Was this the best that Vogue could do for the first African-American woman elected Vice President of the United States?
That has been a common complaint online after a leaked image of the February cover of Anna Wintour’s fashion bible went viral on social media over the weekend. The cover shot sees Sen. Kamala Harris in an open black blazer, skinny pants and black Converse sneakers standing before a green background draped with a pink silk curtain, which some have criticized for being too casual for this historic moment.
The Washington Post weighed in with a column suggesting that “Vogue got too familiar, too fast,” and compared the informal image to a controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed last month that called incoming first lady Jill Biden “kiddo” and told her to stop using “Dr.” before her name. (She holds a doctorate in education.)
“The cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect,” writes the Washington Post’s senior critic, Robin Givhan. “It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.”
That’s not the only aspect of the cover that critics felt was too light for this moment in history. Others complained that Harris’s skin looks “washed out,” which undermines this milestone for people of color. “Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still [messed] up her lighting,” tweeted one reader, who called it a “washed out mess of a cover.”
What’s more, a source involved in the negotiations over how Harris would be featured on the Vogue cover reportedly told the Associated Press that the vice president–elect’s team was blindsided by the casual tone of the image, having believed that a more professional shot of Harris dressed in a light-blue suit before a gold background would be used on the cover.
Harris’s team was not immediately available for comment.
Vogue later tweeted both photo options — the more casual image as well as the more formal one. They were shot by Tyler Mitchell, who became the first Black photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover when he snapped Beyoncé for the September 2018 issue.
Vogue released a statement saying that its team “loved” Mitchell’s images, and felt the more informal one “captured Vice President–elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.”
And it’s releasing both images digitally “to respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward.”
A Vogue representative also confirmed to MarketWatch that the contested cover shot with the pink-and-green background will appear on the print cover, while the one with the blue suit and the gold background will serve as the digital cover and will be included inside the print magazine.
Additionally, Vogue said, the vice president–elect and her team selected both outfits, and Vogue chose the shot that it felt best captured Harris’s optimism for the print cover.