Representation of black women in vogue UK

 

Gucci’s advert for the ‘Tattoo Bag’, featured in the November 2008 issue of Vogue UK raises a multitude of questions about the representation of black women in the media. The fact that Rihanna identifies herself with the brand and is a loyal customer can be one of the explanations for this collaboration. However, her representation, while not being as racially overt, is in relation to the product she is advertising. The profit from the white ‘Tattoo Bag’ is used by Gucci for charitable reasons and thus is a ‘good’ product.

The image the advertisement is putting across is one of change, of inclusion, of charity. Thus, the extent to which Rihanna was used as a ploy by Gucci to attract good publicity in a time when black models are avoided can be questioned. Additionally, the image, as mentioned previously, presents Rihanna on a circle as she looks to be tamed. The strong image she portrays in her career is not evidenced in the advert, if not indeed tamed. Erykah Badu’s Representation in Tom Ford’s Perfume Advert.

‘Greater awareness of the associations between the traditions and conventions of art history and the production and consumption of images leads to enhanced ability to understand how advertising works as a visual representational system’ (Schroeder, 2002). On a denotative level, this advert (Fig 3) shows a woman holding the bottle of ‘White Patchouli’ perfume in adulation. The fact that she is not wearing anything could represent the fact that the perfume’s scent is covering her, being all she needs to be fashionable and ‘in vogue’.

However, on a connotative level, the colour play in the advert cannot be denied. It incurs in the name of the perfume and the woman presenting it: ‘White Patchouli’ advertised by a black woman. The colour play is even more evident as Tom Ford’s perfume ‘Black Orchid’ is presented by a white model. Tom Ford says about his choice of perfume scent: “I loved the idea of mixing patchouli with white florals. We used patchouli orpur, which takes out some of the darker, smoky notes of patchouli. We mixed that with peony, bergamot, and jasmine with additional hints of rose, coriander and ambrette seed” (Jones, 2008).

The connotations of this statement can be translated into the effect of this perfume on the black woman, ‘which takes out some of the darker, smoky notes’. As Cortese (1999) quotes from Wiles et al (1989) ‘ads can help to shape racial images. Ethnic stereotypes in advertising can actually interfere with the acculturation and assimilation of ethnic minorities’. The extent to which the use of Erykah Badu’s image reflects these ideas can be argued, as she is seen as one of the most powerful female rap singers.

Her strong, independent image is portrayed in this advert as subjected to the effect of the ‘White Patchouli’ perfume. ‘Consumption is a major process of constructing a self-concept and cologne is closely linked to sexual identity, self-image and gender roles’ (Schroeder, 2002). The Assigned Place of Black Women in Fashion ‘Researchers who analyze images of women in advertisements often take for granted that these images apply to all women. However, most women in the images they analyze are White. Therefore, the image of women as submissive sex objects applies specifically to White women.

Ethnic minority women are subjected to other forms of repression by the media. Specifically, minority women are excluded from much mainstream media, and, when included at all, they are often portrayed according to racially specific gender stereotypes. ‘ (Baker, 2005) The ‘Summer Nights’ pictorial (Fig 14) in the June 2009 issue of vogue portrays Jourdan Dunn as a typical teenager, smiling and jumping around in beautifully colored garments. The June issue features Natalia Vodianova on the cover of the magazine and Jourdan Dunn on the cover of the supplement.

Fig 16. Natalia Vodianova and Jourdan Dunn, June 2009 The image Jourdan transmits through these pictures is very youthful, beautiful and rejuvenating. The contrast between her and Natalia on the covers of the magazine and the supplement are obvious. Natalia is the ‘celebration of shape and style’, while Jourdan advertises ‘clever looks at smart prices’. However, the distinction is that Vogue magazines are the representation of high fashion. In this sense, the supplement represents the lower end of fashion, the ‘cool and cheap’ clothes and accessories.

