by Shonette Reed
In November 1988, Vogue's new English Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, introduced her era of changing the face of Vogue with a controversial cover. The prestigious magazine went from pieces that only reflected high-fashion to a model wearing jeans on the cover. It should come as no surprise that Wintour has used this years September issue to strike up yet another conversation among the buyers.
In the 2015 September issue, cover star Beyonce is photographed by Mario Testino and the online story is completed with quotes and storytelling by Margo Jefferson who defines Beyonce as we know her.
"The word diva is used for so many female performers," Marc Jacobs says in the Vogue story. "And it often means they have reputations for being difficult, but she exudes charm and a lovable quality."
This is Beyonce’s sexiest and most unequivocal photoshoot up to date, and yet she doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t give an interview and even in this video, there is only music, noise and images that speak for the cover.
While many people are excited about the cover, others are concerned that it has taken this long for a black woman to cover Vogue’s September issue for the third time, with Naomi Campbell as the first black woman on the cover in 1989, and Halle Berry in 2010.
With the many black models, entrepreneurs, and entertainers that have covered Vogue, very few have landed on the September issue. Most times when a black woman has covered Vogue, she has been the one “in demand” black model of the moment, surrounded by other white “in demand” models.
Though I agree that it should not have taken as long for another black woman to be the face of Vogue’s September issue, the timing of this issue couldn’t be more perfect. In addition to the constant empowerment of black women and girls, this issue of Vogue represents a shift in today’s society on standards of beauty. Whether those beauty standards are of hair texture, skin color, or body type.
The cover is not iconic simply because of the name of the person who is on it, but because of the group of women she stands for: black women.
To be a black woman, and on the highest selling issue of Vogue is an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly. It is to be celebrated, regardless of the shade of her skin and regardless of your feelings about her.
And while the cover seems overdue, there’s no way there would be this much debate and conversation about it had this been 1995 or even in 2005. The storytelling and curation of the photoshoot would be completely different. They would not speak to Beyonce’s influence and the power she has, but rather to what she’s been up to over the past months.
The number of conversations this cover and shoot provides on its own, from image to interviewing to hair, is amazing.
There are many reasons that the cover is important. Here are just a few.
1. Out of the many black women to grace the cover of Vogue, this marks the third time that a black woman has held the prestigious cover.
When it comes to Vogue, many women have been the cover star on multiple issues and Beyonce is one of those women. Though constantly adding to her resume, Beyonce – who has been a solo artist since 2002 and in the music industry since 1992, starting with Star Search – has created a new lane for herself, especially with her secret album release in December 2013. Beyonce not only continues to set herself apart from her competition, and has now conquered one of the most sought after, and highest selling, covers in the fashion industry without having to speak a word.
2. Beyonce is one of the biggest stars of this time covering the highest selling issue of Vogue.
The fact that it’s the highest selling issue of the year shows that this issue is not taken lightly by those who work at Vogue and Condé Nast nor by those who buy it. This issue is more than a flip through well illustrated and curated advertisements and photographs. People pick up this issue to learn something. Whether it be what’s new in fashion for the coming season, or the curation of an new actress’ story, Vogue’s September issue can teach you just about everything from fashion photography to feature writing.
3. While Beyonce did not give an interview, we should not attack her character.
She doesn’t have to say a word, her work and her commitment to that work speaks for itself. In fact, her work screams and echoes across the globe for itself. To have a story that speaks well of you written by someone else and quotes used by designers without you saying a word is a big deal, and an honor. It means you’re doing your job, and you’re doing it well.
4. No matter how you feel about Beyonce, she’s going down in history for this cover and shoot.
We don’t have to like all that she’s doing, we don’t even have to agree, but we must realize that this is the start of something just like the other 7 September issue covers we’ve come across for the fall. We’re shifting from one standard of beauty, whether that be with hair or skin color, to multiple, and accurate, representations of beauty.
5. The cover continues the conversation about correct description of black women’s hair.
A writer from The Atlantic, Megan Garber, described Beyonce’s photoshoot hair as “stringy” and “un-pretty.” She adds that this hairstyle “aggressively gives the industry the middle finger.” This piece alone opens the discussion of black women’s hair, as well as simply wondering why models who do beach shoots with this type of hairstyle don’t have to hear the words “stringy” and “un-pretty,” they hear wet, sexy, trendy, or beautiful. Beyonce’s hair is not stringy or unpretty, it is wet and it is versatile.
While I cannot say if it will be another 5 years before we have another black woman on the cover of Vogue, I can note that the influence of this one is higher than that of the previous two by Naomi Campbell and Halle Berry. Not just because of the name of the person on the cover, but because of the conversations this cover has allowed for. She’s created a world of dialogue, and she never said a word in this issue. That’s the power of image.
Photo: Mario Testino for Vogue
Shonette Reed is regular contributor for Coloures and For Harriet from Los Angeles, Calif. With plans to break into the fashion industry as a fashion reporter, she runs her own style blog. Her aim is to highlight the important contributions of women of color in the fashion industry as well as give women of color more exposure within the leading magazines in fashion. You can follow her on twitter @ShonetteReed.