The Business of Fashion Podcast
Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

Robin Givhan on the US Capitol Siege and Vogue’s Kamala Harris Cover

January 14, 2021

Speaking with Imran Amed, the Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large shares her thoughts on the controversially ‘familiar’ image of the vice president-elect, and explains where it sits within the wider political climate of the United States as it is due to enter a new chapter.

When the cover of American Vogue’s February issue leaked on Saturday, January 9, a flurry of controversy ensued. Many took to social media to deride the image of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, lensed by Tyler Mitchell, for its casual styling, unflattering lighting and lack of gravitas. The criticism focused on the argument that the portrait lacked the stately deference they believed such a political figure — not least the first Black, South Asian female vice-president — should command.Among those to share their thoughts was Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large who penned a column on January 11 in which she said “the cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect… It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.” Givhan, who became the first fashion writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2006, sat down with Imran Amed in the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, to further discuss the cover’s significance and the wider tumultuous landscape of US politics. 
  • Debating Harris’ portrait is about more than just a critique of the technicalities and production value of a fashion glossy. Its release comes at a time of political division and fraught race relations, just days after a violent right-wing mob stormed Washington D.C.’s Capitol building, an event incited by President Trump, who now faces a second impeachment for his involvement in the incident. “The last few years have been an exhausting, emotionally draining time,” said Givhan. “I was very surprised that [the cover] became such an issue. I was really stunned that people were so exercised about it. When you think about it, it’s [like] pain from a thousand papercuts, and this was the 1001st papercut.”
  • The informality of the image chosen for the print cover carries greater historical significance and weight. Vogue and Anna Wintour defended it as an extension of the Biden-Harris campaign’s platform of accessibility, which Givhan described as a “legitimate” point of view. But, she said, “I think that the upset is rooted not so much in the current moment but its history. Throughout history, Black women in particular were not given the kind of respect that white women were. People had this familiarity with Black women that was not about friendship and equality but was condescending. Understanding the complicated nature of that would give one pause in presenting the first female vice president — a Black woman — in that way.”
  • While the alternative digital cover image, which depicts Harris in a more presidential light and formal style, offers some reprieve, this print issue has significance as a cultural souvenir (“you can’t give a screengrab to your grandchildren,” said Givhan), and there is no real opportunity for a do-over. “There’s no way to make people happy,” said Givhan, adding that it’s important to instead listen to criticism and “recognise where things went astray” in allowing this misstep to happen. “You just have to do better the next time, and the time after that and the time after that.”

External clips courtesy of Good Morning America and ABC7 News

 

Related Articles:
Anna Wintour Speaks on VP Cover Controversy, Amazon and Diversity Efforts
The Risks and Rewards of Dressing American Politicians 

 
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Graydon Carter Says, ‘There Is More Good Journalism Being Produced Now Than There Was 25 Years Ago’

Graydon Carter Says, ‘There Is More Good Journalism Being Produced Now Than There Was 25 Years Ago’

June 12, 2020
LONDON, United Kingdom —  “Magazines bring the world to you more than newspapers do and more than books do,” Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fairand creator of email newsletter Air Mail, told BoF Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed in the latest episode of the BoF Podcast. “They bring the cultural nuances of what’s going on now to your door. They [tell] you about a world outside of the small town that you’re living in.”Carter’s journalism career spans over four decades, during which he was a staff writer at Time and Life, co-founded Spy magazine in 1986 and served as the editor of The New York Observer. His “third act,” the digital weekly newsletter Air Mail, employs a team of remotely working individuals from across the globe.Carter shared his thoughts on the state of the publishing industry in this time of upheaval.
 
