French Vogue Accessorizes with Blackface


Scene/Mix Editor

Fashion magazines are known for pushing the envelope. They often take their photo spreads to the controversial cliff in the name of “avant-garde” and being forward-thinking. I applaud them for that. The fashion industry produces some of the best modern art, in my opinion.

But, what French Vogue commercialized on in their October issue, bypassed art and went straight for offensive bad taste.

The Dutch model, Lara Stone, was featured in blackface in a 14-page spread in the October issue of French Vogue.

Lara Stone, who is a top model trademarked for her porcelain white skin, was covered from head to toe in dark brown makeup.

Bringing back New Wave is cool. Reviving big hair is fine. Even exploring tribal designs in modern fashion is at least an interesting concept. However, blackface is a throwback to racist insensitivity and buffoonery. It is not a fashion trend that should be revived on an editor’s artistic whim.

French Vogue is not the only one to employ the all-so-chic blackface in their magazine. American Apparel used it in advertising campaigns, America’s Next Top Model did a creepy “Got Milk” version in one of their show challenges, and blackface was used in the Australian TV show “Hey Hey it’s Saturday.”

The most alarming aspect of French Vogue’s decision was that they had announced that this issue was to be their “Women of Color” edition. Now, you wonder, what were they trying to pull pull off?

Was it a call for publicity, a political statement, or just a lack of cultural sensitivity when not one model in their October issue was black?

In reaction to the issue, numerous people are speaking out against the magazine. But, some are defending their decision, saying that France has a different worldview about race. Think about it though. We are not talking about the average French citizen. This is French Vogue, a revered international fashion magazine. They know better. In partnership with U.S. Vogue, French Vogue works at an international scale, shooting models of all races and nationalities. And it’s not like France is an isolated all-white community. In France, there is a huge population of French Africans and North Africans. In this instance, they cannot be excused by claiming naïveté.

In looking at the pictures, you won’t see a shocking throwback to archetypal blackface. You will see a more subtle version, exploited by Steven Klein (the photographer, who has shot models in blackface in the past) in the name of fashion. The website, that posted some of the pictures, got thousands of comments. One commenter said, “this reminds me growing up as an Indian kid in an afluent white neighborhood- kids would make comments like ‘did you buy that at the 99 cents store?’ when I’d wear a traditional Indian shirt or ‘why are you copying Gwen Stefani/Madonna?’ when I,’d show up to school wearing mendhi after a wedding or a bindi on my forehead. I guess its okay when white people pretend to be ‘ethnic’ because its cool and edgy but ethnic people can’t observe their own culture or live in their own identity without being made to feel like the ‘other.'”

Well said. Editor-in-Chief Carine Roitfeld and employees of French Vogue, your readers want and expect intelligence, diversity and good taste in your magazine. We are not simply hungry for insensitive visual stimulation. The whole world is watching and that world is changing.