Jourdan is hence portrayed as representing the readers looking for affordable and fashionable looks. ‘Today, images of black people are often used in advertising [… ] to represent something as ‘cool’, or part of the ‘street’ or ‘urban’ culture. Though some could argue that through this, black culture is being portrayed in a more positive light, this is still a very stereotypical and one-dimensional view of black people, and one that still carries many negative connotations and connections’ (Longhurst et al, 2008).

Jourdan is represented as a ‘cool’ teenager wearing summery clothes that make a great outfit for the beautiful summer nights. The title of the pictorial ‘Summer Nights’ also poses question marks; in the sense that, if the article was called ‘Summer Days’, would a black model still be presenting it? The connections between colours black and white and good and evil, light and dark have always been asserted. The connotations in this pictorial, although very subtle and almost absent are based on old presumptions and stereotypes of colour.

Similarly, the advert for NEXT (Fig 7) also portrays a beautiful black model presenting a ‘more dash than cash’ clothes line. Through their attempts to become modern and comprehensive, these advertisers portray black women similarly: al the low end of fashion. The NEXT advert is featured in the December 2009 issue of British Vogue, along with the UNI QLO and the Adler adverts. Looking at the UNI QLO (Fig 8) advert, under the slogan ‘The Heat Generation’, it seems to have it all. It represents the modern generation, including a black model and an Asian model.

At a first glance, the advert seems to be the perfect communion of difference. However, the connotations are not long to follow, as ‘people of color are strategically located, always and only in a subordinate position. Our images and culture appear always in a context that mirrors racist hierarchies. We are always present to white desire’, as cited from Hooks (1994), by Schroeder (2002). The position of the two ethnic minority models at the back of the group is a determinant of their importance in the advert. This image places the black model behind the white, blond, beautiful model, almost hiding half of her.

Thus, even where there are representations of black women, they exist under the delimitation of their place in fashion. In the September 2009 issue of Vogue UK there is only one representation of black women in fashion, through the DKNY advert (Fig 5). This issue is one of the main examples of defining ‘otherness’ by omission. ‘Race is the lens through which people come to perceive that a crisis is developing. It is the framework through which the crisis is experienced. It is the means by which the crisis is resolved – ‘send it away” (Hall, 1978).

This advert is very similar to the UNI QLO advert through the inclusive image it is trying to portray. However, the advert works in a different way; the exclusion of the ‘other’ is made by differentiating the ethnic minorities through the clothes they wear. While the Asian model is dressed in monochrome, the black model is pictured more ostentatious in a pink outfit, while both of the white models wear green. Even though the advert includes different ethnicities, they are singled out through the clothes they wear, still represented as ‘the other’ while the similar outfits worn by the white models represent them as ‘the norm’.

Goldman (1992), as cited by Schroeder (2002), talks about ‘commodity difference’ in the description of ‘how advertising continuously reproduces appearance of difference’. Through the UNI QLO and the DKNY advertisements, the representation of diversity seems to be portrayed as a ‘viable advertising strategy’ (ibid). However, the extent to which these adverts try to put black models in the spotlight or act as a force of change in racial issues in our culture can be argued. ‘Consuming difference through images, cologne, clothing, is not equivalent to standing up for difference’ (ibid.).

In the December 2008 issue of Vogue UK, Jourdan Dunn and Lilly Donaldson are photographed in excessive outfits for the ‘Fantastic fashion fantasy’ pictorial. These images represent high fashion and the fact that Jourdan Dunn was part of it represents a change for black women in fashion. However, the extent to which the photographs empower black women is contestable, as Jourdan’s face is almost hidden by the costumes. This representation does not show Jourdan as a model or a woman, but simply as a mannequin for the costumes she is wearing.

Schroeder (2002) cites Drucker (1999) to say : ‘Insofar as the visual forms of graphic design inscribe ideological values and cultural attitudes in the very specific modes of their consumption, finish, treatment, and other features of visual rhetoric, they are potent indices of the social condition in which they are produced’. These representations of black women in Vogue mirror the realities in our contemporary society, in that they portray artistically the differences in the British society between white people and ethnic minorities, especially black women.

