People question the importance of fashion and what purpose it serves other than urging us to consume more, want more, and spend more. Fashion gauges the cultural stance on beauty at its lively core. At its worse, the negative connotations of ethnic groups are reflected through its lens of style.
Vogue Italia made headlines with its debatable release of the fashion spread “Haute Mess” from its recent March issue. Featuring a group of international supermodels (Joan Smalls, Coco Rocha, Abbey Lee, and Lindsey Wixson) and shot by the American photographer Steven Meisel, “Hot Mess” mimics the urban bravura of African American women in branded hairstyles, gold teeth, acrylic nails, and other flamboyancies.
But is it racist?
People of color are known for their cultural pride. We adorned our coifs with elaborate headdresses in Africa and picked our ‘fros with Black Power in the 1960s. Now, the Atlanta-based Bronner Bros. continues this hair tradition with its annual hair showcase extravaganza.
So is Vogue Italia racist or are they emulating the style genius of our people?
Irrefutably in questionable taste, the spread treads a fine line of racial insensitivity and fashion as art. But they’re not alone on this tightrope.
French Vogue put Laura Stone in Blackface in 2009. This past August, Vogue Italia praised “slave earrings” on the runway while still devoting itself to the highly successful All-Black magazine special. So far, the most incredulous of all faux pas was the Dutch magazine Jackie labeling Rihanna as the “Ultimate Niggabitch” this past December.
Though bringing to light the importance of diversity at international publications, these cultural oversights and admonishments of historical ignorance must stop.
Objectively, each title aimed to celebrate fashion in its own inimitable way but with the reference (in this case urban fashion) presented to an unfamiliar audience as a contexture of stereotypes slights consumers who exercise their robust buying power daily.
We cannot change the past but we are most certainly responsible for shaping our future into an all-encompassing, modish one. So if you find yourself bothered by this portrayal of our people, speak out. Waiting for an unacquainted authority to immortalize the vastness of Black splendor is a non sequitur.