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‘Vogue’ has a history of whitewashed covers. These alternatives offer a brilliant critique

The internet was not having Anna Wintour’s apology for years of underrepresentation at ‘Vogue.’

‘Vogue’ has a history of whitewashed covers. These alternatives offer a brilliant critique
[Images (left to right): @mellowmmino, @beautifuljazzyphotography, @oludele2]

Oslo-based student Salma Noor posted her own version of a Vogue cover on June 2, with the cover line “Being black is not a crime” in support of Black Lives Matter. Noor modeled for the alternative cover herself, with the help of photographer @calvin. Little did she know that the trend would go insanely viral days later—thanks in part to a June 6 internal memo from Vogue‘s editor-in-chief herself, Anna Wintour.

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In the memo obtained by Page Six, Wintour wrote that the publication hasn’t done enough to “elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators,” and that she takes full responsibility for images the magazine has published that were “hurtful and intolerant.” Like the responses from so many other major brands, Wintour wrote that Vogue will do better and that she is “listening.” The internet wasn’t having it.

The #VogueChallenge, inspired by Noor, began showing up everywhere on social media. To join the challenge, users photoshopped an image of themselves onto a Vogue cover, creating a feed of alternative covers that, honestly, should’ve hit newsstands a long time ago: They’re created by a slew of people of color from around the world, with an equally diverse array of artistic perspectives. Some, like singer/songwriter Mello and model Ebonee Davis, collaborated with fellow creatives, including fashion designers, stylists, and photographers to get their final photo. Though Vogue has not commented or engaged with the hashtag by time of publication, British Vogue covered the challenge and editor-in-chief Edward Enninful retweeted Noor’s second cover shot on June 8. Vogue Arabia posted about the challenge a day later.

The hashtag now has a life of its own. While Noor tweeted that the challenge was “just for fun and to show how creative you can be by uplifting photographers and models,” the #VogueChallenge has become more than a creative flex. It’s a call to action for Vogue to highlight the Black creators the magazine historically hasn’t given space to.

Since its launch in 1892, the magazine has vastly underrepresented people of color. A black model didn’t grace the cover of Vogue until 1974, when Beverly Johnson was featured. A recent study by The Pudding analyzed the skin tone of Vogue cover models and found that only 3 of 81 cover models between 2000 and 2005 were black. While that has improved somewhat since then, the analysis shows that cover models generally exhibit lighter skin tones. Vogue‘s March 2017 cover highlighted a “beauty revolution” with seven models who were supposed to represent a diverse group; yet they had mostly light skin tones and were made up of the same quasi celeb models we’ve come to see over the years, like Gigi Hadid.

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Scroll through #VogueChallenge, however, and you’ll see highly editorial, cover-worthy spreads created by amateur and professional black photographers, models, and creators showcasing their talent and harnessing it to advocate for greater visibility and recognition. There are a ton to be inspired by: Take the Vogue Italia concept cover by singer/songwriter Mello, who is styled in a light monochrome look. She appears to be sitting in front of a stall at an outdoor market and holds an armful of underripe tomatoes that complement her red lip and beanie, which has a large safety pin pierced through it. A high flash captures the sheen of her outfit and sunglasses, along with a graphic tee that reads “so black” as she looks on, head tilted slightly up.

Or the cover by @Oludele2, which features a straight-on black-and-white portrait against a white backdrop, with the right half of his body smudged away. “If its [sic] not fit to live in, then our job is to make it fit. Racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth,” the caption reads.

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Model Ebonee Davis’s cover shots offer two distinct editorial visions. One has a mod feel and features her posing in all black with white patent leather boots, flanked by swaths of fabric that mirror the curve of her silhouette. In another cover concept, Davis poses in a high-shine blue and pink dress and (educated guess: Maison Margiela’s famous Tabi) pumps in crushed glitter against a work shed, juxtaposing high fashion with the everyday. The caption is an explicit challenge to Vogue: “put some real change makers on their upcoming covers instead of celebrities. Nobody wants to hear from anyone with that level of privilege right now. Give the people a voice.”

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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