How pairing sneakers with a suit sparked controversy for a fashion magazine


'Vogue' chose the cover on the right for the hard copy of its February publication. The one on the left appears on the digital issue. Photo: AFP

A Vogue cover photo of a casual US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has sparked controversy, with critics saying it diminishes the politician's achievements, forcing editor Anna Wintour to defend the image Tuesday (Jan 12).

Criticism of the cover has spread on social media since it was released on Sunday (Jan 10), with users insisting that what they see as a poorly composed portrait of Harris wearing sneakers is disrespectful to the first Black woman to be elected vice president.

The photo – in which Harris wears a blazer with jeans – was taken by American photographer Tyler Mitchell, who in 2018 became the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover with his portraits of music icon Beyonce.

It was this image that Wintour chose to grace the cover of the hard copy of the February issue, rather than a more formal portrait of Harris in a light blue Michael Kors pantsuit, which was also taken by Mitchell.

Read more: People are stepping out in sneakers costing thousands of dollars, here's why

Writing in the Washington Post, fashion critic Robin Givhan said the print cover was "overly familiar" and did not give Harris "due respect".

Social media users also slammed the photo's lighting and questioned whether the magazine had lightened Harris's skin.

"Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the Vice President-elect's incredible victory," Wintour said in a statement to New York Times reporter Kara Swisher.

Swisher, host of the podcast Sway, also broadcast a rare interview with Wintour Tuesday (Jan 12) that was carried out before the controversy.

'Positive change'

In the interview, the artistic director of Vogue's publisher, Conde Nast, describes the cover as "just so joyful and optimistic".

"I cannot imagine that there's anyone that really is going to find this cover anything but that, and positive, and an image of a woman in control of her life who is going to bring us with the president-elect the leadership that we so need," Wintour said.

Harris, 56, has not publicly reacted but sources close to her have told US media that she was surprised by the choice of the more relaxed photo.

Read more: Will inclusivity be the watchword in fashion for 2021?

The controversy is the latest to engulf Wintour, who found herself under pressure during the massive "Black Lives Matter" protests that swept the US last summer.

She apologised for not making enough room for Black stylists and photographers in the magazine. Wintour added that she also took "full responsibility" for "publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant".

Rumours that she would resign circulated, but the British-born 71-year-old – described by Forbes magazine in 2017 as the "most powerful woman" in media – has remained at the helm of Vogue.

"We've heard the complaints and the issues that have been raised by everybody who works at Conde Nast and we're working towards, I think, a lot of very positive change," she told Swisher. – AFP

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