Welcome to our column, "Hey, Quick Question," where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
Another day, another controversial instance of cultural appropriation in fashion. The latest questionable act of beauty co-opting comes courtesy of the November 2018 issue of Vogue, in which Kendall Jenner is wearing an Afro in several images. Rightfully and unsurprisingly, people on social media are not happy about it.
The shoot in question is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Photographed by Mikael Jansson, it's featured both in-book and on Vogue's website. One photo of Jenner in a floral Brock Collection dress (a luxury label designed by two wealthy white people) and Afro-like hairstyle has drawn substantial criticism from Instagram commenters since Vogue posted the shot to its grid on Friday.
Another photo from the spread shows Jenner in a longer, fluffier, Diana-Ross-like Afro — courtesy of hairstylist Shay Ashual — and is also confusing. It's worth noting, though, that the shoot also includes Imaan Hammam, a Dutch model of Egyptian and Moroccan descent, and she also wears an Afro in one of the images.
Vogue, like the Kardashian-Jenner family, has come under an impressive amount of criticism for cultural appropriation in the past. (Let's not forget the infamous Karlie-Kloss-as-geisha debacle of 2017.) Not only is it mind-boggling to see this type of blatant cultural appropriation in 2018 — these lessons apparently just don't sink in — but the tone-deafness is further underscored with an accompanying caption that somewhat ironically speaks about diversity and inclusivity, commending the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for "designers of all ages and backgrounds."
Social media commenters were quick to question Vogue's decision to show Jenner wearing these hairstyles. "Why did you use a white celebrity for this shoot instead of a person of color who rocks this hair naturally?" wrote one Instagram user. Another commenter got more in-depth and analytical with their addition to the discussion and the repercussions of such an image: "You'll find the discussion is more about the double standard that there is towards Afro hair and black culture. There are negative connotations surrounding Actual black people who have this hair (or other things that are a part of black culture) however, conveniently when a white person does it it is suddenly 'fashionable' or en vogue. The thing about straight hair or blonde hair is that it's already part of the western beauty standards ideal, so there's no double standard. Please educate yourself before you hop online and make me do this to you. [sic]" We couldn't have put it much better than that.
Though Jenner has not publicly responded about the controversy, this instance once again raises questions of what responsibility models have to speak up when faced with cultural appropriation on the job. It's especially warranted here, given that Jenner is one of the most successful models working today — with one of the most substantial audiences on social media.
Vogue did not immediately respond to Fashionista's request for comment on this matter.
UPDATE, Oct. 22, 1:20 p.m.: Vogue issued the following comment in response to the controversy:
"The image is meant to be an update of the romantic Edwardian/Gibson Girl hair which suits the period feel of the Brock Collection, and also the big hair of the 60s and the early 70s, that puffed-out, teased-out look of those eras. We apologize if it came across differently than intended, and did not mean to offend anyone by it."