How, in 2017, Did This 'Vogue' Shoot of Karlie Kloss Dressed as a Geisha Happen?

Complete with the sumo-wrestler-as-prop.
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Dhani Mau
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Complete with the sumo-wrestler-as-prop.

When Vogue released its March 2017 cover featuring a group of models — diverse both racially and physically — we were honestly thrilled. It seemed like Vogue finally "got it," "it" being that the world isn't full of white, skinny, blonde chicks and that the magazine should make some effort to represent its readers. But if Vogue took a step forward toward inclusivity with that cover, it took about a million steps backward with the total bullshit that is this Karlie Kloss editorial inside the magazine.

Shot by Mikael Jansson and styled by Phyllis Posnick in Japan's Ise-Shima National Park, "Spirited Away" features Kloss — a white lady from Missouri — dressed up as a Japanese fashion Geisha, engaged in a variety of confusing activities, like carrying a basket of cherry blossoms, looking solemn in a forest and being assisted with what is likely some trendy fitness innovation that involves water and, um, human beer koozies? The spread also includes one of fashion's favorite set-ups when it comes to shooting in other countries: using, as a prop, a decidedly unglamorous, often stereotypical human cultural symbol wearing traditional garb — in this case, a sumo wrestler — posed next to the beautiful white supermodel wearing designer clothing. See all the images here.

In addition to the decision to cast a white model as a Japanese woman and the fact that zero Japanese people were credited as being involved in the creative direction, the editorial perpetuates fantastical and stereotypical images of Japanese culture — a problem similar to one Vogue ran into with its 2015 Chinese met gala theme. In fact, Vogue — U.S. and international editions has been called out several times for tone-deaf cultural appropriation and racial stereotyping. Enough times that it's not crazy to think the magazine would have learned its lesson by now and maybe made a concerted effort to take a step back before publishing something and ask themselves, "Hmm, is this totally racist? Will this offend a lot of people?" But no. And if they haven't figured this out by now, it's hard to imagine they ever will.

A rep for Vogue did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

Update, 2/15: On Wednesday morning, Kloss issued an apology via a note posted on Twitter, which you can read in full below. Vogue has yet to make a statement regarding the controversial shoot.

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