US Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris appears on the February cover of the most important fashion magazine on earth, and Netizens are not exactly thrilled. Nor we
There has never been a female VP in the history of American politics, let alone on the cover of American Vogue. Kamala Harris on its February issue is not, however, the first woman of the United State’s high-office political arena to appear on the cover, but hers seems to come with considerable speed. Michelle Obama appeared on the March cover of Vogue (she would appear twice more) four months after her husband won the US presidential election in 2008, and two month after his inauguration. The first FLOTUS to appear on Vogue was Hillary Clinton. Hers was five years in the making, finally set for the December 1998 issue, after the late Oscar De la Renta reportedly managed to persuade Anna Wintour to consider Ms Clinton cover-worthy. Kamala Harris made it to the Vogue cover, even before Joe Biden is inaugurated. In their haste to make Ms Harris a cover girl, did Vogue turn out a rushed job?
It appears so. Yesterday, Vogue shared two cover photos on Instagram: one (top left) supposedly for the print issue and the other (top right) for the digital edition. To us, we were looking straight at exemplars of mediocrity. The version for print appeared so haphazardly composed and so unbecoming of the magazine that many Netizens thought it to be fake. In the second, someone even thought they saw a coffin behind Ms Harris (it looks to us like a massage bed with fancy sheets). A playwright/lawyer/New York Times contributor, Wajahat Ali, wrote on Twitter, “What a mess. Anna Wintour must really not have Black friends and colleagues.” Does Ms Harris look white in the photos? Apparently so. One Twitter user posted, “Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still f****d up her lighting. WTF is this washed out mess of a cover?”
That there is the charge online of “whitewashing” of the photos of Ms Harris is perhaps a little curious since the photographer Tyler Mitchell is black, so is the sittings editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson. Can women of colour ever be photographed to the satisfaction of the many who not only want racial representation on magazine covers, they want exact skin colour duplication too, regardless of the real vagaries present in a fashion shoot, whether indoors or out? We are living in difficult and confusing times. Fashion magazines no longer need to offer a fashion statement of any distinction—or importance—as long as they capture the social calls of the moment. No wonder Ms Wintour is getting all the blame. She’s hardly the beacon or champion of societal change.
Ms Harris’s supporters feel there is nothing terrible about the drapes as they are in the colours of the VP-Elect’s sorority. The chromatic pairing isn’t the issue. It’s how the drapes are just hung up—sans effort
Kamala Harris is an attractive woman. She won’t be a difficult subject to photograph. Yet, there is something amiss in these two covers. The lustreless and uninspired set by Julia Wagner (was she hired because she did a swell job for the backdrop that was used at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Vanity Fair cover shoot of last December?), to start with. Ms Harris’s supporters feel there is nothing terrible about the drapes as they are in the colours of the VP-Elect’s sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (Howard University, Washington, D.C.). The chromatic pairing isn’t the issue. It’s how the drapes are just hung up—sans effort, with the pink fabric allowed to pool at the subject’s feet. Sure, we weren’t expecting Tony Duquette, but neither were we hoping that the guys hired to give the studio a fresh coat of paint were the ones to do the draping, as if covering furniture and the floor with protective sheets before the paint rollers go to work.
According to reports, Ms Harris styled herself for both photos, meaning she chose her own clothes, likely from her personal wardrobe. As a pantsuit-lover, like Hillary Clinton, she surprised no one with what she picked. They may look fine—even excellent—for the temporary VP office, but for the cover of a fashion magazine, they lack the quality that affirms what one-time Vogue editor Diana Vreeland said, “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.” And heaven knowns, in the (ending) era of Trump, we have been acquainted with too much of the frighteningly banal. Curious, too, is how the black jacket (by Donald Deal, known for his gowns and “impeccable tailoring”, raved the CFDA) looked like it was ironed without a press cloth: there seem to be shiny iron marks. Is it not the job of the Vogue staffers—sitting editor Ms Karefa-Johnson, for example—to be sure that the clothes appear sleeker or more impeccable than they actually are?
Kamala Harris is, after all, no longer on the campaign trail. She could appear to embrace something special for this momentous occasion, even for a moment. No one is asking Vogue to imagine what the magazine hoped she’d look like in the inauguration ball. Nor is anyone likely to expect the equivalent of the fuchsia Jason Wu shift Michelle Obama wore for her debut Vogue cover, or the black velvet Oscar de la Renta gown Hillary Clinton wore on hers. Ultimately, this a cover of a fashion magazine, not a dry run for a TikTok video.
Cover photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue/Instagram