A few years ago, Vogue Italia released the Black Issue and the world, or at least the Black folks of the world who had spent years arguing how wrong it is that fashion mags ignore Black models, cheered. Then Vogue Italia waited nearly four years (48 months of covers) to put another Black face on its cover. And the world, or at least those same Black folks, thought, “What’s up with that Vogue Italia?” But then Vogue Italia put the Black folks in their place with its latest cover featuring Joan Smalls, done up in garish colors and wacky makeup as a preview to the 32-page spread inside called “Haute Mess.” And the world, and especially the Black folks, thought, “If this is how you’re going to handle Black people, go to hell Vogue Italia!”
Here’s the Haute Mess, Italian-style: A 32-page spread shot by celebrated fashion photographer Steven Meisel (who you want to think would know better) exploring the not-so-subtle ways that these Italians regard Black culture. There’s a fake baby bump affixed to a model’s belly, as she sits eating fast food with a paper crown on the table (because, you know, Black women love nothing more than having babies than cheap fast food); there’s a model in a skimpy bathing suit, fake peeing as she squats over a urinal; there’s scantily clad butts being presented to the camera in a “kiss me” kind of position; there’s long nails, gold teeth, hair tracks drying in the public bathroom, a rainbow of hair colors styled into gravity-defying styles, baby strollers, jewelry that Sex and the City once called ghetto gold and a plethora of junk foods—you know, all the things that Black people know, love and indulge in…immortalized in the pages of a fashion magazine…so the rest of the world can point fingers and go,”Tee hee. Oh, Black people, don’t you know better!?”
Yes, we do. But Vogue Italia clearly doesn’t, as it went to town with such an over-the-top, racist, based in stereotypes layout that it had the nerve to shoot, edit and then send to the printer.
Back in grade school, kids in the schoolyard learned one vital lesson: If you can’t say anything good, keep my name out of your mouth. So, Vogue Italia, if you can’t show us in anyway that is even remotely true-to-life, keep us out of the pages of your magazine.