The latest issue of the French edition of Vogue magazine, “Special top-model,” is the cause of a thunderous hue and cry over a racial crime. The murder weapon is a host of pages from their fashion editorial showing a Dutch model, Lara Stone, painted from head to heels in BLACK paint. Indifferent, the magazine laughs the whole affair off as “a sense of humour”. A model painstakingly painted in black in a vogue cover is described as a joke! Intended to highlight models with curves, as against anorexics, Vogue has instead ignited wrath across Britain and the United States for what is considered a highly racist campaign. In France, where the Black community rarely reacts, SOS Racisme, an association dedicated to the fight against racism, believes that the magazine has shown a lack of tact.
Vogue has always been at the forefront of style. Some call it the “fashion bible”. Its editors are high priestesses and half-goddesses who hold the key to a tabernacle, the secret to a religion whose dogma remain at their discretion.
A few days ago, fashionistas clawed their way to join long cues when the latest and most sought after “top-model” edition of the French vogue hit magazine stands. But wait a minute, surprise! Was the issue not supposed to highlight today’s super models? We can’t help but notice the absence of black models. Jumping from frying pan to fire, an editorial which is supposed to celebrate the return of models with “curves” is depicted by a White model who looks as though she has just been dipped in black ink! English newspapers had only one word to describe this obscenity, “Shocking”. Was there not a single Black model available for Vogue’s photo shoot?
Vogue, which has on numerous occasions come under the spotlight for racism – they hardly ever use any Black or Asian models in their magazines – is again at the heart of this screaming controversy. The French edition, known for its particularly audacious and avant-gardist photographs, lives up to its fullest reputation. The scandal ably staged by the magazine’s editor, Carine Roitfelt, and Steven Klein, her photographer, depicts Dutch model, Lara Stone, striking different poses in her proudly new black skin. The written articles that accompany the illustrations do not even attempt to explain Vogue’s reason for the skin swap. A brief introduction merely states that the poses reveal “the model’s sense of humour,” adding that, “her curved features mark the end of the anorexic model trend.” The model is described as “a real woman, both in body and character, for whom pleasure, just like metamorphosis, is not a lesser quality.” The depiction of the model’s transformation is spread on 4 out of 14 pages. This edition of vogue clearly revives the insulting media campaigns that portrayed Blacks at the turn of the last century. Could this be, as Shakespeare puts it, “Much Ado About Nothing?”
Jezebel, an American women magazine, was the first to cry foul. Jezebel’s website accuses Carine Roitfeld and Steven Klein of being “culturally insensitive”. “What Klein and Roitfeld should know is that painting White people Black for the entertainment of other White people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context.” These photos come after participants in an Australian TV show, last week, painted their faces black to imitate the Jackson 5.
Notwithstanding the clamour this latest edition of Vogue has caused in the English speaking media, the French stand aloof. So far, only Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme, has dared criticise the photographs in an unusual manner. “The shooting certainly had no racist intentions, it however lacked tact … “If the aim was artistic, and not to pass off the model as a black girl, the fact that it produces such reactions shows that the world of images is now paying for its long tradition of not allowing black people to show their bodies,” reports the Daily Mail.
Vogue has responded by stating that they did not know that the pictures were offensive! Reached by the American news channel, CNN, they refused to make any further comments. Racism in fashion has always been one of the biggest open secrets. Everyone knows about it but few dare scream it out. But, should every silly idea be allowed to see the light of day in the name of art and fashion to the utter ridicule of an existing race that can be politely represented by one of its own?