Did you see that Italian Vogue is having a black issue?” “When are you going to write about the all-black issue of Vogue, Bella?”

I can’t tell you how many versions of that message I got when Stephen Meisel’s smoldering photographs hit the internet. And oh, are they ever amazing. Seeing those photos took me back to my childhood, when flipping through the pages of my sister’s magazines offered an aspirational reflection of women who looked like me (or who I thought I could perhaps someday look like, if only my body frame were half its size).

I remember flipping through magazines and being like, “that’s me!” “No THAT’s me!” with my school friends in those days. Funny to look back on that time of my life — I definitely remember looking at an old magazine with photos of Iman and Beverly Johnson, Veronica Webb, Naomi and Tyra — funny enough, the classmate I most clearly remember doing that with went on to be a real-life beauty queen and place respectably in the Miss Universe pageant. Vogue was a mainstay in the lobby of every hairdressing salon I went to as a child. But somewhere along the way, the fashion bible lost my interest. Completely.

This happened after the decline of the supermodel era, after those glorious George Michael videos I adored so much, long after Naomi appeared on House of Style with her face covered in zit cream — does anyone remember that? It was a change in me as well as a change in the magazine (and I guess in the fashion industry) — I started wanting to read magazines I could legitimately identify with more. I stopped buying Teen and Seventeen and started reading Sassy. I looked forward to filching my sister’s Marie Claire’s (oh, I loved when we’d occasionally luck into a UK Marie Claire, the articles seemed so much more interesting and the models looked so much more real. I’ve always had a penchant for UK and international versions of mainstream mags). And it was around this time that my mother started taking me to fashion shows by Trinidadian designers, like Meiling and Heather Jones. But mostly Meiling’s.

At her fashion shows, there were stunning local models of color — most notably Miss Universe contestants Wendy Fitzwilliam and Michelle Khan, and of course, the apparently ageless Sharon Imbert, of whom I couldn’t find a photo online. I didn’t need a magazine or television show to find beauties for me to aspire to be — they were close up and accessible. I still to this day remember with a fluttering heart, when Trinidadian model and jewelry designer Jeneile McCarthy complimented me on my lipstick at Meiling’s Kapok store. It was Copper Sunset, by Sacha Cosmetics. I was a teenager! And all these years later, I still remember.

Where I’m from, the fashion, much like the overall demographic breakdown of the country itself, reverses the typical racial ratio you see in America and Europe. To see what I mean, click here to see Meiling’s latest collection, M Squared, which will be sold by Trinidadian retail store Micles (it’s kind of like an Isaac Mizrahi for Target kind of thing). Although the designs aren’t as glamorous as Meiling’s usual designs (which steer towards the classic and elegant), they do represent the typical Caribbean fashion show experience. The shows tend to be bright, fun, flowy (as the weather would indicate), and most of the models come in every shade of brown you can imagine. The best part is, not only can you imagine yourself wearing the clothes; you can also imagine yourself on stage. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s entirely probable that immersing myself in Caribbean fashion led to the final straw between me and Vogue magazine — after experiencing glamor I could see, touch, and almost afford, a fashion shoot of a crop of alabaster, cookie cutter models in clothes that cost way too much simply left me unmoved and uninspired.

It took me forever to figure out why it was taking me forever to write about the new issue of Italian Vogue. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read about it — aside from being covered by every newsoutlet I can think of, every blogger I adore wrote about it and posted lush slide shows, and I’ve been eagerly reading them all. Most notably, Make Fetch Happen has been doing stellar coverage, alongside Jezebel, and Stereohyped, which asked the question that was bothering me all along — is creating an all-black issue of a magazine just a superficial way to address the deeper issues that so obviously plague the industry? Or, as American Vogue asked in their sad attempt at “who, us?” deflection — Is Fashion Racist? Is Italian Vogue throwing a one-time-only bone to placate and hopefully silence the increasingly loud chorus of complaints from people within the industry as well as the women who read and purchase these magazines? Is it in fact, that dreaded T word — tokenism? Or is it symptomatic of larger change that is slowly coming around again? Now that American Apparel’s bringing Eighties Hypercolor back, can we expect a return of all things Eighties, including supermodels that women all shades of beautiful can name, know, and identify with? Now that George Michael is making a return to the spotlight, shall we wait with baited breath for him to once again make a music video that calls upon the current crop of pretty young things, including Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Arlenis Sosa, and the gorgeous Sessilee Lopez — who has her own blog? I don’t know. And it’s not that I don’t care, I just feel like Iman doesWhy are we still talking about this in 2008?

Although — to quote Iman again, my main concern with this issue of Italian Vogue is that this will be a one-off special — “They’ll think, ‘Okay, we did it.’ And then they’re done with it, and we’ll have to wait till next year” — I will definitely purchase it. I’m actively seeking this magazine out so I can buy a copy, and I hope it sells out around the world, to prove to the Anna Wintours and other such myopic tastemakers that yes, black models can sell covers, fashion, and so much more. But American Vogue will continue to sit untouched in any hair salon or spa lobby I happen to be in. There’s no motivation for me to pick up the old mag at the moment, not when I can get my fashion fixes and beauty inspiration from forward thinking fashion blogs, like The Fashion Bomb, Black Style Central, The Budget Fashionista, Style Chile, Black Pearls, and I Like Her Style. I get my Caribbean fashion fixes from hot sites Popstyle Jamaica, Fashion Over Style, and Au Courant in the Caribbean.

And what’s this? Looky here — little ol Caribbean Fashion Week has been getting international play, and admiration in the likes of Paper Mag and The New York Times fashion blog — complete with shout-outs to my classic Trini inspirations Heather Jones — check out her models in that photo from the NY Times — Claudia Pegus and my longtime favorite Meiling, who was honored with the Caribbean Fashion Master award this year.

Caribbean fashion will always be bright and flowy, but some hot new designers are making their names on the Caribbean scene — designers from Barbados, Guyana, and the French-speaking Caribbean got folks talking, and everyone admired the work of Jamaican crochet queen Minka and Trini designers Zadd & Eastman made a big impression — click here to see their collection. I love their candy striped dress! So as far as I’m concerned — to use a Jamaican turn of phrase, fiyah bun Vogue and any designer who claims they can’t find a diverse array of models to walk down their catwalk. My money is better spent elsewhere.

What say you, bellas?



