Vogue's racially insensitive editorial

ANNIE STEVENS
Last updated 13:28 11/03/2014
Blackface
Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel

THE NEW NORM? A close up of one of the shots from Vogue Italia's 'Abracadabra' editorial. Scroll down for the full set of images.

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Here we go again with the racial insensitivity/dunder head-ism in fashion: Vogua Italia has published an editorial featuring Dutch model Saskia de Brauw in blackface.

The magazine's March issue includes the feature "Abracadabra", lensed by veteran fashion photographer Steven Meisel, in which de Brauw is in a series of images with her skin darkened wearing ethnic clothing, and in some, is surrounded by African animals. Some of which have chains around their necks.

As the Huffington Post's Julee Wilson notes, "Not all the images portray Saskia in dark makeup, however the ones that don't show the Dutch model painted in traditional African tribal markings. And the addition of the African animals doesn't help matters."

The editorial follows what seems like an endless series of blackface debacles, including Vogue Netherlands' "Heritage Heroes" atrocity and Numéro's "African Queen".

Given the backlash to each blackface incident in the fashion world, the only conclusion for its continued use is that magazines want to be 'edgy' and deliberately controversial.

Or maybe they just don't care?

As Elizabeth Licata wrote in The Gloss,

"Blackface is so pervasive in fashion that it has practically gone straight through "What the hell were they thinking" and into "Yawn, another fashion cliché."

"It hasn't actually gotten there yet, because we're still shocked and appalled instead of bored by blackface editorials, but it seems like we see white models in blackface almost as often as we see florals for spring and models eating pasta."

Blackface, shoe of the season, hemlines are falling, all the same category right?

Or not. The continued use of black face on white models in the fashion industry is indicative of a deep problem in our society - the way we see non-white bodies.

As Ruby Hamad pointed out in Daily Life last year, the fashion industry is willfully engaging in racial insensitivity and the sidelining of models of colour in favour of white models pretending to be models of colour because there is a long way to go when it comes to true diversity.

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"The industry maintains that it is merely giving their audience what it wants. Sadly, this is partly true. Since much fashion is aspirational, its success hinges on romanticising the idea of unattainable sophistication. To put it bluntly, non-white bodies are simply not something to aspire to."

"Although often dismissed as silly and shallow, the fashion industry nonetheless acts as mirror and representation of Western society's attitudes to race. The under-representation of people of colour in fashion speaks to the implicitly accepted, but largely unacknowledged, position that whiteness is, as Salon's Kartina Richardson writes, the default position against which all other races and experiences are measured," wrote Hamad.

The state of the industry is something that model of colour Jourdan Dunn says is unacceptable. Occasional attempts at diversity by some designers, says Dunn, is not enough.

"I find it weird when agents say, 'You're the only black girl booked for the show. Isn't it great?' Why is that great?"

"I don't know why people applaud designers for having just one ethnic model. It's not like only one type of woman loves fashion."

If only the fashion and magazine industry would actually listen.

- Daily Life

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