VOGUE & THE MISSING COVER GIRLS OF COLOR
by Jeremy Danté
the basis of this blog began as intention to shed light on models of color and to examine, as well as question the ways we, people of color, are represented in fashion through perceptions of beauty. in the years it has taken to build this site through an audience and through the greater energy that has elevated a dialogue of fashion- i’ve spent time watching. from just about everywhere on the internet, i’ve pulled references, we’ve looked at full editorials & discussed just about every cover internationally by now. in my pursuit to evolve and remain sharp through selection of content, i’ve been looking for a feeling- searching for content that resonates in the lane of our existing dialogue, but also adds a new layer of examination. this idea of ‘american’, the concept of a ‘dream’, the impact of the ‘supermodel’- all of these elements have been recurring themes in this space and now these claims, these cultural examinations will be supported by true life events. to scratch the surface of observation hastily, american vogue covers have been distorted through excessive, often times unnecessary, amounts of retouching, questionable cover choices and stiffened personalities, public figures and actresses alike. while the above seen cover is not one of those images, the cover girl & choice to allow her the honor of such does have me thinking.
let’s be very clear with this piece, i support anyone winning on any level through hard work and dedication. i would also like to say that i very clearly understand that models are often caught in the crossfire of bad publication choices, questionable styling, offensive imagery & have, for many years, basically been used and also abused as props. this blog was founded on the sole inspiration of models- the culture in which they have derived and their ability to affect change through presence. while i understand the possibility of this abuse, i also understand that victories can be won with proper utilization of such platforms in the media. for me, fashion is and will always be about imagination, style and photography- the capturing of such moments through great design and beautiful beings. let’s be clear about all of that. this is in no way directed to, or intended to misjudge or unfairly make claims against the successes nor the failures of kate upton, as a woman with a career. or any other model for that matter that has been cast, chosen or spotlighted in the realm of fashion to sell products. this, however, is a personal response and reaction to the ways in which vogue and other components of the media have misused imagery as well as their role of power, to represent our culture as americans. as technology and the internet have proven, we the consumers now have the power. if we the people don’t buy it, they- those people have to change it.
for many years, we’ve sat as a fashion audience and watched, more often have we waited; to see faces of models grace our fashion magazines. for many years, we’ve sat as a fashion audience to see faces of color grace more of our fashion covers. for far too long have we longed to see models of color grace our fashion covers, in a way that is normalized or represents us as far more than just a passing trend or a limited edition cover series. for too long have we sat as other models in line were left as bench warmers on agency walls, while porcelain faced, blue eyed, blonde haired props were used dictating to us, americans, what america is. these publishers, advertisers and image makers continue to sell us a fabricated belief of what is ‘american’. while this is specifically about color, the real liberal issue at hand is this- america is no longer a blonde haired, blue eyed anything. the level of diversification that we have grown into in the states is much more widely known more now than it has ever been. it is just as important to discuss the ways in which we are defined in america, as americans, as a diversified population of humans that are still fighting for equal rights. how are we being represented? more specifically, how are we not being represented? it’s no secret, readers of fashion magazines, as well as innocent by-standers who can’t tell the differences between mossimo & moschino, know the rarity of seeing models grace the covers of american vogue. these covers go to actresses or pop stars making cameos for films or musical projects. when women of color finally do make the grade, the covers are lackluster- the put halle berry in some fucked up wig from the 20’s, they ruin michelle obama with bad retouching and we’re supposed to be satisfied with these ‘moments’; moments being instant, short lived, forgettable. publicatons understand the use of language, it’s plastered on their covers every month, sound bitten for their twitter feeds & chopped for their blogs on their website and official accounts from social media subsidiaries. to break it down further, i mean moments– as insignificant.
kate upton is the commercialized vision of the all-american girl, but doesn’t so much resemble what america truly is. she represents some of what american advertisers and publishers want you to buy into as the defining american dream. it’s as if upton is packaged like a big mac, or a barbie, complete with a white picket fence- except this barbie has measurements of 33-25-36, stands 5’10” and is aged at a ripe 20 years old. upton has appeared twice on the cover of sports illustrated, the first time being hailed as rookie of the year and the second she appeared topless in a parka against a green screened image of the antarctic. with a string of less than impressive, minor movie roles and cameos under her belt, upton is signed to super agency, IMG- the end all be all of modeling agencies for the baddest chicks in the game. her marketability has reached critical mass, as she’s booked campaigns as a guess girl, while gracing the covers of GQ, esquire, cosmopolitan, italian vogue, british vogue and for the cover month of may, upton graced the cover of harper’s bazaar in greece, vietnam and korea. upton’s childhood is that idea of american dreams- born in michigan, attended private school in florida. mother was a texas tennis champ & her father was a high school athletics director. her uncle is a U.S. representative of congress and her great grandfather was co-founder of appliance manufacturing corporation giant, whirlpool.
as seen on her american vogue cover, as well as the accompanying editorial, kate upton is marketed in the likeness of the ultimate american icon, marilyn monroe. busty and blonde with a likeable personality, vogue enters dangerous territory with their light hearted use of the title, ‘supermodel’. the true definition of supermodel is cross marketability- think cindy crawford. if any female of modern times can be credited as the all-american girl and supermodel, cindy is that chick. she was everywhere from pepsi to versace and we bought it. supermodels affect culture, they shift perceptions by their ability to influence trends and ultimately change the aesthetic for what we define as ‘beauty’. supermodels never die, but during these trying times of fashion globalization, supermodels no longer exist. they can no longer be born in today’s industry, because the industry can’t afford to grant that level of influence to models like they did in the 90’s. while kate upton has displayed cross marketability, it seems pre-mature to call her a supermodel. they say art imitates life, or life imitates art- whatever the case, with all respect to kate upton- the american girl is different now. break down the idea of blonde hair, blue eyed- you think of golden blonde beyonce, or blue eyed vanessa williams. we’re too diversified to be limited to the idea of just white girls, or even to be restricted to the idea of just brown skin. to peg something as american would be to honor the combined races and ethnicity of we the people. the idea of a dream as it relates to kate upton is almost like a fantasy, a dream is just a dream- they don’t always come true. the use of language, as referenced to kate upton as a major pawn in the game of mass advertising is interesting. because it’s such an antiquated ideology. we need innovation, we need something that’s gonna change the game. flip the switch on a classic, because we want re-invention- with respect to the past. that past is where we were, represent where we are. give us some flavor, not a dusted perception of days of old. vogue, can you please represent us as americans… and this time all of us?
visit vogue.com to view kate upton’s full feature
cover shot by mario testino