By Guest Contributor s.e. smith; originally published at Tiger Beatdown
The cover of “Vogue Italia” has an important face on it this month: Chinese model Fei Fei Sun, who is the first Asian model to appear on the cover of the magazine. I’d note that US and British editions have yet to feature an Asian woman on their covers, although US “Vogue” did do a spread featuring Asian models in 2010.
Writing on the “Asia Major” spread that ran in the US, Samantha V. Chang said: “How I wish I could have seen the Asian models of today staring back at me from magazine pages or television screens when I was a Korean-American teenager in the Midwest, wrestling with foundation shades of ‘bisque,’ ‘honey,’ and ‘sand’ in my local Walgreens.” Diverse representation in fashion is important, folks.
2013 is high past time for putting an Asian woman’s face front and center on the cover of a major fashion publication outside of Asia, and I hope we see a lot more. The more, the better because Asian ethnicities are incredibly varied–and the more Westerners are exposed to–the better. The fact that we aren’t seeing Asian faces in Western mags is a serious problem, and it’s a problem rooted in–wait for it–racism.
This editorial, titled simply “Fei Fei,” features the model in an assortment of delicious retro outfits, complete with lavish cat-eye, dramatic hairstyles, and elegant hats. Some of them are, as a commenter points out, somewhat dangerously evocative of the “Dragon Lady” stereotype, particularly the photograph of Fei Fei Sun looking fierce with a cigarette, illustrating that simply including a Chinese model doesn’t mean your race problem is solved, but it is a step in the right direction.
Vogue Italia, the magazine known for taking a stand against anorexia and promoting the use of black models in fashion, made another statement this week, putting an Asian woman on its cover for the first time.
Fei Fei Sun On Vogue Italia’s cover. Image via People.
Chinese model Fei Fei Sun covers the magazine’s January issue (out worldwide Monday), a celebration of the multicultural, border-free facets of fashion. Editor in chief Franca Sozzani, who works as a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations’ Fashion 4 Development Project, chose Sun for the honor.
The kicker about Sun’s cover is, says the celebrity magazine:
According to the Daily Mail, French Vogue was the first European magazine to put an Asian model on its cover–Chinese supermodel Du Juan, in 2011. And while both British and American editions of Vogue have featured Asian models in spreads, neither has selected an Asian woman for its cover…yet.
That’s right: what you’re seeing above is actually something that’s in the world’s current fashion bible. Vogue Italia’s March 2012 issue features this spread, aptly titled “Haute Mess”, and features a bevy of the world’s most beautiful women obscured by everything but the kitchen sink.
I’ve got to say right off the bat that Coco Rocha is one of my favorite models in the entire universe–I often gasp in Minnie Riperton octaves when I come across her (and this is one of the reasons why) but, until I read the credits, I had no idea she was even in this spread. The same goes for models usually familiar and amazing like Joan Smalls and Jessica Stam. Fashion most of the time is supposed to enhance or highlight the beauty of the wearer, but sometimes–like in this spread–it’s trying to challenge what your idea of beauty is. But does this shoot succeed or offend? In looking at this shoot, I couldn’t decide whether or not it included subtle or overt racist tones, if it was ignorant to the message it would provoke…or that it so beautifully over-the-top it was actually brilliant.
“Slave Earrings” are in Vogue. Literally. According to the Italian fashion outlet, “Jewellery has always flirted with circular shapes, especially for use in making earrings. The most classic models are the slave and creole styles in gold hoops.”
Emphasis mine, ridiculousness… all theirs.
Two weeks ago, Vogue Italia found itself under a deluge of criticism for declaring “Slave Earrings” in fashion. Originally, they thought to qualify the name they gave them. “If the name brings to the mind the decorative traditions of the women of colour who were brought to the southern United States during the slave trade, the latest interpretation is pure freedom. Colored stones, symbolic pendants and multiple spheres. And the evolution goes on.” Does it go on to declare “necklaces with detachable chains,” “hillbilly slingbacks,” and “Holocaust tattoos” in fashion? None of that is me, by the way, this is taken from the 21 pages of comments, nearly all chiding the wording choice in English and in Italian.
