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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Social Commentary:
Black Vogue - Segregation, A step in the Right Direction?

Black History Month seems to be touching people far and wide, including the folks over at Vogue Italia.  In the name of diversity and in a generous attempt to recognize under-represented fashion demographics (yes, I'm being slightly sarcastic), Vogue Italia has launched three demographically-specific (accessory) sites - Vogue Black aimed at women of color, Vogue Curvy aimed at regular and full sized women, and Vogue Talent aimed at women interested in lesser known designers - as supplements to their main web page. My immediate reaction is mixed.

The Good.

I  sincerely applaud Vogue Italia for their attempt to widen the mainstream's narrow purview of fashion.  I recognize that Vogue is a niche magazine reporting on an industry that generally (and ironically) does not favor diversity.  The top tier of fashion, which is typically the area covered by Vogue is only slightly speckled with asthetic variety and in creating these accessory sites, Vogue has an opportunity to introduce a higher level of diversity to their mainstream audience without completely redefining their understanding of fashion.  Instead of force feeding a change in fashion status quo, Black, Curvy and Talent could be the proverbial "teaspoon of sugar to help the medicine go down". (That's a Mary Poppins reference if you didn't know...)

In the more immediate, Vogue Italia's introduction of their accessory sites substantiates the diversity of their readers.  It says we see you, we hear you, and we want to represent you.  The reality of fashion is that not all fashionistas are size-two women itching for Dior.  With the inception of these accessory sites, Vogue proves that they are in touch with the evolving face of their readers.  This is highly important to the overall evolution of the fashion industry.  The more traffic that each accessory site attracts, the  harder it becomes for labels, designers, and buyers to ignore the financial viability of these demographics.  That in turn will affect everything from the financial backing of Black designers to the increased visibility of average sized models.

The Bad
My biggest issue with Vogue Italia's new accessory sites, is that they are just that - accessory sites.  With their creation, Vogue sends a message of segregation - separate but equal coverage.   Unfortunately, with segregation comes the subtle social stigma that Black and Real Sized fashion are fringe fashion and begs questions like: Should a young Black model base her aspirations on gracing the front page of Vogue Black?  Should a young average sized-model set her dreams on being featured on Vogue Curvy?  And does a size zero model with porcelain white skin who graces the main page of Vogue Italia trump them all?

Is there a hierarchy being created?  Yeah, I think so.  I'm a realist, I know change comes one step at a time and I think this is a step in the right direction.  But don't think I'm stepping blindly.  I see  perfectly that Vogue, in providing a special place for Black and Average models to shine, subtly reinforces the idea that these groups don't (yet) really belong in mainstream...

Baby steps.  Yeah I get it.  But you know what? A spade is a spade.
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