 
  • An upended global economy is not uncharted territory for magazines. During the Great Recession, publications were hit hard as brands cut their advertising budgets to retain cash, Carter said. More than a decade later, magazines are faced with these same challenges, and for Carter, although there remains “a certain romance for magazines” the print industry “is going to have its issues and I think the strong magazines will survive and thrive and the weak ones will go away. That is a natural process in any industry.” The winners that emerge from this crisis will be the publications that form a connection with their readers. “You have to be the first or second favourite magazine of your reader… if you’re the fifth favourite magazine of a reader, they could probably do without you,” he said.
  • During his time running Vanity Fair, Carter spearheaded several newsmaking issues, including the 2015 “Call Me Caitlyn” cover, revealing Caitlyn Jenner for the first time as a woman and the “Africa Issue” that was designed to amplify the region and came with 20 special covers fronted by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Dr Maya Angelou and Barack Obama. However, his leadership was not without controversy. In a recent Netflix documentary, “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” allegations resurfaced that Carter removed information about the sexual abuse of Annie and Maria Farmer from an article about the disgraced billionaire written by Vicky Ward in 2003. In response to the claims, Carter said: “The legal and fact-checking elements of Vanity Fair, which was quite extensive,... is your line of defence and my head of fact-checking, my legal review editor and the lawyer for the company said we simply do not have what we needed to print this and it came in late,” he said. “In this case, they said we did not have the information we needed to publish that little bit of information in the story... I feel great pain and sorrow for the women he took advantage of, it’s an appalling situation.”
  • As the publishing industry pivots to adapt to a new normal, relying on digital tools like Zoom, cutting back the number of issues and reassessing the diversity of their organisations, Carter believes there are opportunities to be capitalised on. “I think there is more good journalism being produced now than there was 25 years ago… The fact is, now… you can start your own thing, you can do it on your kitchen table.” In a sea of start-ups it can be difficult to stand out, but “it’s just about being good at doing something that somebody else doesn’t do… You can make a name doing anything as long as it’s done well.”

 

Related Articles: 
Graydon Carter to Step Down as Vanity Fair Editor After 25 Years
Fashion Magazines Hit as Luxury Ad Spend Dwindles
For Fashion Magazines, It's Crunch Time

 

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Trisha Shetty on Human Rights and Human Wrongs | BoF VOICES

Trisha Shetty on Human Rights and Human Wrongs | BoF VOICES

January 3, 2020

In the face of ongoing gender discrimination and human rights violations around the world, activist Trisha Shetty amplifies the importance of speaking up and demanding change from world leaders at VOICES 2019. 

To watch Trisha's talk at VOICES 2019 on our YouTube channel click here.

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Carole Cadwalladr Asks, Is This the End of Democracy? | BoF VOICES

Carole Cadwalladr Asks, Is This the End of Democracy? | BoF VOICES

December 7, 2019

In the face of major data breaches, investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr brings to light the failure of Western governments to punish Facebook.

To watch Carole's talk at VOICES 2019 on our YouTube channel click here.

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Benedict Evans on How Tech Will Change the World | BoF VOICES

Benedict Evans on How Tech Will Change the World | BoF VOICES

May 6, 2019

Speaking at BoF’s VOICES, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist sketched out a vision for how software and the internet would transform the world’s economy, giving rise to new business opportunities.

To watch Benedict's talk at VOICES 2018 click here

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DeRay Mckesson on Dismantling the Legacy of Racism in America | BoF VOICES

DeRay Mckesson on Dismantling the Legacy of Racism in America | BoF VOICES

April 8, 2019

Speaking at BoF VOICES, the activist and author unpacks his 'five big ideas' on how to redefine and dismantle the realities of social injustice.

To watch DeRay's talk at VOICES 2018 click here.  

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Songkick Co-Founder Ian Hogarth on the Emerging Geopolitics of AI  | BoF VOICES

Songkick Co-Founder Ian Hogarth on the Emerging Geopolitics of AI | BoF VOICES

March 11, 2019

Angel investor and co-founder of Songkick Ian Hogarth explores how the race to develop the most sophisticated artificial intelligence will define geopolitics in the coming decades.

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Futurist Lucie Greene on Big Tech Versus the State | BoF VOICES

Futurist Lucie Greene on Big Tech Versus the State | BoF VOICES

March 4, 2019

The futurist author and columnist unpacks tech giants' powerful influence over day-to-day life and public policy, making a case for deeper consideration of the ideology that underpins this culture of innovation and disruption.

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