(This is an open letter to Gigi Hadid.)
Gigi, you in danger, girl.
You are in danger of having to issue an apology every time you work with your friends at Italian Vogue if you don’t start checking them when they start trying to slap bronzer and Afro wigs over your blond, blue-eyed beauty. Because Gigi, friends don’t put friends on magazine covers looking like appropriators. It’s just not a good look.
But here you are on the cover of Vogue Italia’s May issue (out on stands today, Friday), dressed like a post-millennial Queen of Hearts for a story called “High Voltage,” ostensibly representing “power women.” And apparently, power women are really, really bronzed—does the high voltage refer to your tanning booth?
Of course, there were inevitable outcries of “blackface”—we’d argue it’s more like “bronzeface”—but whatever it is, we reflexively made a Chrissy Teigen cringe face when we saw it. Why even push that particular envelope, if not to be intentionally provocative, Vogue Italia?
Poor Gigi. Instead of enjoying yet another cover under your supermodel belt, you spent the day on an apology tour (as if you did your own makeup, hair and styling for the story). In a now deleted Instagram story, you rightly explained:
Please understand that my control of a shoot 1. is non existent in terms of creative direction. 2. ends completely when I leave set, and anything done to a photo in post [is] out of my control fully. The bronzing and photoshop is a style that [Steven] Klein has done for many years and I believe was what was expected from the shoot (to show me in a different way creatively), BUT, although I understand what Vogue Italia’s intentions were, it was not executed correctly, and the concerns that have been brought up are valid.
As veteran models, both The Glow Up Editor Veronica Webb and I can vouch for the above. No matter how successful a model you are, it’s unfortunately an occupational hazard. Meanwhile, via its Instagram page, Vogue Italia issued the following statement:
Throughout its history, Vogue Italia has respected and encouraged the creative viewpoints of commissioned photographers. In our latest cover shoot by Steven Klein, the vision was to create a beachwear-themed story with a stylized bronzing effect. We understand that the result has caused some debate with our readers, and we sincerely apologize if we have caused any offense.
Veronica, well-versed in the Italian fashion market, wondered if there wasn’t just a cultural disconnect (which I’ll call the “Donatella Effect”), saying: “You can buy bronzer in Italy like chapstick. Just about every Italian wears it and tanning places are as common as 7-11s.”
I’m inclined to agree, despite the fact that Italian Vogue’s editor-at-large is legendary stylist Patti Wilson—a black woman from New York. But honestly? This cover is far from the most offensive thing we’ve ever seen (after all, we have a walking, talking piece of turkey jerky currently residing in the White House). Frankly, the sheer unattractiveness of this cover (how did they manage to make you look both over-bronzed and corpselike, Gigi?) feels slightly more offensive than the darkened skin—just slightly.
It’s not even the most questionable thing we’ve seen Vogue Italia do to you, Gigi. After all, we remember this retro-inspired shoot from its November 2015 issue—that time, with bronzing done by none other than Pat McGrath—which sparked its own backlash:
And we get it: Fashion is about fantasy. It’s a transformative industry that both editors of The Glow Up love and have spent decades in, both in front of and behind the camera. (Fun fact: I, too, have been body-painted bronze and had my curls teased into an Afro for a campaign—and it gave even me a moment of pause.) But as fun as playing dress up can be, what’s the point of booking the world’s model of the moment if you’re going to render her absolutely unrecognizable (and arguably less attractive)?
As one commenter on Vogue Italia’s Instagram read: “Her nose, jaw, facial structure are so edited I couldn’t even tell this was Gigi. Don’t book a model just to completely change the way they look. Disgusting.”
But contributing Editor-at-Large Wilson felt the issue was much ado about nothing, as expressed in an Instagram post:
Patti’s not wrong. That said, she’s not entirely right, either. People do come in all shades, and models in all ethnicities; but on at least one occasion (perhaps not this one), Vogue Italia has chosen to portray a model as something other than the ethnicity she is. And Gigi, Vogue Italia’s not the only imprint in the Vogue franchise to put you in the crosshairs of a difficult cultural conversation. Remember Vogue Arabia’s March 2017 issue?
And if Vogue Italia were really trying to bronze things up, how about booking more black models? We know its editors know some; after all, they produced 2008’s groundbreaking and almost instantly sold-out “all black” issue (a feat unfortunately never to be repeated, nearly a decade later). And now they regress. Where’s that Vogue ingenuity and innovation? We’d hate to think it died with the late, great editor Franca Sozzani.
Matter of fact, we found a beautiful black model for Vogue Italia right on its own Instagram feed; no bronzer or Afro wig necessary. Be honest: How incredible would Maria Borges have looked in that sequined jumpsuit? This gaze has “power woman” written all over it. (And we couldn’t have planned that IG caption better if we’d written it ourselves.)
Instead, Vogue Italia keeps insisting on making a perfectly good white (OK, half-Palestinian) girl into something she’s not, while there are plenty of models of color still sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be put in the game.
So, Gigi, we’re appealing to you: We know the model is rarely in control, but we also know that you’re currently one of the top models in the world. The next time someone pulls out a clown wig or some body paint to make some waves at your expense, please tell those people that you’re lovely just as you are, and if they want a bronzed, brown or black girl, they should book one.
You’re white, so they’ll likely believe you.
Colored Girls Who Have Considered Their Sanity When the Bronzer Is Enuf
Editor’s note: For reference, here’s a picture of Gigi Hadid on the one occasion Vogue Italia put her on the cover without changing her hair color/texture or skin tone: