Vogue, Race and the September 2014 Cover
I know that complaining about US Vogue is like complaining that a rainy day is wet but I have a few specific issues about the cover that I would like to address.
I am continually baffled by Vogue’s handling of models of color when it comes to both casting and post-production.
Every couple of years, Vogue does a multiple model cover and this year 9 models were selected for the full cover with 3 selected for the non-foldout portion of the cover. The models selected are: Cara Delevingne, Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss plus Arizona Muse, Edie Campbell, Iman Hammam, Sun Fei Fei, Vanessa Axente, and Andreea Diaconu. I am going to focus on two models who are on the cover and one model who is not.
Liu Wen has been a face of Estee Lauder for several seasons now. She has covered multiple issues of Vogue. She has booked campaigns for Calvin Klein, Coach, Gap, and Roberto Cavalli. She has walked the Victori Secret Fashion show and more blue chip shows than I could name. You can’t walk into a department store or a mall without seeing her picture at least once. Estee Lauder places ads in every major (and minor) fashion magazine on the planet. But Sun Fei Fei is the Asian model who is preferred by Vogue and therefore she is the one who lands the “Asian Model” place on the cover. Liu Wen has had a long and successful career and has a presence that is exceeded only by Cara, Joan, Karlie and Arizona.
Joan Smalls is a favorite of Givenchy. She has walked extensively in Milan, an especially tough market for black models to break into. She has landed campaigns for Chanel, David Yurman, Fendi, and Gucci.
Sun Fei Fei has been a favorite of the photographer Steven Meisel for years now. She is currently a face of Dior and Dolce & Gabbana skincare. Those are major, well paying, blue chip contracts.
I want to talk about how Joan Smalls and Sun Fei Fei appear on the cover. Whoever photoshopped and approved this cover seems to have made a conscious decision to make the models look more uniform. Several of the models have their cheeks (and cheekbones) photoshopped in identical manners. There is a uniformity to skin tone and a radiance to their skin in specific places that makes them look interchangeable. This is terrible from a fashion perspective for all the models but it is troubling to me when it comes to Sun Fei Fei and Joan Smalls. (I leave Iman Hammam out of this discussion because I have simply not seen enough pictures of her.) Joan’s lips are not as full and the bridge of her nose is not as prominent. The undertones in Sun Fei Fei’s face have been changed, the shape of her eyes has been altered. Her eyes appear deeper set and the shape of her cheekbones has been altered.
In addition, there is a difference between the covers that have been posted in different locations. In the version from Testino’s facebook, it appears that both Smalls and Sun’s skin tone has been lightened.
These changes make both Sun and Smalls look like the other models on the cover which makes for a terrible picture but also undermines the idea that deviation from a standard of beauty (in this case “white” beauty) isn’t beautiful enough for Vogue.