Fashion magazines — particularly French Vogue — are as attention-needy as toddlers. But instead of shouting the occasional dirty word to surprise mom, Vogue scandalizes entire demographics. With the latest release, editor Carine Roitfeld may have crossed the line — the October issue features a 14-page spread of Dutch (and very white) model Lara Stone painted in blackface. She poses in extravagant, garish clothing made from traditional African patterns.
Women’s “celebrity, sex, fashion” Web site Jezebel points out the fact that the issue, dedicated to Supermodels, contains no black models.
This follows a history of shocking covers: 2007’s September issue, for example, featured devil-worshipping beauties surrounded by pentagrams, skulls and blood-smeared goats. The April issue this year displayed faux-pregnant models smoking, tossing babies and shooting up intravenous milk.
Simone Jensen ’11, Director of YCouture, described the blackface photoshoot as a “distasteful and politically incorrect way to create a controversy and sell more copies of the magazine.”
Yet she makes a clear distinction between shock value and true racism, as well as haute couture and the sensationalistic media that covers it, adding that haute couture is by nature provocative.
As Editor-in-Chief of French Vogue for eight years, Roitfeld was undoubtedly aware that the magazine would cause a stir, yet there is not a deep history of racial tension in France as there is in America, Jensen said.
But that does not mean haute couture does not have its own history of racism — magazines and fashion houses are notorious for excluding black models. In response to this, the creators of Italian Vogue both sparked controversy and garnered praise for their recent “Black Issue,” featuring only models of African descent. The April 2008 American Vogue cover received a great deal of criticism for depicting LeBron James in a gorilla-like pose, clutching Gisele Bundchen. The contention deepened when Vogue spokesman Patrick O’Connell noted with pride that James was the first black man to appear on the cover of the magazine.
French Vogue’s photoshoot was not intended as a social commentary or reaction to the situation of black models, however.
“It’s neither vapid enough nor thoughtful enough,” said cover girl Veronica Webb to The Daily Beast. “You have to ask yourself ‘What’s the point?’ ”
According to Carine Roitfeld, the photos were meant to celebrate the fact that Stone has funny teeth and, as a size four, is larger than the average model.
Aside from this blurb in the magazine, Roitfeld has given no statement, explanation or apology.