Vogue U.S. unveiled Sunday that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will debut the cover of the February 2021 edition, with the publication unveiling two images that sparked online criticism over the poorly choice of fashion style and backdrop used while some even argued the lightening made her skin tone too light.
“Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is our February cover star!” Vogue Magazine shared on Twitter the two images on Sunday. “Making history was the first step. Now Harris has an even more monumental task: to help heal a fractured America—and lead it out of crisis.”
One of the hotly-debated images shows Harris in a black blazer from Donald Deal teamed with black pants and paired with Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers that were shot in front of a pink and green background. The image was chosen by Vogue because editors felt it highlighted Harris’s personality as she was seen during the 2020 campaign wearing Converse sneakers while campaigning.
The photo instantly attracted ire on social media for appearing poorly styled, while others suggesting the pictures made her skin appear “washed out” and were out-of-keeping with Vogue’s glamorous aesthetic.
Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan slammed Vogue for the image that has a “feel of a test shot” that robbed “Harris of her roses.”
“The image has the feel of a test shot. Of a Polaroid. That’s not necessarily a flaw. The picture lacks the hyper perfection that is so often associated with fashion imagery. If one looks closely, it’s possible to see an errant strand of hair, a laugh line. The humanity hasn’t been airbrushed away, and that gives it a patina of emotion,” Givhan writes. “Her hands are folded at her waist and it’s a far more casual image. She isn’t draped in the typical accouterments of politics. It’s a flag-free zone… Her history-making rise is not telegraphed by a formal setting, a business suit, or a confrontational stance. The only thing that announces the importance of the picture is the woman in it.”
Explaining the colors used for the backdrop, Vogue said that the green and salmon pink background was the colors of Howard University’s Alpha Kappa Alpha, the “first historically African American sorority.” In the Vogue article, the photographer Tyler Mitchell said he wanted to “honor Harris’s college days and the powerful women who comprise the ranks of sororities like Alpha Kappa Alpha.”
The article was written by Alexis Okeowo that features an interview with Harris and follows her campaigning around the state of Pennsylvania during the eve of Election Day.
According to a source, Harris’ team were “blindsided” by the Vogue cover, saying they were told the main cover would feature Harris posing with her arms crossed and smiling wearing a powder light blue Michael Kors pantsuit against a gold background. The debated image showing the black pantsuit paired with the Converse, according to the Harris team was intended to be one of the images appearing inside the magazine spread for the actual Vogue article, not the cover. They also asked Vogue for a new cover, the source added but the print version of the magazine went to press by mid-December.
“Aides to Harris and Vogue had the understanding that the blue suit/gold background would be the cover photo. Without telling Harris’ team, Vogue changed it to the pink/green photo which the Vice President-elect’s team did not agree to,” the source said.
However, the Vogue article said that Harris’ dressed and styling choices “were her own,” for the shoot and that the looks in both covers were selected by Harris and her team.
A spokesperson for Vogue did not comment on the discussions between the magazine and the Vice President-elect’s team, but in an emailed statement stated that the team at Vogue “loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden-Harris administration.
“To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we’re celebrating both images of her as covers digitally,” the Vogue spokesperson added.
Both images were taken by Mitchell, a young 26-years old who is famous for becoming the first Black photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover and shot the September 2018 Vogue issue with Beyonce on the cover. On Twitter, Mitchell tweeted one of the shots — the one of Harris in a powered blue suit that will be used for Vogue covers .
This is not the first time Vogue has come under fire for the way it has photographed people of color. The magazine’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour admitted during the summer of 2020 in the company-wide internal memo by saying, “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”