We were thrilled when Vogue Italia debuted the All Black issue in July 2008. It made a bold statement in an industry that was notorious for ignoring black beauty and launched the careers of some of our favorite rising stars like Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and Sessilee Lopez. Fast-forward to today and the separate but equal editorials featuring women of color have become somewhat of a trend.
Vogue Italia celebrated the one year anniversary of the “All Black issue” with July 2009’s “Barbie Issue” showing the iconic dolls with a diverse array of brown skin tones, hair textures and styles.
This year, American Vogue featured a breathtaking shot of models of color in the February 2011 issue in the story “Gangs of New York.” Shot by Mario Testino, Joan Smalls, Ajak Deng, Arlenis Sosa, Chanel Iman, Anais Mali, Jourdan Dunn and Sessilee Lopez posed in Rodarte for a full-page spread.
Vogue Italia dedicated an entire story to black beauty in the February 2011 issue entitled “The Black Allure.” It featured such stunning models as Sessilee Lopez, Ajak Deng, Aminata Niaria, Arlenis Sosa, Chanel Iman, Georgie Badiel, Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Kinee Diouf, Lais Ribeiro, Melodie Monrose and Rose Cordero. Shot by Emma Summerton and styled by the new W Magazine Fashion and Style Director Edward Enninful, the shoot channeled the Harlem Renaissance with sultry, dim lighting, glamourous fashion, decadent jewels, wine glasses and dangling cigarettes.
Now the May 2011 Vogue Italia issue brings us a “Tribute To Black Beauties.” Photographed by Ellen von Unwerth and styled by Giulio Martinelli, the spread features models Jeneil Williams, Cici Ali, Ubah Hassan, Gayle McDonald, Kelly Moreira, Jae Childs, R’el Dade, Jasmine Tookas, Lily Taylor and Ariel Meredith.
The beautiful group strike spirited poses while wearing colorful printed looks with afro wigs, wide-brimmed hats, vibrant makeup and loud accessories. It is printed alongside an eloquently-written piece by Claire Sulmers, Founder of The Fashion Bomb, celebrating our unique and diverse beauty, excerpted below:
“With bright eyes peering out under deliciously curled lashes, cheekbones and jawbones contoured as if chiseled from sharp stone, full noses, and sumptuously lush lips, black women are unquestionably beautiful.
A tribute is due to the woman whose skin tone ranges from alabaster to mahogany to smooth onyx, who can flawlessly carry any makeup look—from gold dusted lids to fuchsia blush to ripe purple and pink glosses. These pages pay homage to the versatile woman whose hair can oscillate from a tightly coiled and coifed Afro, to sleek layers, to a slicked back pixie cut in a matter of minutes. To the divine woman whose enviably full lips, strong, white teeth, and delightful smile have been known to electrify the hearts of many. To the siren whose smooth, velvety skin blocks the sun yet remains supple and unblemished with the passage of time.
Variable and diverse, black beauty escapes simple classification. But no matter the incarnation—whether the color of molasses, café au lait, bronze, tan, or tinged like desert sand—black beauties radiate with poise and multidimensional splendor.”
These words and images in an issue of Vogue send a powerful message in that they deconstruct long-held beliefs that black women are the least attractive and desired of all races. The piece is indeed a beautiful tribute to the varied and unique beauty of women of color.
But what lasting impact will these spreads and issues have on diversity when considered in the context of EIC Franca Sozzani’s comments about her site, Vogue Black? She recently responded to claims that the popular site, which focuses solely on designers, models and style icons of color, is a “ghetto.” (Ghetto, originally an Italian word, being used to signify an area inhabited by members of a particular ethnic and minority group.) She says: “[…] some said it was becoming the ghetto of black, but it’s not true. These are very happy readers, happy that we are looking at them in different ways.”
To be sure, Sozzani’s ongoing effort to celebrate our culture is a valiant one. And we are happy. But we also want to explore how this exclusive spotlight will impact the road to diversity in the long run.
While the adulation is needed and long overdue, are these spreads a step toward inclusion or a trend that doesn’t truly bring diversity? Will stories like this lead to diversity overtime? Should we refrain from even questioning the impact and just be happy for the attention? Discuss.
-Jessica C. Andrews
Vogue Italia May 2011 Image and Excerpt Source: Beauty Is Diverse.