‘Blackface’ ‘White performers would blacken their faces with burned cork to mimic the music and dances of black slaves. Minstrel mimicry became even more pronounced after the Civil War, and when slavery itself threatened to be abolished’ (Malik, 2002). The history behind the concept of ‘Blackface’ is long rooted in history. This image still causes controversy in contemporary times, through Vogue France’s pictorial with model Lara Stone painted black (Fig 17). Fig 17. Lara Stone in Vogue France October 2009

After the criticism that followed this photo shoot, Louis Vuitton presents his new Spring/Summer 2010 collection on models wearing huge afro wigs (Fig 10). This trend in painting models black or giving them black attributes raises the question ‘Why not just use black models’? The site Jezebel, cited by Sparks (2009) writes: ‘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… something about the act of portraying a white woman as black ought to sound an alarm, somewhere’.

Even though Louis Vuitton’s new collection uses both black and white models, the controversy is still there. The February 2010 issue of Vogue UK shows two models from the catwalk, a black and a white model, in contrast to Vogue France, which portrayed only Lara Stone, but painted black in some of the photos. These representations show that fashion designers and the media would rather paint a white model black and give then huge afro wigs than use black models. The polemic around racist issues in the media and especially in fashion is never ending.

Just as the blackface pictures find their roots in history, the wigs that Louis Vuitton used in his new collection have also been very popular in the 1960s and 70s. ‘The London mannequin manufacturer Adel Rootstein produced a line of Afro-headed shop window dummies, and the mannequins in hip stores across Manhattan suddenly appeared with darker hues and an Afro-look, though their features remained absolutely white’ (Arogundade, 2000). This period in fashion marks the on-and-off trend of black women in the media, just like clothes and hair styles.

The fact that black models were more popular in the 60s and 70s is because if one fashion designer had one, all of them had to have one too. The representation of black women and especially black models as a fashion trend is another discourse around which their representations are created as ‘the other’. ‘The Afro had come and gone with no more than a slight nod from me’, Arogundade (2000) quotes model Naomi Sims. The trend is back and it is represented in the contemporary catwalks. Schroeder (2002) calls these processes ‘strategic use of scandal’ that leads to ‘generating media attention’.

Vogue is, underneath it all, a business looking to make profit, and if white models on every page of the magazine bring profit, there will be only white models in the magazine. In a similar way, if black women are in trend again, there will be black women in the pages and on the cover of the magazines. Similarly, if the controversy raised by painting a white woman black and giving white women afro wigs helps generate attention and popularity, be it benefic or not, Vogue will do it. What kind of pretty are you? The January 2009 issue of Vogue UK describes the new ‘pretty’ categories: Girly, Womanly and Avant-garde.

Apart from categorizing women into stereotypes, the article stereotypes women into white only. The only exceptions of ethnic minorities are Iman (Fig 11) and Freida Pinto. There are virtually no role models that black women can identify with or get inspired from. Wilson et al (2003) state that some of the ‘obstacles [… ] that are encountered by women of color include not having a mentor, the lack of role models of the same race or ethnic group’, as their representation in Vogue are relatively nil. Thus, how could a black woman identify herself within the ‘norm’ if the norm excludes ethnic minorities?

A very controversial issue of Vogue France is the ‘Black Issue’, featuring only black models in its page spread. The issue came as a response to the lack of black women on the catwalk and in the fashion industry. However, the way the women were portrayed was not different than any other photoshoots in Vogue or empowering in any more ways. The actual idea of gathering all the black models in the industry and putting them all together did not create the intended image, while actually still portraying them as ‘the others’ with an issue just for themselves.

As if to say that you can have one or the other. The irony was that most of the ads featured white models, because that is the reality in the fashion industry and in Vogue adverts in particular. ‘By simultaneously marking blackness as “special” and yet ensuring conformity to dominant (white and European) ideas of sophistication and beauty, the “black issue” tells us a great deal about race and ethnicity in the media today. To be non-white is to be constantly relegated to a “special issue”, while the regular edition remains determinedly white’ (Gopal, 2008).

