We were once sold the lie that black faces don't sell but if this year's September issues are anything to go by, black excellence is profitable.
If the slew of September issues is anything to go by, the fashion industry has chosen to pay homage to the black female icons working hard to shape their respective artistic spaces. From Beyonce on the cover of US Vogue to Tracee Ellis Ross on the cover of ELLE, the fashion industry is finally recognising the powerful women of colour in our midst.
For years, people of colour, despite the numerous strides they had made in their career, sat on the fringes of those spaces. Thanks to many of us using our voices to highlight important issues regarding race and representation, we now find ourselves occupying those spaces without invitation or permission. It has become so much so that we can no longer be ignored. The sea of black faces on this year's September issues is indicative of the seismic shift in a notoriously prejudiced industry towards recognising, appreciating and celebrating the impact these women have had and we are here for it!
Once upon a time, it was thought that black faces simply did not sell magazines. The Guardian newspaper carried out a study earlier this year which showed that 'the covers of some the UK’s most popular monthlies remain overwhelmingly white. Of 214 covers published by the 19 bestselling glossies last year, only 20 featured a person of colour.'
At British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman spent a staggering 25 years at the helm of the magazine and during that time, only two black women were given solo covers. In 2012, Shulman said, “in a society where the mass of the consumers are white and where, on the whole, mainstream ideas sell, it’s unlikely there will be a huge rise in the number of leading black models”.
In her interview with Vogue magazine, Beyonce made a point of explaining exactly why change is so hard to effect in the industry and why her Vogue issue means so much. Speaking to Clover Hope, she said:
Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.
When I first started, 21 years ago, I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because black people did not sell. Clearly that has been proven a myth. Not only is an African American on the cover of the most important month for Vogue, this is the first ever Vogue cover shot by an African American photographer.
It’s important to me that I help open doors for younger artists. There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter.
Imagine if someone hadn’t given a chance to the brilliant women who came before me: Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and the list goes on. They opened the doors for me, and I pray that I’m doing all I can to open doors for the next generation of talents.
If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast only people who look like them, sound like them, come from the same neighborhoods they grew up in, they will never have a greater understanding of experiences different from their own. They will hire the same models, curate the same art, cast the same actors over and over again, and we will all lose. The beauty of social media is it’s completely democratic. Everyone has a say. Everyone’s voice counts, and everyone has a chance to paint the world from their own perspective.
As important as it that we seek recognition from our peers, it's also important that, like Beyonce said, we pay it forward. Let these covers not be just a moment in time but the catalyst for a more complex conversation on representation, inclusion and visibility for black people in all spaces.
The September Issue, also the name of Vogue's award winning documentary, is the most important issue of the year in the magazine publishing industry. Thanks to the popular 2009 documentary starring US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Creative director Grace Coddington, we know that the magazine's September edition is the biggest, the most influential and the one with the strongest fashion pull.
Of course, all issues of magazines are important but September is bigger both in terms of editorial and advertising and sets the tone for the subsequent publishing year. This means that the September issue NEEDS to sell. Who these magazines choose to put on the cover is a huge part of its selling power so do these covers mean that black is profitable?
It appears that the tide may be changing in favour of people of colour as the black community the world over has begun to put their money where their mouths are and actively supporting their own.
From the unprecedented success of Black Panther to the selling power of beauty ranges geared towards darker women, it's clear that our strength lies in our economic power; the power of the black dollar.
Edward Enninful made history earlier this year by becoming the first black man to take the helm at Vogue magazine in the magazine's 102 year history.
When ex-editor Alexandra Shulman stepped down in 2017, making way for UK Vogue’s first black editor, Edward Enninful, her leaving photo depicted an all-white editorial staff at the maagzine.
Edward entered into the Vogue space with the sole intention of disrupting the status quo and that he did. Since he took over, he has used the magazine as a conduit to push important social issues and challenge everything the magazine previously stood for whilst still preserving it's sartorial impact. For his first cover, he chose British-Ghanaian supermodel Adwoa Aboah and for his very first September issue he has put Bajan popstar Rihanna.
According to the Guardian newspaper who spoke to a senior figure from an ethnic minority background working at another UK magazine, who did not want to be named. “The industry is still overwhelmingly homogenous. Obviously, the appointment of Edward at Vogue is amazing, but that doesn’t change the fact that magazines are still incredibly white and middle class.”
Though the tides are beginning to change, this is only the start of an uphill battle. We must continue to push to be seen and support creatives of colour where possible so that we may all have a seat at the table.