It's only Tuesday, but this week's already been ripe with discussion regarding the role of race (and, unfortunately, racism) in fashion -- from increased (but not necessarily permanent) diversity on the runway to that heinously unfortunate portrait of Garage magazine’s editor in chief Dasha Zhukova on Miroslava Duma's website.
We've now been informed, via Business of Fashion, of yet another tough-to-comprehend situation: Vogue Italia's "Vogue Black" blog, a section of the magazine's website dedicated entirely to people of color, which BoF notes was instated in 2010. A quick scroll through VBlack shows an aggregation of posts about Liya Kebede, Lupita Nyong'o, Beyonce's video looks and one titled "Christmas Beauty for Blacks." Considering the site is originally written in Italian and then translated, it's easy to forgive some of the word choices as simply being lost or misconstrued in the process (right, Juan Pablo?). And it's also encouraging to see that Vogue Italia recognizes the different beauty needs of varying skin tones and is catering to more than just a white-washed crowd. (It should also be noted that Vogue.it has a section called "VCurvy," similarly dedicated to plus-size topics.)
Then there's this: A portion of the blog called "Voguistas black Pitti" -- "Voguista" being Vogue Italia's chosen term for street style, and this slideshow in particular comprised entirely of black subjects. The photos in the post show various well-dressed people -- mostly men -- outside Florence's Pitti Uomo menswear shows. There's nothing wrong with that inherently: The call for more diversity in fashion has been heard loud and clear over the past several seasons, so we can only assume the blog's inclusion of the slideshow -- meant to shine a spotlight on sartorially gifted people of color -- was well-intended.
But a poke around Vogue Italia's main page left a decidedly unpleasant taste in our mouths. Under another section labeled "Trends," the site actually has a whole slew of Voguista slideshows -- though, on this main street style page, "Voguistas black Pitti" is nowhere to be found.
It's segregation in its purest form. BoF's Jason Campbell, who says he had a "visceral reaction" to Vogue Italia's misguided editorial direction, describes "the intrinsic message of 'Vogue Black' [as] separate but equal, [...] a historical concept all too familiar to black people, especially in America." We have to agree. It's dumbfounding why the same publication that, in 2008, published a groundbreaking "All Black" issue, would now think it appropriate in any way to place people in different categories based solely on race. (Of course, it would be a full four years later until another black model, Joan Smalls, covered the mag.) To relegate black people to their own "special" section of the site feels disturbingly reminiscent of modern-day Jim Crow. Shouldn't fashion -- and culture as a whole -- be moving forward instead of backward? Like... 60 freaking years backwards?
UPDATE: Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani posted a response to Business of Fashion's piece, in which she highlights her work and efforts intended to end racism and discrimination throughout the years, as well as her close relationships with Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell.
"I know my aim is right and I will definitely not be stopped by senseless criticism," Sozzani writes. "Besides, aren’t there magazines totally dedicated to black people, such as Ebony for example? Have such publications ever been accused of being racist? But why Vogue Black was?"
Sozzani's rebuttal also included statements from Campbell and Hardison. Said Campbell,
"The allegations that Franca Sozzani is racist are completely absurd. When Bethann Hardison, Iman and I spoke out for Diversity in fashion late last year, Franca was one of our biggest supporters. As an editor she continues to push boundaries and often makes the public question their relationship with race. She is one of the few editors who always fights to balance racial representation in fashion."
Hardison continued, "To compare Vogue Black as to the days of southern segregation..."black and white fountains" is offense to me. Since I experienced it and others only heard or read about it, I resent the ignorant."