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The cover of British Vogue hasn’t featured an individual black model since Naomi Campbell 12 years ago. Tansy Hoskins questions its editorial policy.
Landing the front cover of British Vogue catapults a model to supermodel status, it is an integral part of being booked for the biggest catwalks and advertising campaigns. It is a gateway to stardom, a pinnacle of fashion modelling. It has also become resolutely white-only.
The August 2002 edition of British Vogue featured Naomi Campbell as the cover star – smiling and relaxed in boot cut jeans and a white vest. Since then, 12 years and 146 covers have been shot, edited and distributed to newsstands and not one has featured an individual black model.
In September 2013 Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Bethann Hardison wrote an open letter calling on designers to diversify their catwalks. “No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the colour of their skin is clearly beyond aesthetic.”
As well as designers, there is increasing anger at the attitudes of major fashion magazines such as British Vogue.
Modelling agencies are keen for the industry to move forward and are openly vying for the top spot. Carole White, founder of Premier Model Management and outspoken critic of the lack of diversity in the fashion industry, says: “I’m surprised that there has not been a black model on the cover of British Vogue for this amount of time as we are such a diverse country, but perhaps British Vogue think the calibre of black models are not out there?”
“Back when Premier Model Management looked after Naomi Campbell, she was the first and only black model to front the Prada campaign in 1994 then went onto do the British Vogue cover in 2002. Our Premier Model Malaika is the first girl since Naomi to front a Prada campaign (the 2014 campaign), so logic would dictate that Malaika would be the next black model to appear on the cover soon.”
Jody Furlong, founder of The Eye Casting, believes the decision to exclude black models from the cover is deliberate. “Let’s talk about British models for a start, because that would be one excuse – ‘oh there’s no British girls’. There is Naomi Campbell, probably the biggest British model of all time other than Kate Moss; Malaika Firth a really massive model at the moment; Betty Adewole a Tom Ford model; and of course Jourdan Dunn – one of the biggest models in the world.”
I asked British Vogue whether they had an explanation for their editorial policy and how they responded to allegations that their actions amount to racism. In particular could they explain why industry favourite Dunn has not been given her own cover (she was in a group cover six years ago). As Furlong points out: “Jourdan Dunn is a Burberry girl, a Givenchy girl, a Prada girl. There is no debate about whether she is beautiful enough or elegant enough or the right kind of person to be on Vogue – she ticks every single box.”
The reply from the Vogue press office, accredited to editor Alexandra Shulman states: “We have put Beyoncé and Rihanna on the cover of Vogue and at least half our covers do not feature models. We love Jourdan Dunn and she was the cover star of the last Miss Vogue which previously had featured Cara Delevingne.”
Anna Wintour’s US edition of Vogue is almost entirely dominated by celebrity covers, with white actresses making up the overwhelming majority. When a celebrity appears on the cover of a magazine she is not there purely as a symbol of beauty but because of other accolades.
Is it truly the case then that black models are just kept off British Vogue by celebrities? The online archive of all British Vogue covers since 1916 shows that since Naomi Campbell in August 2002, 95 covers have featured models compared to just 58 featuring celebrities (Beyonce and Rihanna being just two). So far in 2014 there have been two celebrities used, compared to seven white models.
The chosen models do multiple covers – Kate Moss had three covers in 2006 alone, Cara Delevingne is on her second this year. But there are also numerous appearances by models who are unknown beyond the confines of fashion, like Daria Werbowy and Natalia Vodianova.
As well as ‘there aren’t any black models’ or ‘it’s because of celebrity culture’, there is another excuse for racism floating around the fashion industry: “There is this fallacy that ‘black covers don’t sell'” explains Furlong. “But how do you know? There hasn’t been one for twelve years! You can’t say people don’t buy it when they’re not given the chance to buy it.”
As well as being deeply offensive to black women, being used as an excuse for racism is insulting to consumers of fashion magazines. The last 12 years of side-lining black models reflects the attitudes of those at the top of the fashion industry, not those of fashion fans. The fashion industry has a problem with race which goes far beyond just fashion magazine covers, however ending years of cover discrimination would be an important step. Based in London, one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, British Vogue could be spearheading change.
“Treat black models the same as you would treat any other kind of model,” states Furlong. “Jourdan Dunn is a household name, there has to have been a specific and conscious decision not to use her. If she was white, at her level, she would have had multiple Vogue covers by now – no doubt about it.”
– The Guardian