“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Ms. Wintour said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”
Devoting the September issue — the most important of Vogue’s year — to Black contributors indicates Ms. Wintour grasps the intensity of the protest movement roiling the country. But in fashion, of course, appearances are paramount. During a large Condé Nast meeting on race in June, Ms. Wintour — who is the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council — was conspicuously absent. Employees exchanged Slack and text messages during the session, asking the same question: “Where’s Anna?”
‘Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal’
Long before Condé Nast employees went public with complaints about the company’s handling of race, Ms. Wintour has been criticized for Vogue’s portrayals of Black people.
For many readers, a 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen was reminiscent of racist images of Black men from a century ago. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist, and some saw an unmistakable parallel to a racist World War I propaganda poster. Ms. Wintour also drew criticism when she helped the fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after he was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks and declaring, “I love Hitler.” She continued to support Mr. Galliano even after he was found guilty of a hate crime by a Paris court.
Being indisputably the most important magazine in fashion means Vogue comes in for extra scrutiny — especially in its cover selections. Last year, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of cover models’ skin tones. In one span, from 2000 to 2005, only three of 81 women were Black. In a statement, Condé Nast said that from 2017 to 2020, 32 percent of Vogue covers featured Black women.
Former Vogue employees said that in recent years, Ms. Wintour has not kept pace with the public’s changing attitudes on issues of racism and discrimination. At a London fashion week party hosted by Burberry in February 2017, the reality TV star Kendall Jenner showed up with a new look: fake gold teeth. Vogue noted the choice in a breezy online story written by a white contributor: “The flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”
A Black staff member contacted one of the magazine’s executives to object, saying the story insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. Other staff members brought the article to Ms. Wintour’s attention, with one lieutenant explaining by email why some people on staff and on social media had reacted negatively: “If Kendall wants to do something stupid fine but our writers (especially white ones) don’t need to weigh in and glorify it or ascribe reasons to it that read culturally insensitive.”
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