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The controversy over Vogue cover with Kamala Harris

What was the problem with Tyler Mitchell's shots

The controversy over Vogue cover with Kamala Harris What was the problem with Tyler Mitchell's shots

Vogue recently unveiled its cover for the February issue dedicated to the next vice president Kamala Harris – which will be officially installed on January 20. Harris's election to vice-presidential office is of historic significance: she is the first black, Asian-American woman to hold the country's second-most important political role, as well as being one of the main reasons for Joe Biden's victory over Trump. Her presence on the Vogue cover would therefore have wanted to highlight this unprecedented event and, while many welcomed the images of the cover, a large part of the audience was greatly disappointed by the final result, launching what is perhaps the first major online controversy of 2021.

The controversy has focused on several points such as the aesthetics of Tyler Mitchell's shots, the outift worn by Harris and, finally, the way in which the next Vice-President of the United States is presented, that is, in a way that is too informal and almost familiar to a woman who broke every historical record at a very difficult political moment for the USA. Vogue's fault is that she couldn't give this moment the importance she deserved. As Robin Givhan wrote in the pages of The Washington Post

«In using the more informal image for the print edition of the magazine, Vogue robbed Harris of her roses. […] Vogue as an institution hasn’t fully grasped the role that humility plays in finding the path forward. A bit of awe would have served the magazine well in its cover decisions. Nothing about the cover said, “Wow.” And sometimes, that’s all Black women want, an admiring and celebratory “wow” over what they have accomplished».

In essence, two photos had been selected for the cover, for both Harris herself selected her outfits. In the first, which later became the stone of scandal, the next VP wears a Donald Deal jacket and a pair of black Converse sneakers – a variation on the classic semi-formal and approachable outfit that has become a bit of the vice president's signature. In the second photo, Harris wears a blue Michael Kors suit and takes on a more authoritarian and official pose. According to reports on the story, Harris' team and Vogue's editorial staff should have used only the second photo as a cover, allocating the first and most informal for the article. But instead, it happened that it was the first to be presented as the "official" cover – a photo that, according to many Twitter users, is "a washed-up mess" due to the informality of the shot, unsuitable for the red-hot political moment; light editing, which would make the tone of the vice president's skin appear clearer; because of the unflattering angle of the photo, evidently placed too high, and due to a series of post-production defects that have led to some sort of negligence towards the image curation or, in the words of Robin Givhan: «The picture lacks the hyper perfection that is so often associated with fashion imagery». 

After all, however, we must consider the wider context in which this dispute has taken place, namely the state of absolute political turbulence that the United States is going through. Harris is in fact a policy that, while still remaining within the scope of the sobriety and dignity that belongs to her office, has often opted for slightly more informal outfits, which do not put too much distance between herself and her electorate. In recent months, both American society and politics are hyper-polarized – a state of affairs that immediately reflects on fashion. A few weeks ago, for example, Trump described fashion magazines as "snobbish elitists" for never giving Melania Trump a cover – not to mention how almost every first lady outfit (let's choose three: the I Don't Care jacket, Do You? to visit Mexican refugees, the colonial explorer outfit for the visit to Cairo, and Alexander McQueen's dress reminiscent of dictators' military suits) has attracted huge controversy. Fashion as a political statement is in short very relevant in a society with increasingly intense tones and the public would have liked for the cover of Vogue with Kamala Harris a stronger and more decisive stance. Kamala Harris's was the 2020 political triumph for Democratic America, a triumph that the American public feels has only been half-celebrated.