Periodically, American Vogue acknowledges that not every woman has the ‘all-American’ blue-eyed, blond-tressed, blank-faced beauty of Russian models, and attempts to have some diversity on its pages. This has resulted in the ghettoization of the annual ‘Age Issue’ and ‘Shape Issue’ and the odd feature on Ethiopian, Brazilian or “curvy” Victoria’s Secret models.
French Vogue, on the other hand, works on the assumption that we’re all past the need for such tokenism, and then will have an African-themed photo shoot with black face.
The December issue (with Angelina Jolie on a cover whose pink and white writing so suggests Cosmopolitan rather than Vogue that I half-expected the headline ‘The Top Ten Jimmy Choo Clutches to Please Your Man!’) features a tribute to the classic 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph of impossibly-elegant debutantes, but recreated with exclusively with Asian models. To add even more contrast, the Oscar de la Renta gowns and formal tea-sipping poses are paired with punky black Mohawks.
While the juxtaposition of Mohawks, evening gowns and Chinese, Japanese and Korean faces is visually arresting (and drawing on Beaton’s legacy is the kind of witty self-reference that Vogue does so well) I can’t help but feel the picture and the accompanying article by Samantha Chang are a tad patronizing.
Chang quickly moves from recounting the difficulties of growing up as a Korean-American adopted by a white family (a mother-daughter bonding trip to the beauty counter ends in embarrassment) to interviewing designers on why they are allegedly choosing Asian models like never before. Big surprise, none of them have any intelligent explanation, and it’s depressing that the term ‘political correctness’ has replaced ‘feminist’ as the word everyone scrambles away from.
The booming Eastern economy is touched on, as is the fact that Vogue launched a Chinese edition in 2005, but for the most part the article’s about Asian faces for the Gap and L’Oreal, ie. Asian models being hired by Western companies who mostly sell to white people. The huge, and growing, influence of Chinese and Japanese fashion on the rest of the world, and the potential that in just a few years Chinese Vogue may write about how nice it is that white models are finally walking the catwalks in global fashion-capital Beijing, are ignored.
Asian models are beautiful, of course (as are models from India, Africa, South America and everywhere else in the world) and while it’s good that proverbial ‘main stream America’ is accepting different kinds of beauty, the globalized world of fashion is still learning what globalization truly means.