Technically, #latergram. But y’all know the issue will pop up again, so it’s worth crossing some t’s. Blackface. There is literally all-of-internet to explain why NOT do it. Here is just one source. In May, Vogue Italia featured model Gigi Hadid in strikingly darkened mode on its cover. Controversy ensued. Condé Nast crisis management came up with a brilliant “stylized bronzing effect” line to deflect both criticism and critique. Hadid machinery issued a non-apology renouncing any agency the model herself might have over creative choices. I half-expected Tyra Banks to intervene blaming the assistant. The world moved on. So was it blackface? Or whatever is that stylized bronzing effect?!
On the scale of “classic” blackface imagery, or even photographer Steven Klein’s own recurrent race-baiting such as his infamous 14-page Lara Stone editorial in the French Vogue in 2009, perhaps… is it like getting out of a guillotine on a technicality?! Not quite black-enough-blackface?! At the racist heart of blackface lies economic power interest. It is about profiting from otherness while dehumanizing it as a plaything. (I’m still side-eyeing H&M!) This is not even the first or the only time Gigi Hadid and Vogue Italia got into the racialized hot water together. The noticeably darkened Hadid wore technicolor Afro wigs in the November 2015 issue. The folks at DailyEdge.IE put side by side two covers: the Vogue Italia in question and the following month’s Vogue Japan. The tale of two Gigis is telling. This is not an isolated incident, but a systemic industry failure.
Cheap tricks?! Condé Nast is an aggressive competitor for post-print-era ad budgets with a goal of $600 million in digital revenues by 2020. In Italy alone its content is currently accessed by 200,000 mobile devices daily. Flirting with (blackface) controversy spells €conomic$ for those who own the narrative. With 42.6 million Instagram followers, Hadid herself has banked $9.5 million last year. So the next time a millionaire celebrity backed by transnational corporations tells you oh em gee wee lil me look the intentions are good… do not take it at (white)face value. Follow the Money. This particular instance may have been not-it in terms of its execution, but it is rooted in the legacy of economic exploitation of blackface “entertainment.”
Taken by the stylized bronzing effect, I was trying to figure out what it could mean in practical optics. The non-obstruction of the model’s identity, the non-manipulation of signature facial features? The answer landed on my vacationing lap! The Show Room is a fashion travel guide distributed “in 3000 rooms in 11 best hotels on Tenerife.” In the spring edition, photographer Juanmi Marquez and make-up artist Yurena Cazorla collaborated on a striking cover image. This is what stylized bronzing effect looks like. Bookmark it. Accept no substitutes.
Getting (over)excited about my newfound fashion justice ally, I followed the magazine’s Facebook page. Just a few weeks later, the editors held a Japan’s Colours fiesta featuring Caucasian hosts in full-out Cultural Appropriation gear. Face-to-Palm ratio: 100%. Oh what a to-do too white today! Fine, let us honor one victory at a time. In the case of Stylized Bronzing vs. Blackface, The Show Room wins over Vogue Italia. One small do-ok for a magazine, one giant leap for fashionkind.
* A special shout-out to the staff at Hotel Marte in Puerto de la Cruz (one of those 11 best hotels on Tenerife) who were gracious to identify and locate the magazine after I’ve lost my copy and couldn’t google a way back to this story. Gracias!