Representation of Black Women in Vogue UK: Is Fashion Racist?

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Tania Claudia Varga



   Representation of Black Women in Vogue UK:

‘Is Fashion Racist?’

                          Tania Claudia Varga

MD3248 Special Study: Explorations in ‘Otherness’


‘“Racism and the Media” touches directly the problem of ideology, since the media’s main sphere of operations is the production and transformation of ideologies. An intervention in the media’s construction of race is an intervention in the ideological terrain of struggle’ (Hall, 2003).

This extended researched essay focalises on the representation of black women in the media, especially in issues of the Vogue UK Magazine. The hypothesis is that black women are underrepresented in the pages of Vogue UK and where they are represented their image still suffers from stereotypical constructions and politics of representation.

I will aim to prove my hypothesis by looking at examples from various Vogue UK magazines and critically analyse them in relation to the images they portray and the representations they construct for contemporary black women.





Black Women as Metaphors for Africa        

           Erykah Badu’s Representation in Tom Ford’s Perfume Advert        

The Assigned Place of Black Women in Fashion        


What kind of pretty are you?        

Successful Black Women        

           The Age of the Cupcake – Lorraine Pascale        

           First Wives Club – Michelle Obama        




          Appendix 1 – British Vogue Covers        

          Appendix 2 – Black Issue, Vogue Paris        

               Appendix 2a – Cover        

               Appendix 2b – Naomi Campbell        

               Appendix 2c – Toccara Jones        


‘Then why, within a study of the spectacle of blackness and its often incisive exploits, devote a chapter to beauty? What is to be gained from entering this theoretical impasse and social minefield? Does appending the conundrum of race to beauty make the examination any easier or, instead, more arduous?’ (Powell, 2008)

        Media holds a very important pose in creating representations of difference, identity, ethnicity, race, power relations. Some of the most controversial aspects of media representations are the ones depicting difference as ‘otherness’. For decades, there have been criticisms of the depiction of women in advertisements, magazines and throughout the media. Moreover, representation of race difference and stereotypes of black minorities have also raised controversy throughout the years. The aim of this extended research is to combine these two aspects of study and explore and analyse the representation of black women in British Vogue magazines throughout the twentieth century.

        The number of British Vogue magazine covers featuring a black model, or a black woman for that matter, is easily countable. The first black model to cover British Vogue was Donyale Luna, in March 1966. ‘Blacks were finally awarded their first cover […] when she became the first black model to feature on the front of Vogue. The British edition’s image, shot by David Bailey, featured a pale-faced Luna with a hand obscuring her face and heavy Cleopatra-style eye make up. Readers did not know she was black, and the obscuring hand made doubly sure’ (Arogundade, 2000).

Additionally, there are ten more covers of British Vogue that feature black models, of which eight are with British supermodel Naomi Campbell, and one with British rising star Jourdan Dunn. Three of these magazine covers also feature other white models (appendix 1). ‘Since 2002, there had not been a black model on the British edition of Vogue magazine until November 2008, when Jourdan Dunn’s face appeared along other two white models’ (Achitsa, 2009).

Fig. 2. Naomi Campbell Vogue Covers


‘Founded back in 1892, Vogue owes its longevity at least in part to its appearance of sophistication and class. In her survey of women’s magazines, Connie Miller describes Vogue’s distinctive approach: “Instead of family hostels, Vogue describes grand hotels; picnic punch recipes tend to be omitted in favor of connoisseur wine recommendations. While far from being feminist oriented, the magazine has remained sensitively in tune with the changes affecting women’s lives, offering both regular departments and feature articles that reflect transition and diversity” ’ (Barthel, 1988).

Vogue is a modern women’s magazine, focusing on high class and high fashion. To an extent, Vogue can be viewed as a ‘white’ magazine because of the representation of women and beauty found in its pages. Looking at British Vogue magazines from December 2007, November 2008, December 2008, June 2009, July 2009, September 2009,October 2009, December 2009 and February 2010, the absence of black models in pictorials and advertisements was atrocious. Quoting Gerbner and Gross (1976), Cortese (1999) writes about blacks being ‘omitted, stereotyped or debased in advertising images’, a sign of ‘symbolic racism’.  

The Vogue issue from July 2009 features an advert of Tom Ford’s perfume White Patchouli, advertised by African- American rap artist Erykah Badu. This advert comes in contrast with the eight page spread on ‘First Wives Club’, an article focused on Michelle Obama, who ‘would be hard to miss even if she weren’t the First Lady of the world’ (Shulman, 2009).

Fig 3. Erykah Badu July 2009.                                Fig 4. Michelle Obama July 2009

In the September 2009 issue of Vogue UK there is only one advert featuring a black model, for DKNY, along with two white models and an Asian model. Apart from this advert, there are no more representations of black women in any of the pages of the magazine’s issue of September.                 

Fig 5. DKNY advert , September 2009


In December 2009 issue of Vogue UK there were three adverts with Black women: for Adler jewelry, for Next clothing and for UNI QLO, followed by a feature article, ‘The age of the cupcake’, with a cover story on Lorraine Pascale.

Fig 6. Adler advert December 2009                              Fig 7. NEXT advert December 2009        

Fig 8. UNI QLO advert, December 2009                         Fig 9. Lorraine Pascale, December 2009.                    

In February 2010 Vogue UK shows two models from Luis Vuitton’s new collection from the catwalk, a black and a white model; both of them with very big afros. The entire collection was presented by models wearing afros. Additionally, the only black model in the magazine is Iman, amongst other pictures of white models who represent the ‘girly’ style in the article ‘What kind of pretty are you?’.  

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Fig 10. Louis Vuitton s/s 2010 collection.                                        Fig 11. Iman in Vogue UK

                                                                        February 2010

Other features with black women in Vogue magazines in Britain include Rihanna’s advert for Gucci’s Tattoo bag, in November 2008, Naomi Campbell’s photo shoot with Kate Moss titled ‘Brilliantly British’ in the October 2009 issue, Jourdan Dunn’s photo shoot in the June 2009 issue of Vogue UK entitled ‘Summer Nights’ and the ‘Vogue’s fantastic fashion fantasy’ editorial with Jourdan Dunn and Lilly Donaldson from the December 2008 issue.

Fig 12. Rihanna for Gucci, November 2008


Fig 13. Naomi Campbell: ‘Brilliantly British’, ...

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