Black Models Are New Black, Says Italian Vogue

This month’s Italian edition of fashion bible Vogue features black models on the cover. Pithily called “A Black Issue,” in English, and it was hailed as a stereotype-breaking move much heralded in the international press before it came out.
I read the articles, then forgot all about the controversy until I biked past a kiosk here in Milan urging me to pick up each of the four different “collectible” covers.
There is something more than a little dishonest about this particular fashion statement. For the Italian market, where foreigners, of any color, make up just five percent of the population, it’s more of a publicity ploy than anything else.
It is also more likely to sell here on the “exotic/novelty” ticket than it would in places where it would be more representative of the general population. As far as I know, there were no newsstand rushes to collect the issue in Italy.
Edgy-luscious photos by Steven Meisel – the cover on the photo story for the issue on Vogue Italia’s site offers up a topless Naomi Campell — certainly add to that impression.
The other three cover women of color are Jourdan Dunn, Liya Kebede and Sessilee Lopez. On all four covers, they wear decidedly conservative un-summerlike clothing, as if to exasperate the “timeless” and “collectible” quality of the shots.
No doubt, the fashionistas know their gimmicks: the issue reportedly sold record copies outside Italy, in the U.S. and Britain especially. If, after getting on the waiting lists, running around to every neighborhood Barnes & Noble, you managed to get your hands on one, let me know what you make of it.
My nagging doubt? Vogue Italia, as the name implies, is published in Italian only. So, to my mind, if people bought it just to see the pics, the hype was more important than the actual content. (Articles in the issue are all dedicated to black women, too).
Does one issue of a magazine — a minor edition in a language most people can’t read — even chip the French manicure in the racism of the fashion industry or society at large?
I’m going to say no, just like I did to spray tans and gaucho pants.
Perhaps the real problem is that we’re allowing the agenda to be set by a group of people who regularly aim to convince grown women to spend money on things like romper suits.
They set the barriers, they can break them — or pretend to break them to sell a few copies — and then move on to the next big thing.
Maybe they’ll do a Fat Issue next.