Vogue Italia’s Latest Spread Accused Of Racial Stereotyping, Poor Taste

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.


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    • BeccaTheCyborg

      Well, it’s definitely classist as shit.

    • Nancy

      Vibe’s statement is more racist than those photos. It doesn’t look like it’s trying to be ‘ghetto fabulous,’ it looks more like ‘drag fabulous.’ Vibe just said that only black girls dress like this. WHAT? In our culture right now, some style icons are Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Snooki! What about Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girls. The last picture even reminds me a bit of Lana del Ray’s ‘style.’

    • Katie

      I didn’t think it was racist until I saw that Daphne and Lindsey were drinking Colt 45 and then the whole thing seemed really distasteful.

    • sheherbano

      even if it is influenced by fashions/ideas largely associated with the black community, i don’t see what the issue really is with this. media and pop culture DOES take cues from everything that’s in ‘real life’ because that’s what it is. deliberately naming it ‘racism’ because the cues are maybe more obviously from black/’ghetto’ origin is the actual ‘racism’, to me, because it’s drawing lines and differentiating to the point where it’s considered inappropriate and insensitive to take some kind of inspiration from non-white places. which i find ridiculous.

    • MM

      Well, I don’t know any black women who dress or look like this either. The vibe I got was more “Drag Queens + People of Walmart.” But I’m not black, so I don’t feel really qualified to say if it’s racist or not.

      There’s something distasteful about it either way, though. There are definitely classist overtones to a gaudily dressed pregnant woman at McDonalds…

    • Ally

      You get a bunch of beautiful models and probably an expensive wardrobe and that’s what you do with it? Really? Because of all the crap going on I don’t know who it’s trying to offend and with what, but I find it offensive because it’s so awful. Looking at these pictures I have no clue what they are trying to sell, what message they are sending, or who/what those creatures are.

    • Ash

      the woman with money for hair, the girl by the tuna, and the twix hair are all hairstyles that I’ve seen on black women. In fact I’ve seen other pictures from this shoot side-by-side with the black women, and the hair styles are identical. The fact that they associate these women with cross-dressers and drag queens is what makes this offensive.

    • Amy

      I think some websites need to remember that Europe and America have very different racial histories and cultures, and as such things which seem unacceptable to Americans aren’t actually offensive in Europe. So many times I see American sites getting upset at things which are unacceptable in the US, but wouldn’t even occur to a European as offensive. We don’t have a “ghetto fabulous” stereotype of black people in most European countries, so I doubt Vogue Italia was playing to it. At worst, I woud accuse Italian Vogue of naively imitating American Hip Hop culture without considering the racial implications.

      Of course Americans are entitled to be offended by the shoot if they think it inappropriate, but it’s one thing to say “Woah, they’d never get away with that in the US” and another to actually insist the magazine workers are actively being racist.