Magazine apologises for 'Back to Black' issue: 'We are aware of how problematic this is'

Elle Germany

ELLE Germany says it is “guilty” of misidentifying two models and using “Back to black” as its cover line on its November 2019 issue. This week, the magazine came under scrutiny for its white cover model and a corresponding article on black models.

“In our current issue we approach the colour black from different angles,” read a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle from ELLE Germany editor-in-chief Sabine Nedelchev.

“One of our focuses was to feature strong black women who work as fashion models. In doing so, we were guilty of several errors for which we sincerely apologise. It was wrong to use the cover line ‘Back to black’ which could be misconstrued to mean that black individuals are some sort of fashion trend. This obviously was not our intention and we regret not being more sensitive to the possible misinterpretations.”

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The magazine wrote, “Misidentifying the model Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman is a further error for which we apologise. We are aware of how problematic this is. This has definitely been a learning experience for us and, again, we deeply regret any harm or hurt we have unwittingly caused.”

The fashion Instagram account Diet Prada first flagged problems with the November issue: “Not a good look, ELLE Germany. For their November 2019 issue, the presumably white-led publication declares that ‘black is back.’ Ironic when they, along with much of the fashion industry, have been complicit in denying visibility to black models until relatively recently.”

“Oh, and apparently they can’t actually tell models apart,” read the Instagram caption. “In the bottom middle, a picture of Naomi Chin Wing is used in place of Janaye Furman.” Diet Prada also pointed out that Victoria’s Secret model Joan Smalls was positioned as making a comeback. “Smalls has been around for a minute/hasn’t gone anywhere lmao,” wrote Diet Prada.

And the last indignity: “The issue, titled ‘Back to Black,’ also features a white model on the cover. You can’t make this stuff up!”

Readers took to the comments section of the post to express their disappointment.

Plus-size model and body positivity activist Tess Holiday wrote, “Would say I’m shocked.... but.....”

"This is what happens when companies who 'want' to be diverse try to speak on diversity and have no diversity in their offices ...." one person added.

“Black is back? When did it leave?” another wrote.

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Naomi Campbell, who has talked about racism and tokenism in the fashion industry, even tagged veteran black model Iman and Bethann Hardison, a former model turned industry activist, in a post on Instagram Tuesday.

In the caption, she wrote, “This makes me so sad to see this, @bethannhardison @the_real_iman and I are here if you are not clear on the guidelines of diversity...your mistake it is highly insulting in every way...you go further to say that BACK TO BLACK, even if you meant the fashion, it’s misleading on your headline and Type!!”

Campbell added, “I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY. It’s ok to celebrate models of colour but please do it in an ELEGANT and RESPECTFUL way.” The legendary beauty wrote that she also has been mistakenly identified as other models of colour. Demanding cultural sensitivity, Campbell wrote in part, “It’s very important for a publication to be culturally sensitive and give credit where it’s due. We all need to unite on this matter.”

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Hardison addressed ELLE Germany on Campbell’s post, “...Your staff should stay away from trying to be topical and speak of models of colour. You are limited in your scope. You are far away and not really aware of how to fit into the evolution of change and it ebb and flow of an industry. A weak industry always will need strong intelligent clarity. This seems to elude you and your magazine. Please leave stories of our successes out of your magazine as you know little of it. We don’t need your support, it’s damaging. It’s clear it was not in support but an attempt to be topical and poorly. Hopefully you are embarrassed by our reactions.”

And Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models which represents Smalls and Chin Wing wrote, “Thank you, @Naomi. The whole thing is insane from misrepresenting @naomichinwing to putting a white woman on the cover of ‘Back to Black.’”

On Tuesday, Furman responded with a wordless Instagram video in which she calmly drinks tea. “#BlackIsBack” she wrote.

This isn’t the first time a black model has been misidentified in a national magazine.

Earlier this year, model Adut Akech called out an Australian magazine for confusing her with another black model in an image used to illustrate a feature.

The South Sudanese-Australian model shared an image of the magazine feature in Australian WHO magazine, which consists of a double page spread, to her 501,000 followers on Instagram.