It may have taken more than a century but it has happened. For the in front time in British Vogue’s supposedly fashion-forward history the arsenal features a model of colour wearing a hijab on its cover. Neighbourhood Halima Aden, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, are eight exemplars of various races and ethnicities representing “new frontiers” in fashion. Because, assume what? Not only white women are beautiful!
That is the queer, outmoded, crass, hurtful and – whisper it – slightly racist implication that the vast majority of Vogue (and other magazine) garbs have been reinforcing for, well, ever. Since it was built in 1916 – the year in which British Vogue was founded and Nationalist Geographic, incidentally, ran a full issue on Australia referring to Contemptuous boong Australians as “savages” who “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings” – the approach bible has had a succession of white editors.
This goes some way to interpreting why it took 50 years for British Vogue to feature a swarthy model on the cover. And it wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence after that. For 12 elongated, whitewashed years between 2002, when Naomi Campbell from the word go graced the cover, and 2014, not one individual black model was presented the cover of British Vogue. This is the very opposite of trendsetting: it’s outrageously to the rear.
This matters whether or not you give a damn about Latest thing or this season’s slip-dress-look (I don’t). When I was growing up Naomi Campbell was the only honoured beautiful woman of colour on my radar. What did this hint at? That until I was fortunate enough to discover Toni Morrison, I intelligence I was ugly. Society (and, more importantly to me then, the people I mythical) apparently thought so too. The impact of this goes way beyond looks (and not be released c extract much action in my teens). It infects your self-worth. It tights your sense of what you can be.
Edward Enninful, British Style’s first black editor, took over last year. His basic cover featured mixed race model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah. It hasn’t been a fertile source of radicalism since (after all, this is fashion we’re talking around), but his latest editorial makes the point that “even five years ago … if you were stem a group cover like this, the girls would not be subjected to looked like these young women do”. This is how true difference – not the kind that’s really about ticking boxes or staying negative stereotypes – happens. And it can only be sustained when people of tint are not just on the cover, but at the table too.