Vogue. The suit is perfect, and professional, and the draperies in the background are not askew, the way they are in the published cover. What gives? You've let the team down. https://t.co/hxXxHIUDOr
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) January 10, 2021
In another scorching review of the photo shoot, Essence editors said Harris “deserved better”.
“She should be seen as an inspiration for every young girl and woman around the world to know that they can aspire to heights yet unseen, but she also must be fully respected according to the leadership role she will now hold.”
Lights, camera …
Harris’ controversial Vogue cover is far from the first time the publication has been scolded for questionable shoots, particularly when it comes to race.
Its editor Anna Wintour has been called out by the people of colour who work for her and has been accused of promoting a racist and toxic work environment.
Anna Wintour needs to go. If the only time her team can properly style a black women is when she’s covered in couture then her tenure has ran it course. Look at how Kamala Harris’ Elle cover straight up bodied Vogue. Electric chair! pic.twitter.com/aBVZIho98P
— MVP Harris (@PTA_Daddy) January 10, 2021
The magazine’s September edition largely featured and promoted black-owned business, photographers, and models during the Black Lives Matter protests, all the while its parent company, Condé Nast was investigating claims of racism in the workplace.
Only a few months earlier, the magazine was again the subject of scrutiny for its cover of Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who was photographed by Annie Leibovitz.
Biles’ cover, which showed her washed out and muted, started a heated debate in its own right with many arguing that white photographers and editors did not have a sound understanding of how to light black skin.
Following Biles’ July cover, social media users launched the #VogueChallenge, which featured people of colour recreating Vogue covers to emphasise the publication’s strained relationship with race.
Harris has yet to comment on the controversy.