For the highly anticipated October "supermodel" issue, French Vogue's editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld personally styled model Lara Stone in blackface, as photographed by Steven Klein. White skinned blonde haired Dutch Stone is painted black and wears fairly ethnic-looking clothes. The spread praises Stone's "sensual" body, her "uninhibited gappy teeth" and the "radical break with the wave of anorexic models" that she represents, and sadly proceeds to cover these things up. Without any real context for utilizing blackface, readers are left to assume the worst: that the photographs were taken for pure entertainment.
More photos can be viewed here.
As fashion blog Jezebel points out, "What Klein and Roitfeld should know... is that painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context." Some people have defended French Vogue claiming that other countries haven't experienced a massive civil rights movement or discussed the issues of race the way we have in the United States. And sure, we know that fashion spreads can be controversial- in fact French Vogue has recently featured spreads inspired by motherhood and cannibalism, and Roitfeld is known as a rather fiery and unconventional woman in the industry- but at what point does something cross the line between referential and offensive?
Critics have pointed out how overtly sexualized Stone is in the few shots in which she is not in blackface. Her bare breasts are shown and she wears a thong leotard with her legs wide open. Sure, European magazines tend to be a little bit more racy and push more boundaries and this is part of why we love them, but is this fashion or exploitation?
Perhaps most offensive is that in an issue that was supposed to be about supermodels, boasting big names like Kate Moss and Claudia Schiffer, no black models are featured at all. So, is Roitfeld's spread defensible? What could possibly be the reason for referencing such a touchy subject? Or are we in the US simply oversensitized to race issues such as these?