Design awards 2009

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Winners of the Brit Insurance Design awards 2009 are over at the Guardian.

I post this because of the first item in the gallery, which is the Italian Vogue issue. High fashion magazines are often accused of not using enough black models. Their counter argument has always been that black faces on magazine covers “don’t sell”.

A sub-set of this accusation is that those black models that do feature are usually “names” of celebrities – in other words, they have to have somehow become world famous before they get picked for the cover of Vogue, a double standard that doesn’t apply to white models, who might be chosen because they look “fresh” “sexy” “natural”, “ginger”, and so on.

The word representation always has a double edge. For an elected official, there’s the question of whether they are there to “represent” their constituents in terms of views and opinions – or just there to do whatever the hell they please now that they’ve won an election, because they are the “representative” for that area/region.

On a magazine cover, the model represents who she is – her race, creed, religion, etc., but is also represented in a particular way, which in turn affects our view of that race/creed/religion.

Is Italian Vogue off the hook for featuring 4 different black models? In some ways, maybe. In others, well… why four different covers for one issue? Why not four black models on four different non-special, non-commemorative issues throughout the year, every year? And why are their names on the cover? Is it so they become familiar “names” to the readers so they’ll be more likely to pick up a magazine in the future? Or because this is clearly being signalled as a one-off, a souvenir, something for the grandkids?

And look at those black faces. Are they not startlingly similar in skin tone ? High foreheads, high cheekbones, aquiline (not flat) noses, straight(ened) hair? Which particular brand or caste of African beauty do these models represent? Are they the “whitest” looking black models they could find? As they used to say about Obama in the early days of his campaign, are they black enough?

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