Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has issued an apology after black staffers who have worked with the fashion icon accused her of favoring a “certain type” of employee — namely, those who were thin, white, and from an elite background — and failing to address issues of diversity and racial sensitivity in the workplace.
“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Wintour said in a statement to the New York Times. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”
A Saturday exposé published by the Times details the complaints of 18 individuals who have reportedly worked with Wintour, accusing her of — whether knowingly or unknowingly — fostering an environment of discrimination and racial insensitivity.
According to the black journalists, who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity, Wintour favored a “certain type” of employee — those who are “thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools.”
One former black staff member admitted that “fashion is bitchy” but suggested that, under Wintour’s leadership, the magazine adhered to another discriminatory standard.
“It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white,’” the former staffer said. “How do you work in that environment?”
Eleven of the individuals who spoke to the outlet said the fashion icon “should no longer be in charge of Vogue and should give up her post as Condé Nast’s editorial leader”:
Many of the people interviewed for this article said the racism they encountered was usually subtle, but sometimes blunt. Their main accusation was that Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.
The revelation follows tension within Condé Nast, Vogue’s parent company, which recently attempted to address issues of diversity with a 300+ page global Vogue issue titled “Hope,” which “featured a majority of Black artists, models and photographers, a first for the magazine.”
In an August 3 announcement, the communications team wrote:
The year 2020 has seen the world grappling with a global pandemic and the effects of the climate crisis, as well as millions of people coming together in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, condemning police brutality and systemic racism. This storytelling initiative aims to manifest a hopeful future for Vogue’s audience of 245 million and communities worldwide, through an amalgamation of creative contributions from each Vogue’s local lens.
The Times piece also details a handful of “awkward” exchanges involving Wintour and her handling of issues related to diversity and cultural appropriation. One such example involved model Kendall Jenner, who wore gold teeth at a Burberry fashion week party in 2017. A black staff member complained about a story — titled “We Need to Talk About Kendall Jenner’s Gold Teeth” — written by a white contributor, who said the model’s “flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”
According to the Times, the black staffer said the story “insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation.” Others also issued complaints to the editor.
“Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal,” Wintour responded.
The exposé also detailed an instance of Wintour using what she acknowledged as an “inappropriate word”:
In the fall of 2017, there was yet another awkward exchange on race between Ms. Wintour and Vogue staff members. It concerned a photo shoot by Patrick Demarchelier that showed several dark-skinned Black models wearing head scarves.
As Ms. Wintour weighed whether to publish the images, she asked an employee by email if they might be misconstrued as racist. But she flubbed the attempt, using a dated, offensive term: “Don’t mean to use an inappropriate word, but pica ninny came to mind,” Ms. Wintour wrote.
Despite the complaints, some high-profile figures, such as black supermodel Naomi Campbell, defended Wintour.
“The first cover try I ever did, I had no idea she had to fight for me,” Campbell said. “She’s been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.”