Vogue Italia EIC Insists That Controversial “Haute Mess” Editorial Isn’t Racist

Trouble’s still brewing over “Haute Mess,” a controversial editorial from the March issue of Vogue Italia starring, among others, covergirl Joan Smalls, Jessica Stam, Abbey Lee and Coco Rocha and lensed by Steven Meisel. Inside, the models are styled with outsized makeup and costumes, which Vogue Italia swears is in homage to “messy drag queens.” However, many noted that the models’ wigs–coupled with fast food, pregnancy bellies, gold teeth, Colt 45 and the overall theme of trashy glitz–felt more than a little classist. If not more than a little racist.

NYMag’s The Cut got a hold of Vogue Italia EIC Franca Sozzani, who flatly shot down the accusations, insisting that it was all in good fun. She also seemed completely unaware that many of the wigs (featuring Skittles and dollar bills) had real-life analogs. Like so:

NYMag: What do you think?
Sozzani: I think it’s good that everyone sees what they wanted to see. As you know, I don’t care as much what people think, because I think that every time that you try to change something, people [say something else]. I respect everybody’s opinion. … I think that the most encouraging way is to make a discussion and not to be completely, bored, you know? I think a boring magazine is always a boring magazine.

NYMag: What do you think when you see that something you put together is being labeled racist?
Sozzani: A racist image, I really do not understand. I went through the pages so many times. Like when we did the Black Issue, everybody said that we did that on purpose because Obama was the person chosen to go to the White House, and if you just think one second, not more than one second, you can see that to make a magazine like what we did for the Black Issue, it takes six months [to do]. … People wanted to see an economical and a financial [decision], just to get more money, because we talk about Black Issue, it’s probably because the president is black. What do you answer? They don’t know what it means to work at a magazine. That’s it.

She goes on to say that people reading into the images are the problem, not the images themselves. Sozzani does have a track record of acknowledging her responsibility in touchy subjects… but fashion photography on the whole has a much longer track record of being supremely, overwhelmingly, unbelievably racist. Classist goes without saying.

(The Cut)

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    • BeccaTheCyborg

      Ahh, yes, the defences of Magical Authorial Intent (because there’s no way that like every other person, she could be steeped in a profoundly racist culture) and that it’s the people who point out racism who are the true racists. Because that shit isn’t the usual old-as-dust responses to being told one fucked up.

      • Ashley Cardiff

        I love Vogue Italia but this is disappointing.

    • Jessica

      OK, so there are real hairstyles like that in America, but you have to remember that this is a European magazine, and we really don’t have that culture over here. It’s not something that the majority of people would look at and identify as being ‘ghetto’. Amy’s comment on the original thread explains better. But yeah…I don’t see this as racist. I’m seeing the drag queen theme.