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A WHITE WINTOUR
Founded in 1892 by businessman Arthur Baldwin Turnure, Vogue Magazine has remained one of the most prominent fashion magazines in the world for over one hundred years. With over 1.2 million copies in paid circulation, each issue of Vogue holds a powerful influence on the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle industries. Credited for being one of the first fashion magazines to utilize photographic images and a two-page spread, Vogue has shaped its identity around the idea of being “ à la mode” or ahead of trends. Despite its popularity, the magazine and its editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, have been shrouded in controversy.
Anna Wintour has one of the most well-known careers in fashion. Named editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1988, her reign, or perhaps more appropriately, reign of terror, has long been a subject of scrutiny. Known for her sharply cut bobbed hair and black sunglasses, Wintour is the image of a meticulous businesswoman. Infamously portrayed by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” most believe Wintour to be akin to Miranda Priestly—cold, curt, and unsympathetic. This reputation, however, only scratches the surface. Vogue and Wintour alike have a longstanding history of racism, cultural appropriation, and the mistreatment of minority employees.
Employees interviewed for a New York Times article revealed that during their time at Vogue, they felt that as Black women, they had to adopt “white alter egos” to fit in and promote Vogue’s overwhelmingly white image. One former staffer, Shelby Ivey Christie, stated, “The racism [at Vogue] was exhausting.”
Vogue has had an alarming amount of controversial covers and editorial pieces. In fact, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of the cover model’s skin tones. From 2000 to 2005, only three out of 81 women were Black. Such statistics demonstrate how under Wintour’s regime, Vogue has promoted and adhered to eurocentric beauty standards.
In a March 2008 edition, Lebron James made waves as the first Black man to be on the cover of Vogue. What should have been a momentous cover celebrating representation was instead a cover that was reminiscent of racist propaganda from WWI.
While Wintour and Vogue should have learned from the mistakes that they made by paralleling racist propaganda, there have unfortunately been several instances since 2008 where covers and pages featured racist images. In 2017, Karlie Kloss was dressed in a traditional Japanese geisha, with her hair dyed black and pale makeup with yellow undertones, what many consider to be “yellowface.” Why not use a Japanese model instead of Karlie Kloss, a white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, to wear a geisha and shoot in Japan?
Concerns about covers like these resurfaced during the Black Lives Matter movement when Wintour was found to have written, “Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators” in an email to her staff. She went on to say that she took full responsibility for the publication of intolerant images and stories.
Employees and readers, however, were quick to point out that this felt more like a calculated move to assuage the public in a time of increased scrutiny than true accountability. If Wintour does not begin to show a genuine effort at leading Vogue in an inclusive direction, she should expect to see a decrease in readership and sales. After all, there are many new creators and voices in the fashion industry producing content like Vogue’s, sans racism.