Not an all Black Vogue afterall

Deborah Hobson

Exquisitely painted faces in colour and gloss beam through the plastic used to seal copies of the most eagerly awaited ever edition of the world's No. 1 fashion magazine. Vogue Italia, trumpeted by many commentators before publication, as the  'all-Black issue', arrived in the UK and on the shelf of at least one large outlet in central London yesterday.

Housed within the expensive Selfridges store in Oxford Street, retailers WHSmith played host to more than 200 of the much coveted and some would say symbolic  'special' edition. Priced at a hefty  £6.50, the queue of buyers, mainly young Black women, were eventually restricted to one copy of the magazine each. Copies of Vogue Italia are currently being sold on the internet shopping site eBay for a staggering  £20 each.

Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine apparently delights in her publication's reputation for being provocative and avant-garde: "We try to do things that are not conventional, because we like risks," she told The-Latest. And of her decision to create  'A Black Issue'- a logo which is boldly embossed on the cover of the July edition, she says: "We were trying to think of something new, (Barack) Obama was fighting Hillary, and I began to notice that all these girls at fashion shows looked alike. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to see some different girls, Black girls, and that was the beginning of the story."

Well Franca, the end of the story is that, like me, lots of women of colour in the UK and elsewhere are no doubt feeling used and hugely disappointed that this edition of Vogue Italia is anything but an  'all-Black issue' as claimed in your clever and it seems cynical promotional marketing of the publication.

Expectations were callously raised that the magazine would, in spectacular style, feature Black models on all of its pages, including advertisements, and set a precedent in an industry famously biased towards white models. It was widely hoped that Black models appearing in ads for brand names like Gucci, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana in a high-end magazine like Vogue and, supported by the purchasing power of Black women but not exclusively so, would help to dispel the much touted myth that the European look is the only one that sells.

My heart sank as I had to trawl through the first 100 pages of  'Black' Vogue Italia to find my first Black model. And to get there I waded through advertisements for the big fashion houses which did not include a single Black face. What had happened here?

To make matters worse, the July issue includes a  'free gift', the  'Runway Issue', showcasing the upcoming autumn and winter clothes collections. In this supplement the majority of the models used are white, ironically, reinforcing the reasons why a magazine like the promised  'Black Vogue' was needed.

It seems that Condenast, the multinational publishers of Vogue Italia lacked confidence in their  'Black' issue's ability to attract consumers. Limited numbers of the magazine have been printed and WHSmith in Selfridges will be one of only a handful of shops stocking it. This is an indication that the motivations behind this endeavour are highly questionable.

Certainly, all of the hype surrounding this much vaunted edition has raised the profile of this barely read foreign title in Britain and beyond. It has provided lucrative work for supermodels Naomi Campbell, Liya Kebede, Iman and the others who look fabulous. But, has it improved the lot of Black models as a whole or changed the prejudiced attitudes of powerful advertisers and publishers? I doubt it.

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