TJ says:
July 7, 2008, 11:03 am
I had a subscription to Vogue and deeeply loved all things fashion. Maybe it's me, but fashion was a lot more diverse in the late 80s and early 90s. After that, it has been overwhelmingly pasty. I got disgusted and the only Vogues I've bought since then had sisters on the cover. So you know there haven't been many. :) One of the things that I love about different markets getting their own fashion week is that the world can see more than New York, London, Paris and Milan.
nyc/caribbean ragazza says:
July 7, 2008, 11:44 am
Ciao bella. I bought the issue and will be posting about it tomorrow. The issue is fantastic. My Italian is still at the intermediate level so I haven't finished the articles on Michelle Obama and Spike Lee. In the American Vogue article a photographer said it's bad a time for models period (look at whose on all the covers...celebs) so for black models it's even worse. One thing that jumped at me with all the coverage of this issue is the idea that since the fastest growing luxury market is China and black models "don't sell" there, designers avoid using them. Of course right after I read that in some British newspaper I went to the beach here and noticed how the Chinese masseuse asked every Italian on the beach if they wanted a massage and she didn't ask me (I'm kidding...kinda, hmmm) To be honest I read American Vogue more for the lifestyle (politics, film, book, art) articles than for the fashion spreads as they tend to be pretty conservative. I don't read a lot of American women's magazines esp. after my move. Most of the ones I used to subscribe to were home decor, Elle Decor (American and Italian), Domino, House Beautiful. What I really loved about this Vogue Italia issue is seeing all the models from back in the day looking AMAZING. Pat Cleveland, Karen Alexander (when was the last time you saw her?) Steven has worked with these women before and asked them to participate. I don't know how an Italian magazine will change what is going on here. Remember most of the houses that worked with black models consistently were not American (Yves Saint Laurent and Versace). Naomi was just hired to take over for Kate Moss at YSL. That said I don't think it was tokenism. French and Italian Vogue have always marched to their own beat. I think it's interested to flip it. This magazine editorial is the opposite of what you usually see in most mainstream American fashion mags. i.e. all the models are white. Using all these size 0 Eastern European models who look the same is boring. The same thing that happened in my business (film) happened in fashion. All these labels were bought out by bigger corporate companies. There has always been a battle between commerce and creativity. Commerce is winning. With a rigid focus on the bottom line, some of the soul has been sucked out. Will there ever be another Yves Saint Laurent, would that kind of talent be nurtured? Fashion is a huge global business we should see the global reflected. Like you said it's 2008. Fashion is supposed to set trends... I feel the American industry in particular like Hollywood, is behind the times. Have any of these people looked at the demographic of this country? Given these tough economic times it's is too much to ask to have a little fun back in our fashion? Enough with celebs on the cover. I realize in America they helps sell covers (one thing I've notice since moving to Rome, there are actually mostly models on fashion magazine covers here. shocking) but it's enough to see then on all the Us, People etc. etc. Chanel Iman, in the American Vogue article, said she wanted to dance down the runway like Naomi did in the 80s. The powerful casting directors need to recognize that this robotic "dead model walking" down the runway that is so popular might be backfiring. Like Iman said designers want "hangers" so the models don't distract from the clothes. I don't think this is working. For me it make the clothes less memorable because there is no personality coming down the runway. I want to fall asleep watching them. Anyway to end this long comment (sorry bella) on a positive note there are some up and comers who I think we will see a lot of Arlenis, Jourdan, and Chanel.
von says:
July 7, 2008, 11:52 am
I'm all for beauty in every shade and like the look of the magazine. But really, are they going to do an all Asian Vogue? an all Latina Vogue? I think the idea was so gimmicky from the jump. Why not just intergrate BEAUTIFUL women into the magazine, regardless of race. Even it out, have some of everyone in there if they have a great look. Jeez, I'm tired of race being a trend http://socialitedreams.wordpress.com
Twanna /// FUNKY BROWN CHICK says:
July 7, 2008, 12:30 pm
I soooooo know what you mean. I posted the slide show to my Facebook profile ages ago; ever since, people have been asking: "Yeah, but, when are you going to write about it??" Soon. Very soon. Love this post! And, oooooh, I loved me some George Michael!!! This funky brown chick was a HUGE fan of the "Too Funky" video. :) Ah, Tyra back in the day! Seems like a lifetime ago, no?
Eshe says:
July 7, 2008, 1:05 pm
Hey if/when you find Vogue Italia let me know. I have been looking for it in the DC/M/VA area. Thanks!
LBellatrix says:
July 7, 2008, 1:06 pm
I'd heard about this and honestly, I didn't really consider it worthy of my attention (ditto Iman), but seeing as Pat Cleveland was one of the first black models I fell in love with as a tiny little girl (age 4 -- not kidding!), I might check it out in my local bookstore. Then, depending on what else is in it, I might actually buy it...
