You know how Joan Smalls scored the March cover of Vogue Italia and it’s a big deal because a black woman hasn’t covered that particular magazine in four years? …Unfortunately, some critics suggest the magazine might be chipping away at the significance of Smalls’ placement with the corresponding editorial, “Haute Mess,” shot by their artist-in-residence, Steven Meisel. The editorial stars the aforementioned Smalls, and a slew of newish top models–Abbey Lee Kershaw, Lindsey Wixson, Daphne Groeneveld–alongside a few veteran superstars: Karen Elson, Guinevere van Seenus, Jessica Stam and Coco Rocha.
We leafed through the spread a few days ago and figured drag queens were the obvious inspiration. Vogue Italia claims the same, citing RuPaul and the (extraordinary) movie Paris Is Burning* as visual influences while describing the editorial as “[taking] inspiration from messy drags: untidy, dishevelled, counter-intuitive cross-dressers.”
Vibe, on the other hand, saw something more insidious:
Many are raising an eyebrow at the photos because the women seem to be projecting some stereotypes. For example the hair styles of the models can be seen at almost every black hair show. It is very clear that the theme of the shoot was “ghetto”, “ghetto fabulous” to be exact. However, in trying to achieve fabulous, it wandered in to ignorance.
I will give Vogue Italia the benefit of the doubt that it was not their intention to be racist or offend anyone, but let’s keep it real for a minute: How many white girls [or any other ethnic backgrounds for that matter] do you know that dress or look like this? Exactly. Racist may be a little harsh of a word to describe this editorial , but it was definitely done in poor taste and judgement.
Obviously, fashion has a long and storied history of being racist (subtly, as well as astonishingly frank about it), so it’s not exactly out of the ordinary. Still, we figured Vogue Italia would be more wary of insensitivity and stereotyping in the wake of their embarrassing ”slave earring” gaffe.
Take a look at a few of the shots and tell us if you agree…
*Seriously, though: if you haven’t seen Paris Is Burning, you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now. It is wonderful.