The cover of British Vogue’s February issue featuring nine black models has been branded ‘offensive’ on social media as critics claim bad lighting and poor styling hid the women’s features and made their skin blacker to cater to the ‘white gaze’.
It marks the first time Vogue has featured a group of black women this size on the cover, for an issue celebrating the rise of African models, and was photographed by Brazilian photographer Rafael Pavarotti, who has previously shot black models in the same fashion, making their skin look ultra-dark.
Starring models Adut Akech, Amar Akway, Majesty Amare, Akon Changkou, Maty Fall, Janet Jumbo, Abény Nhial, Nyagua Ruea and Anok Yai, the cover was styled by British Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief Edward Enninful OBE.
Mr Enninful was appointed editor of British Vogue in 2017, taking over from Alexandra Shulman, after the publication was criticised for a lack of diversity, and promptly assembled a woke squad of 15 women to bring diversity into editions across Europe.
However, this latest imagery has been met with furious backlash online, with dozens of fans saying the ‘badly lit’ image appeared to darken the models, who have a range of skin tones, to a point where they were unrecognisable and look like ‘mannequins’.
A behind-the-scenes video of the shoot featuring the models having their hair and make-up done shows the diversity of their skin tones, sugesting that it was the ligthing rather than cosmetics that made them look so different.
One critic commented: ‘British Vogue? So…they gathered all of these beautiful women and decided not to use lighting properly? One can’t even identify who is who! And the wigs? Those women have very beautiful fascinating dark skins, so why DARKEN them like that?’
A fellow critic accused the Brazilian photographer of catering for the white gaze by ‘fetishising’ the models and exaggerating the models’ skin tones, saying: ‘You can be unapologetically black without caricature.’
Another critic of the cover commented: ‘Edward Enninful was foul for that Vogue cover. That lighting, wigs, outfits, errything was anti-black.
‘I don’t care, I don’t care. You took the most beautiful women on the planet and made sure we couldn’t see them on an issue about visibility? @BritishVogue, shaking my head.’
A fifth wrote that it was ‘honestly terrible’, while another added: ‘Look I am a fan of British Vogue since Mr Enninful became EIC but I’m honestly not sure why this cover is not well-lit and why the models are made to be mannequinn-esque and we lose their features and beauty.’
One commented: ‘Why are they blending in with the garments? Why not well lit and with colour that compliments their features?’
Rows of rails laden with the season’s most sought-after looks, more jewellery than a jewellery store, and a year’s supply of hairspray. Just a flavour of what you can expect on a British Vogue shoot. Watch as the cover stars prepare for their moment: https://t.co/Ytc453EcnW pic.twitter.com/f0XKDvy7uH
— British Vogue (@BritishVogue) January 13, 2022
Everything blends in,’ another wrote, ‘The hair the same colour as the skin. Crazy. I think this is the aesthetic they go for when shooting black skin though.
‘Not the first time I’ve seen this look from them.’
Others commented that they wished the styling had been different on the shoot, with one writing: ‘TBH I personally would have liked to see more colour here with the makeup/wardrobe – we all know melanin pops against brighter hues – and at least one person with their natural hair in this shot.
‘Also the lighting could use some work. But we’ll take this as a start.’
In one shot, the models sit on a green sofa wearing bright colours which pop against the low lighting, while in the cover shot all nine models wear all black outfits.
Explaining the inspiration behind shooting an all black, all African cover, Edward, who was born in Ghana and moved to west London as a child, said: ‘I saw all these incredible models from across Africa who were just so vivacious and smart.
These girls are redefining what it is to be a fashion model.’
‘We need to ensure these girls last. We have to invest in them, nurture them and support them with editorial, with advertising, with shows.’
‘It’s sad and heart-breaking for me to see girls who are on the rise suddenly taper off.
‘We need to ensure these girls last. We have to invest in them, nurture them and support them with editorial, with advertising, with shows. It has to be 360. Alek Wek didn’t suddenly become Alek Wek.
‘There was a group of us behind girls like her, propelling them forward. This is what we have to do in all our different roles.
‘Getting these girls and then throwing them away after one season? That has to stop.’
Mr Enninful was appointed editor of British Vogue, taking over from Alexandra Shulman, after the publication was criticised for a lack of diversity.