The fashion industry, mainstream media and Vogue in particular have been called to account for their lack of diversity by the Vogue Challenge hashtag that has gone viral. On Instagram alone there are now more than 300,000 individual posts using the tag. As a result, Vogue Australia and elsewhere has had no option but to acknowledge the intensity of frustration felt by fashion creatives and followers from diverse backgrounds. There’s no glossing over the fact that too many talented and worthy people from diverse backgrounds have been left out of the fashion conversation.
Background to the Vogue Challenge
Vogue USA first featured a black model on its cover in 1974 and there have only been a total of 21 black model covers since then. That’s not 21 different models. Some models, like Rihanna, have been featured more than once. Until British Vogue appointed Ghanaian born editor Edward Enninful in 2017, the publication was known for having diversity issues. There hadn’t been a single black model on its cover for 12 years straight until it featured Naomi Campbell in 1987. The following year she appeared on the cover of French Vogue following support from designer Yves St Laurent who threatened to pull advertising if it continued to refuse to use black models. Right now she’s reported to be “f**king furious” about racism in the industry. Campbell says there’s a massive pay disparity between black and non-black models. There’s a documented history of black models being told by Vogue that they’ll never be on the cover. And only one black photographer, Tyler Mitchell, has ever photographed Vogue covers. His first was in 2018.
Back in 2018, Vogue Australia only succeeded in annoying everyone with it’s self-congratulatory promotions about its April “diversity” cover. It featured four Australian models from completely different backgrounds, who wouldn’t normally grace the magazine’s covers. They were Akiima, Charlee Fraser, Andrea Pejic and Fernanda Ly. Akiima was quoted in the mag as saying: “Unfortunately we don’t get to see the diversity of Australian beauty. We have come a long way, but we still need to discuss diversity in the modelling industry … because we don’t want to keep asking for a spotlight.”
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Meet our four April 2018 covers stars: @warukatta, @akiima, @charleefraser and @andrejapejic! “Vogue has documented Australia’s most successful models for almost six decades and this month’s cover is extra-special because of the extraordinary women it features together. Australian beauties, both male and female, feature heavily on the international runways, but never before have we seen so many home-grown models at the top of their game from such diverse backgrounds,” Vogue editor-in-chief @edwinamccann says of the issue. “It felt timely to celebrate that fact, because it truly reflects who we are. Despite being a multicultural country, we have long subscribed to a homogenous standard of beauty. Charlee Fraser, Akiima, Fernanda Ly and Andreja Pejić prove that thinking – and casting – is archaic.” Hit the link in the bio to see the entire April cover shoot now. The issue goes on sale Monday, March 26.
While there have been a recent smattering of diverse models on its Australian covers over its considerable history, with Sam Harris in 2010, Akiima in 2018 and Adut in 2020, Vogue, the main player in the world of fashion magazines has been obviously slow to embrace diversity.
The publication had a global rebrand last year to stand for “supporting creators in all shapes and forms” and “the values of diversity, responsibility, and respect for individuals”. Yet it has been the Black Lives Matter Movement that has accelerated the push for diversity in fashion and media organisations. Just how far the mainstream media and Vogue in particular, has fallen short is reflected in the Vogue Challenge hashtag going viral.
Black Lives Matter
The global Black Lives Matter movement that started in the USA saw international fashion and beauty brands posting in solidarity on social media. These posts started a backlash, with black, gay and trans models calling out performative posts by brands with a poor track record such as L’Oreal and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Who Started the Vogue Challenge and How
The Vogue Challenge actually started on Twitter, on June 2 by a young black muslim student in Norway, Salma Noor. Under a Vogue masthead she tweeted: “Being black is not a crime”. It was without the hashtag and was instead tagged with Black Lives Matter and BLM.
— S Λ L M Λ 🪐 (@capricornbbyy1) June 2, 2020
A week later, Noor retweeted with the now viral hashtag. She did not post the Vogue Challenge on her Instagram account.