The spread of pictures in the ‘Black Issue’ comprises of images of Naomi Campbell almost naked (Appendix 2b), Toccara Jones in a very sexually and promiscuous photo shoot, while at the same time being portrayed as having ‘animalistic’ powers (Appendix 2c). The intentions behind the ‘Black Issue’ of Vogue France were beneficial and aimed at the recognition of black models and their beauty. However, the way these representations were constructed can be contested as to whether they are beneficial or not. Successful Black Women.

‘There are three stereotypes of black women that derive from slavery: Mammy, Sapphire and Jezebel’ (Chin, 2004). These stereotypes that have been embedded in history and culture have always been a mark in black women’s representations. However, Vogue UK presents two black women, who, on different planes, portray an image of success and greatness. The Age of the Cupcake – Lorraine Pascale In the article ‘The age of the cup cake’, the December 2009 issue of Vogue UK presents Lorraine Pascale (Fig 9) as a trendy, successful ‘model-turned-baker’.

She is pictured in her dream kitchen, as a woman whose dreams have come true. Her representation as a ‘cup cake’ woman is strongly related to the cup cake image of the 50s, ‘the last era of “uncomplicated” gender-role division’ (Vogue, 2009). The connotations of this article are double folded; on one level, Lorraine Pascale is represented as the strong woman who fulfilled her dreams after having a great career as a model, she has a great family and owns her own bakery business. However, on a deeper level, her images as a servant to her family and to the needs of others are still notable.

Her dream career come true is baking cupcakes for other people’s enjoyment. Thus, the extent to which her success story is constructed as a beneficial representation can be argued. First Wives Club – Michelle Obama Akintonde speaks about Michele Obama in an interview comprised by Hudson-Weems (2008): ‘I just want to re-emphasize the importance of Michelle Obama on so many levels but, more importantly, her legacy, because I think when we as black women look at Michelle Obama, we see ourselves in her. We see that Obama had the audacity to marry a dark-skinned sister.

I mean, we can’t leave it out of the equation not only who she is, but what she represent. She doesn’t represent the typical image of black women who are seen as digestible by the media, who have a certain look, that have a certain body type, but this woman is 5 foot 11. We are told this woman is string, that she is tall in her persona and in her personality. When we see her, we see ourselves. ‘ This image Michelle Obama portrays to black women is very strong and also met in the understanding of white women of her image.

In the July 2009 issue of British Vogue, Michelle Obama is represented as a breath of fresh air, as a different image of power, fashion and femininity. She is slowly becoming a fashion icon as everyone is interested in what she wears and how she wears it. Her representations in the media always portray class, beauty and style. She is the change that black women need to look up to and feel strong. Vogue describes her as the ‘physical aura of power’, if power could be made physical. Her arrival at the gathering of ‘first wives’ ‘changed the tenor’, as she captivated everyone’s attention.

The editorial on Michelle Obama, however, can be analysed as a marketing ploy to achieve profit. Michelle Obama is the new trend everyone is talking about and Vogue UK took advantage from the opportunity to meet Michelle Obama at the First Wives Club gathering and featured her in the article. Conclusions The representations of black women found in several issues of UK Vogue have affirmed the initial hypothesis. Black models are highly underrepresented in the magazine’s pages and especially on the magazine’s cover.

The issue from September 2009 had only one advert featuring a black model for DKNY. The rest of the magazine was white. Through the different representations, either through advertisements or through fashion pictorials, I have depicted a majority of images that construct the black woman as a background image in comparison to the white models, as a representation of otherness through the clothing she was assigned or as a beast waiting to be tamed. Representations of women in magazines are usually depictions of a relationship of subordination to men.

However, apart from being represented as subordinated to men and an object for their satisfaction, black women also face prejudices of race that place them at the lower end of the advertisements and apparitions in fashion shoots for Vogue.

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London: Sage. Appendices Appendix 1 – British Vogue Covers March 1966 December 1987 January 1990 March 1992 June 1996 January 1998 February 2001 October 2001 January 2002 August 2002 November 2008 Appendix 2 – Black Issue, Vogue Paris Appendix 2a – Cover Appendix 2b – Naomi Campbell Appendix 2c – Toccara Jones.