Anna Wintour defends Vogue's controversial Kamala Harris cover

Priya Elan
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Tyler Mitchell/AP</span>
Photograph: Tyler Mitchell/AP

Anna Wintour has spoken about the controversy over Vogue’s Kamala Harris cover, accused online of whitewashing and disrespecting the vice-president-elect.

Related: Kamala Harris and why politicians can’t resist Vogue (though it always ends in tears)

The editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine defended the choice of shot for the February cover, which showed Harris wearing Converse trainers.

The image was allegedly chosen against the wishes of Harris, who reportedly wanted a more formal shot of her wearing a blue Michael Kors suit to be used for the cover instead.

Tyler Mitchell, who photographed the cover posted the Kors suit shot to his social media accounts.

In a statement to the New York Times, Wintour said: “Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the Vice-President-elect’s incredible victory.”

Compared with glamorous covers featuring Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, the picture was widely considered too casual. In a widely circulated piece, Robin Givhan, fashion critic at the Washington Post, wrote that the image “did not give Kamala Harris due respect. It was overly familiar … Vogue overstepped. It got too chummy too fast.”

Wintour denied that Harris’s camp and Vogue had agreed on the final image.

“There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be,” she said. “And when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the vice-president-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in.”

Wintour added that she felt the picture was “very, very accessible and approachable and real”.

Before the outcry over the cover, Wintour told the New York Times’ Sway podcast: “I cannot imagine that there’s anyone that really is going to find this cover anything but [joyful] and positive.”

On social media, users questioned whether Harris’s skin had been lightened. In August, the magazine was accused of failing to light the skin of cover star Simone Biles correctly.

In June Beverly Johnson, the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, criticised Wintour’s apology for not giving enough space to “elevate” black members of staff. Johnson called for at least two black people to be interviewed at Condé Nast (which owns Vogue) for senior roles.

“The fashion industry pirates blackness for profit,” she said, “while excluding black people and preventing them from monetising their talents. Managing racism is one of the things the fashion industry does well.”

Related: Vogue's Kamala Harris cover photos spark controversy: 'Washed out mess'

In a statement, Vogue told the Guardian: “Our approach to working with Vice-President-elect Harris and her team was to capture her as a leader and as a person, and as she was most comfortable.

“We collaborated closely on all creative decisions including that she would dress and style herself for the shoot, and both looks were selected by the VP-elect and her team.

“Vogue selected the image for the print cover that we felt captured her optimism, personality and authenticity. Obviously, we love both images and are celebrating both covers digitally.”