afrobella says:
July 7, 2008, 1:17 pm
Von, I agree with you completely. Race isn't a trend, and this issue makes it seem like a trendy bandwagon to jump on. Black is the new... black. But on that note, I saw these gorgeous photos from Vogue India and I love what they're doing -- http://jezebel.com/5021990/
Aisha says:
July 7, 2008, 2:48 pm
Hey, are those women in the Vogue image you have at the top their idea of doing a "Black" issue? We come in many shades, and all of those women are the same shade and have the same "I could be Black, I could be White, I'm probably mixed" look that high fashion magazines try to use when they want to prove that they aren't racist. If the women in the SECOND pic with Iman are the models, I'm buying the magazine even though I don't give a rat's booty about fashion. Why is it that whenever there are dark skinned women in high fashion mags they have to have a tribal, African look (a la Alek Wek). I need to see some chocolate sistas who represent me and my daughter. Let me know what they come out with...
Get Togetha. says:
July 7, 2008, 3:10 pm
Bella I love how you made the decision to refer to the "other" tastemakers-the blogs. You choose to not support Vogue with your wallet; and for the most part that's how I run my life. I vote with my wallet. That's why I love the Internet so much because it levels the playing field on ideas and gives others who wouldn't otherwise be heard-a voice. As for fashion magazines they represent the culture of power and status-not democratizing the process of having all beautiful women represented. Vogue has always been clear about its agenda: the ultimate beauty is white, blond, rich, thin, blue blooded, waif, and we all should want to be like her. When advertising dollars are slowing down and people are starting to log on to alternative resources for beauty inspiration (which they already are)...then and maybe then Vogue will start listening.
Get Togetha. says:
July 7, 2008, 3:17 pm
In the meantime; I'll still hold on to my childhood addiction of Essence mag.They get on my nerves with the "gurl you need a man, gurl you get your money on, gurl lose some weight, articles"...but I'll take it. They have me branded. I understand that Essence must bow down to the masses in terms of content. The black women in Essence have always inspired me to be my most beautiful black self.
Ebonys says:
July 7, 2008, 4:12 pm
I am the least of fashionistas, so I have never been hip to fashion mags. I have never bought a copy of Vogue and will not be rushing out to get a copy of this magazine. Thanks for the links of Caribbean fashion week, I think Cooper has done tremendous work to raise the profile of designers and models from the Caribbean!!
mochachoc says:
July 7, 2008, 4:52 pm
I'm one of those who couldn't wait for you to write about this issue of Vogue Italia. Like you, I too gave up on Vogue,it was too dispiriting. I have come to realise that the fashion industry pretends to be forward thinking and innovative but is quite the opposite. It really is frightened of challenging the status quo and stepping outside of the mainstream. When will they get it that the world is made up of all sorts of people of many hues and they have money to spend. I want to open a beauty magazine that holds a mirror up to the world.
von says:
July 7, 2008, 6:11 pm
wow, i love that article that you linked to,by jezebel..she is hilarious and stuck it to Ms. Wintour, lol http://socialitedreams.wordpress.com
HomeSpaGoddess says:
July 7, 2008, 9:14 pm
When I saw the models I was happy and sad. I wish there had been models of EVERY shade.
Danielle J says:
July 7, 2008, 9:16 pm
I'm curious about the issue and want to see it. Do I think it changes anything on a fundamental level w/respect to racism? No. This issue is a "one off" and is being seen as some courageous ground breaking act. It isn't. It makes us the exception and not the rule, as if we are step children that need our own corner. It's patronizing and non-inclusive. All Black folk have ever wanted and asked for was a chance just like everyone else. What is SO difficult about the humanity of Black Women? Why must we always be a special case? I'd like to open a magazine and for ONCE see the true diversity that exists on this planet. No magazine really represents that wish...
Crystal Ehiemere says:
July 7, 2008, 10:52 pm
Okay, now that you have introduced us to the wonderful designer Meiling Esau, where can we purchase her clothing outside of taking a trip to Trinidad? Is there an online store? Something? I am now hooked!!!!!!!!!!
bella says:
July 7, 2008, 11:00 pm
You read my mind, Crystal!!! Meiling, Heather Jones, and all of the Caribbean designers are incredibly talented... but their websites are all sorely lacking. Few photos, outdated info, no way to shop online. I was pretty frustrated when writing this, because I wanted to be able to add a link like, click here to buy Meiling's latest collection. Sigh. But I will hopefully be in touch with her soon and I will definitely relay the message!
Crystal Ehiemere says:
July 7, 2008, 11:12 pm
I thank you for your timely response. Hopefully I will hear from you soon! I am celebrating a birthday this year, with a big bash and all! Would love to sport the Orange halter dress soon on the website (as orange is my favorite color) As soon as you know let me know. FYI my birthday is 8/20 celebrating on 8/16.
IvyTrini says:
July 8, 2008, 1:12 pm
