Vogue is sashaying down a slippery slope to celebrate its 10th anniversary in India, putting a white model on its cover.
Kendall Jenner, 21, graces the fashion magazine’s May issue. Famed Peruvian photographer Mario Testino, acting as guest editor for the month, shot the social-media star and Kardashian half-sister in the ornate Hotel Samode Palace in Jaipur, India, for the “India Affair” cover.
“Seeing India through Mario’s lens offers a fresh perspective of the familiar,”said Vogue India editor-in-chief Priya Tanna, who had been keen to bring Testino to India since the edition launched in 2007.
Kicking off our 10th anniversary celebrations: @mariotestino guest edits the May issue starring supermodel @KendallJenner shot in India #MarioTestinoXVogueIndia Photographed by: @mariotestino. Styled by: #Sarajanehoare Hair by: @hairbychristiaan. Make-up: @thevalgarland. Kendall’s agency: The Society. Set design: @tomotattle. Location: Hotel Samode Palace, Jaipur. Thanks: Samode Bagh. Production: @MarioTestinoPlus. Local production: #mithikasinghagaekwad and @yogigaekwad. Photo assistants: Karan Takulia and Vijit Gupta. Videographer's assistant: Vishal Jain. Set assistant: Divyaratna Singh
Unfortunately for Vogue, India’s social-media audience isn’t taking to this narrative. There’s contempt toward the magazine for reinforcing an already pervasive colorist attitude in the country—and for passing up on the opportunity of a special issue to showcase India’s own talent.
Jenner has found herself at the center of cultural controversies in recent weeks. First, she was berated for her role in a tone-deaf Pepsi ad, which was quickly pulled. Then, she was criticized for helping to promote Ja Rule’s disastrous Fyre Festival on social media. (The doomed luxury music festival reportedly squandered $250,000 on Jenner alone and spent a minimum of $20,000 on each other influencer.) This time though, the backlash is mostly directed at Vogue.
Yes, Jenner ranks among the most recognizable faces in the marketing world. But Vogue really didn’t have to shop too far from home to find a renowned Indian face. Aside from being massive Bollywood stars, actresses like Priyanka Chopra (Quantico and Baywatch) and Deepika Padukone (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) have both gained recognized global fame. Fans on social media also suggested other popular Bollywood actresses such as Aishwarya Rai or Sonam Kapoor.
What has Indians riled is the missed opportunity. Vogue has a chance to give an underrepresented community of darker-skinned models and actors global visibility. It’s especially unfathomable in a world in which performers like comedian Aziz Ansari, Daily Show correspondent Hassan Minhaj, and actor Riz Ahmed are making careers by successfully combatting stereotypes and making brown people part of the mainstream.
After all the hullabaloo, Vogue came forward to say that the May issue was a collector’s edition magazine kickstarting the anniversary celebrations. “We have lined up a series of special issues for this entire year to celebrate our 10th anniversary…The actual 10th anniversary is October 2017,” Vogue India wrote in a response to the backlash, titled “Let’s talk about our May 2017 cover with Kendall Jenner.”
The magazine also pointed out that it had been the champion of Indian talent. “In the last 10 years, Vogue India has had only 12 international covers, including Kendall Jenner in 2017,” the statement read. “Therefore, statistically, 90 percent of our covers are Indian! And we are proud of that.” Additionally, the Jenner issue features editorial material on Bollywood stars Katrina Kaif and Sushant Singh Rajput, according to WWD. Testino has also collaborated with Indian artists Mithu Sen and Thukral & Tagra to create the aesthetic for this particular edition.
Vogue did not find the need to be apologetic. Being an international brand, “we want to give the love back by featuring some of the best international celebrities on our covers. Occasionally! 🙂,” the magazine said. Whether that explanation is good enough for all the scorned brown girls is debatable.