Allow me to fill you in on the latest: Vogue Italia gave an apology earlier last week that was more like an “Oops!” than anything. The style bible’s editor, Franca Sozzani released a statement Monday that said, “We apologise for the inconvenience. It is a matter of really bad translation from Italian into English.” Again, emphasis mine, but let’s be honest, the emphasis should have been theirs. They continued, “The Italian word, which defines those kind of earrings, should instead be translated into ‘ethnical style earrings.’ Again, we are sorry about this mistake which we have just amended in the website.”
From the myriad of complaints, tweets, and articles that has inspired this fashion nightmare, it was pointed out the word “ethnic” translates to “etnico” and slave is “schiavo” in Italian. Completely dissimilar words. So obviously, Sozzani’s statement needs to be taken with a… grain of salt. My thought is, in the surprise this wording… mistake… caused, they had to say something. Like equate ethnicity to slavery. Oops! I think Iman said it best to Style Bistro: “Slave does not make it ethnic. Mind you, it’s not lost in translation–the word slave, we know what it is. They might as well have called them n***** earrings.” Snap. We should know by now that it’s best not to anger Iman. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson would be none too pleased, either.
Really, these earrings do originate from the time of slavery, however… let me throw out an example. Right now, I’m wearing a Calvin Klein buckled leather bracelet. I am not wearing a Calvin Klein shackle cuff. See the difference, Franca? I know this all may be confusing, but maybe the word should have been edited out before released to the public, as editors are wont to do. And what if, (and this is completely hypothetical of course) the model on the site was black?
Now do you see why that term shouldn’t have ever, ever, ever have been used? I felt wrong even cutting and pasting another face into this. Imagine how we feel knowing that you wrote, edited, approved, coded, and posted the article without even so much as a “Uh… guys?”
“Vogue Italia is doing the post-racial mulitple-oppression sell: under the guise of thinking they’re being all ‘We did the Black Issue, so we’re cool in doing this’ using the myriad of oppressions of women of color to sell some damn gold-tone hoop earrings named after…WoCs’ oppression! And that oppression, in many cases, melded sexual oppression (Antebellum US, the Japanese and Korean “comfort women,” etc.) This, coming from the magazine whose brand is all about the sexy framed as stylishness.”
Though they may not deserve it, as a gesture of good faith, I took a peek around Vogue Italia’s trends section. Maybe this was just a one-off terrible mistake. And I found another post about… Jungle Bracelets. My first inclination was to shout “Why!?!” But, false alarm, as I read, there was nothing really- “…manchettes in python for a night marked by tribal rhythms,” huh? “Turn your evenings into “jungle nights” characterized by tribal music, wild dancing and a bit of aesthetic rebellion,” you say?
Less malevolent, sure. But I’m uncomfortable anyway, and while relatively tame, is this something to be angry about? Maybe. But, to be honest, should I be bracing myself for racism on their website now? Slave Ethnic Earrings should be completely gone from the site as that “gesture of good faith.” As of Wednesday afternoon, the Ethnic Earrings post is still up, complete with the slide show.
It shouldn’t be, so let’s all just face the fuc— I mean facts. Face the facts. I’m sorry, it was a really bad translation. But I caught myself.
Something is lacking in the current push to include plus-size models in mainstream fashion publications (or “separate-but-equal” media outlets such as Vogue Italia’s “Vogue Curvy”). What’s lacking, specifically in the fashion establishment but less so in the satellite world of “fatshion” blogging, is representation of models/women of color. I want to speak specifically about black plus size models/women because there is a very particular perception of blackness conflated with female fatness as compared to other races, and it’s an identity I inhabit on a daily basis.
A popular (white) misconception is that fat is more acceptable in the black community. This is patently untrue. Hip-hop culture is often pointed to when one is making this argument. If you watch any hip-hop music videos at all, it’s clear to see that the fat on the women featured is in specific places. Booty, hips, tits. As the inimitable Sir Mix-A-Lot stated, “When a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing [booty] in your face, you get sprung.” (emphasis supplied) There is definitely a line between acceptable fat and unacceptable fat. Those fat women who are fortunate enough to be considered “thick” are subject to an even more extreme hypersexualization of their bodies than average sized or thin black women are. As the features considered sexually desirable not only by black men but also white men are exaggerated on a fat female body, these women are often portrayed as more sexually available, yet can also be portrayed as ghetto princess or hoochie — “Jezebel” and “Sapphire”. But cross that line dividing “thick fat” and “just fat” and you quickly enter the territory of the desexualized fat black woman: the Precious, the mammy. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World