— S Λ L M Λ 🪐 (@capricornbbyy1) June 8, 2020
This post caught everyone’s attention and after receiving over 40,000 likes, #voguechallenge was trending both on Twitter and Instagram. Fashion creatives and other diversity proponents such as Carly Findlay in Australia had also taken up the challenge, both tweeting and posting on Instagram.
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Last night – quite late – I tweeted “Please can someone put me on the cover of Vogue Magazine? I am a Luddite (and I want to be a supermodel).” I attached a GIF of Tai from @clueless, looking hopeful. I followed it up with “And by put me on the cover, I mean do that photoshop thing where you superimpose a pic of me/you with the @voguemagazine logo OR @vogueaustralia could have me for realsies.” When I woke up, it appeared that fairies had worked their magic. In my replies was this – a work of art by @itchbay2000! OMG. THANK YOU KAREN! I love it so much! Look Mum, I’m on Vogue, for the #VogueChallenge. Seriously though, Vogue Australia, call me. I want to see a person with Ichthyosis on the cover of Vogue in my lifetime, and also a disabled person of colour – more than once. Call me! I can write for you – my two book titles are mentioned on this very cover! I want to see as many disabled and appearance diverse people take up #VogueChallenge. Make a statement. (Also, I am addicted to @theboldtypetv and I can’t help but think I’d be a Scarlet Magazine covergirl, if I were besties in the office with @meghannfahy @aishtray @thekatiestevens @alistroker and @meloradhardin. Scarlet ❤️is my colour 😛). Image: A Vogue magazine cover. It features a maroon Vogue masthead, above a woman with a red face and short dark curly hair, tied up in a colourful scarf. She’s wearing a pomegranate print dress over a grey top. She’s smiling. Text around her reads: “I wore this today and felt fucking fabulous”, “how to be a good disability ally” and “Say Hello to Carly Findlay OAM Growing Up Disabled in Australia”
Eventually, Vogue Australia addressed the challenge in an article about some of the challengers and why they had decided to participate. It was a great story, not least because Vogue wisely left it to the selected challengers themselves to explain their reasons. We hope they listened.
Some of the Challengers
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Now here’s a social media challenge I’ll jump all over. Vogue Australia, Native Sistas style. This is the kind of normalized beauty I wish to see plastered across magazine covers. Women of colour in all their strength and success. Thanks for the suggestion @barefootwandering.photography (check her out, another incredible First Nations photographer telling our stories! ❤️💛🖤) #voguechallenge #maori #indigenouswomen #aboriginalaustralia #diversifyyourfeed
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Vogue Challenge Edition 3 . In this one I wanted to highlight call for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait models in the fashion industry. I want more Tiwi girls to give it a go. I also wanted to showcase my Aminayi’s (grandfather) carved and painted spear (swipe for original picture) 🖤💛❤️ . Garment: @lisa.waup @thisisverner . #voguechallenge #indigenousfashion #indigenousdesign #indigenousart #aboriginalart #aboriginalmodel #aboriginalfashion #aboriginal #fashion #tiwi #tiwiislands #tiwimodel #model
A massive range of diverse fashion creatives from photographers, make-up artists, models and content creators have now accepted and participated in Noor’s Vogue Challenge. So much so, that there are now even easy to follow how-to guides and templates for anyone who’d like to give it a go!
Special Note About Cocktail Revolution and Diversity
Cocktail Revolution was started 8 years ago in response to the lack of diversity in the mainstream media. The team at Cocktail Revolution embraces diversity, even though the make-up of our own team varies from time to time. Our motto at the top of our own masthead reads Embracing Diversity Through Fashion. It’s our reason for getting up in the morning and our motivation for pounding city streets to shoot authentic street style. Our mission has been finding and photographing the most stylish looks belonging to a wide array of diverse faces that are not seen in mainstream publications. We have never believed that there’s a single “type” that defines beauty. Tap on the link to see more of our WHY. Or, go ahead and check out our crew.