Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and Condé Nast’s chief content officer, has spoken for the first time about the controversial Vogue cover featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris that some social media users labelled “disrespectful,” “poor quality” and “a washed-out mess.”
Ever since Vogue released images of the cover on social media on Sunday, the Condé Nast-owned title has only made a single comment through its spokeswoman. Until now.
The New York Times has released a comment Wintour provided to it in which she said: “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.”
She also sought to clear up speculation that there was a formal agreement between Vogue and Harris’ team about which photograph the magazine would use on the cover. Some Twitter users claimed that both parties had agreed that a photo of Harris wearing a powder blue Michael Kors Collection suit would be used for the print cover, but in the end Vogue opted for a less formal image of her in a Donald Deal jacket and Converse sneakers with a backdrop of colors that are emblematic of her sorority at Howard University, Alpha Kappa Alpha. The other image will be used for a digital cover.
“There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be. And when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the Vice President-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in which we are all in the midst — as we still are — of the most appalling pandemic that is taking lives by the minute,” Wintour said. “And we felt to reflect this tragic moment in global history, a much less formal picture, something that was very, very accessible and approachable and real, really reflected the hallmark of the Biden-Harris campaign and everything that they are trying to, and I’m sure will, achieve.”
Some social media critics questioned the decision to feature the first female vice president as well as the first Black and Asian American to be elected to that role wearing sneakers, while others accused Vogue of using the wrong lighting that makes Harris look “washed out.” The criticism soon spread to mainstream media.
Robin Givhan, senior critic at large at The Washington Post, wrote that “the cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect. It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.”
In an interview aired Tuesday on NBC’s Today show, Harris’ niece Meena Harris said: “It’s a big moment. We’ve elected the first woman in history, the first Black woman in history and South Asian woman to hold the office of vice president in our country’s history. That is a huge, historic moment.…It deserves the proper celebration of that moment, especially for a magazine that often has not had Black women on the cover. I love the photos of the powder blue suit.”
Wintour provided The Times with a comment as it is about to release an interview she recorded with Kara Swisher for the podcast “Sway” before the covers were published on Vogue’s Instagram account.
During that interview, Wintour said, “What’s amazing about the February cover to me is that it is just so joyful and optimistic. And 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.”
Swisher also asked Wintour to address allegations of diversity failings at Condé Nast and what happened when employees brought up these issues at companywide meetings amid national protests over the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people, as well as centuries of systemic racism in the U.S.
Wintour responded that “what was happening at Condé Nast was happening also at many other businesses, whether they were media or other companies throughout the United States and indeed throughout the world…so I don’t think it would be correct to single out Condé Nast as being the sole place where this was happening.”
When Swisher pushed her to elaborate on what exactly employees said, Wintour continued that “there were many different discussions and I think a lot of it was rooted in the social unrest that was happening at that time….I think that this was definitely heightened by the leadership that we have in this country.”
Condé Nast has been accused of fostering a negative environment for people of color at a number of its titles, including Vogue and Bon Appétit. In June, the latter’s editor resigned after the emergence of a photograph of him in brown face, plus allegations of a discriminatory workplace environment for people of color.
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