I totally agree with these comments. I love fashion and beauty but I am really, really, really tired of seeing these size 0, whisper thin, pallid, blonde, blue eyed models gracing the cover and pages of all the major magazines. These publications are supposed to represent the women of the world, but apparently only white women exist! Instead of choosing a beautiful bronze Latina or Desi, they prefer to paint a white woman another colour. The world still thinks that beauty comes in one shade I think the idea of chosing women to work as 'hangers' for clothes is just a cover for the persistant racist ideas of the fashion industry. People just don't like change... I am going to buy this issue, and it may take me the rest of my life to read it, but hopefully this could lead to more women of colour on runways and magazines, not just Black ones.
Dee says:
July 8, 2008, 1:52 pm
Why does Meiling mostly have white models on her website?
Taylorgirl says:
July 8, 2008, 3:00 pm
Thank you so much for this, I read this post last night and it was the first that I had heard of the "Black Issue". Like others, I gave up on Vogue like many others years ago. I only buy white fashion magazines now when the cover model is Black. Yeah, Essence has it's issues but I'm still supporting it. Ok despite the fact the my knowledge of Italian is only slightly better than non-existent, I want to buy this issue as a keepsake for my 8 year old daughter. For Eshe: I have called everywhere in Maryland about it and was told my best bet is to look in DC. Barnes & Noble in Georgetown told me to call after 3pm on Thurs. That's the best that I've been able to do. Good luck.
Naki says:
July 9, 2008, 11:32 am
Awww! Thank you so much for linking me. I love your blog :) Thanks again! xoxoxo Naki
Jamillah says:
July 9, 2008, 4:48 pm
Where can I get a copy??? Even though it is a bone, I am a dog that wants to have it in my yard. I loved fashion when I was coming up. I use to watch Elsa Klensch on CNN "STYLE" on Saturday mornings. I love the model lifestyle of going to exotic places, wearing fabulous clothes,getting paid and being photographed. I knew who Karl Langfield was , who were his muses ( young Kimora and Naomi) or when HOS was on MTV and what was hot, in and cool. Fashion was hitting it strides in the late 80's and 90's with all of the SUPERMODELS. MY favorite were Veronica Webb, Naomi ( girl is still fierce), Karen Alexander, Gail O'Neal ( I wanted her hair) and others. I remember seeing Pat, Beverly, Naomi Sims,Iman, Sheila Johnson and not knowing who they were until I was a bit older. No matter what.. they will see that black is beautiful and we are always in Vogue.
Lourdes says:
July 12, 2008, 7:21 am
You know, I was torn when I first read the NYT article previewing the issue--on the one hand delighted to see Vogue Italia do something so bold and on the other concerned it was all just a gimmick. But now I'm excited to get my copy later this month. I live in London and thought it telling that, although nearly every paper here ran a story about the issue's debut, virtually no newsagents were attempting to get the magazine in stock. I managed to find one bookseller in Selfridge's department store in Central London which has the magazine on backorder (they normally carry all manner of Vogue editions anyway). When I walked up to the international magazine rack, I could find Vogue issues from just about every other country under the sun, but the Italian was clearly sold out. I stood there for several minutes searching for the Italian cover, hoping to find the one copy someone had missed, when the store employee came right up to me and asked, "You're looking for Vogue Italia?" He told me that he'd had people from all walks of life coming in and calling non-stop trying to get their hands on a copy. Needless to say I've reserved two copies which will arrive on July 25th. I appreciate Vogue Italia making this political statement. Wasn't Italian Fashion Week's organizers among the firsts to ban underweight models from their runways (along with Spain)? That rippled throughout the industry. Hopefully this will do the same. Afterall, people of color make up the vast majority of human beings on this earth. It's about time we cease being a niche market.
Lelia says:
July 13, 2008, 12:19 am
Hi Bella Just discovered your site tonight..love it. And I do remember that episode of House of Style w/ Naomi and her "spot cream" !!! Ahhhh, those were the days. And I loved Sassy too, as much as i loved Honey (when it first came out) and Suede and Jane. sigh, may they all rest in peace.
Naki says:
July 25, 2008, 4:37 pm
Hi Bella, Thanks again for linking my blog. I just wanted to let you and your readers know that I am giving away two copies of Vogue Italia's All-Black Issue. Please see this link for more information: http://stylechile.blogspot.com/2008/07/giveaway-italian-vogue-all-black-issue.html Thanks again! xoxo Naki
Tineshia Bobbitt says:
January 13, 2009, 4:19 pm
I have one thing to say about the model rockin that textured style work!!! It's a beautiful that we women of such beautiful colr have the luxury to be able to apprecite what was given to us and proudly wear. I hope to see more wome embrace their natural hair I did. Tai
A.G> says:
February 17, 2009, 6:40 pm
I agree with von. Very "gimmicky" I would have liked to see more Asian and Latina women as well. Oh, and how about black women with big afros like Hollis or Ayan?
Iris says:
September 11, 2012, 5:58 am
Hi! I just want to say that they are not only "French speaking caribbeans" but they are French point blank. Like Hawaii. It's not the same as the ex British colonies. They are part of the country, as much as Toulouse or Paris is part of France or Corsica.


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