08 Aug BLACK QUEENS EMERGE FOR SEPTEMBER
From the ancient times, as an instinctive response to self-adornment to the modern day emulations of young people at festivals from Glastonbury to Coachella, flowers and the earthy, natural aura they carry have been a strong fashion symbol. It is not coincidence therefore but a deeper shift of the times in a serendipitous way that the two biggest female pop stars, who also happen to be black women, will be cover stars for Vogue’s biggest issues of the year. Rihanna made history as British Vogue’s first black woman to cover its September issue in its 126 year history. A week later, Beyonce makes a powerful interview debut in America’s Vogue where she’s also the first black woman on a September edition, baring herself in that honestly inspiring way that leaves the reader feeling blessed. Both shoots were strikingly similar as both women were photographed wearing floral headdresses but also unique in the aura of each of the iconic women. The covers were spectacular, symbolic and monumental; a triumph for fashion, for black women and for society.
More than a triumph, both events have inspired a revolution as fashion publications have picked up on the ‘black girl for September’ trend in an impactful way that shows how much closer we are to an equal, progressive society. Lupita Nyongo’ O stuns in melanin and red on the cover of Porter magazine, model-of the-moment and Rihanna’s muse, Slick Woods is pregnant and radiant on Elle’s cover page, Tracee Ellis Ross looks fetching with her freckled face in Elle Canada and Zendaya dazzles in print on Marie Claire US. This is highly remarkable and pivotal to the future of fashion where once before, beauty only had one expression. All the September issues are not just significant in their starring these amazing black women but in the extraordinary way that each unrelated publication shared its evolved opinions and reached our souls and minds.
Beyonce was said to have gotten editorial control of her cover feature for Vogue and used the medium to relay strong, consistent messages that did not merely reveal but also inspired. Her cover feature is more of a feat because she said that 21 years ago when she began, she was told that it was hard for her to get on a cover because black people did not sell. Not only did this phenomenal woman make Vogue history, she did so on her own terms. More importantly, she used her leverage to promote black artistry and excellence by hiring 23-year old Tyler Mitchell to shoot the cover, the first ever black photographer to do so in Vogue’s history. She put her mark on the cover in every way and for generations to come that there’s simply no way to do it better. Island girl Rihanna was chosen by editor-in-chief Edward Enninful whose appointment earlier this year was a celebration of significant progress for black people in fashion. Enninful’s commitment to diversity inspired his choice and Rihanna’s reputation as a trendsetter served to make the cover an instant hit. Her story was done by Chioma Nnadi, another black woman who portrayed her perceptively and personally. In his editor’s letter Enninful wrote “No matter how haute the styling goes, or experimental the mood, you never lose her in the imagery. She is always Rihanna. There’s a lesson for us in all that. Whichever way you choose to dress the new season, take a leaf out of her book and be yourself”
Lupita, Slick Woods, Tracee Ellis Ross and Zendaya are all unapologetically radiant as cover stars and its so empowering. They all speak candidly of their heritage, ideals, experiences and goals and are portrayed so expressively and honestly that they could be said to have made history as well. Each of them, for all of us. September is especially important for magazines because brands are eager to show their autumn/winter collections and secure bragging rights for the rest of the year. More expenses are run and only the biggest, most influential stars are selected for covers. Women who must have previously felt underrepresented and sometimes prejudiced now feel worthy and accepted, sending the internet into a frenzy. There’s been a lot of positivity and goodwill since the announcements were made signifying that the much talked about progressive society is now in view.
It’s been a year of firsts in the fashion industry with appointments and changes across board. This unusual but so welcome development is a definitive step in the direction the world has been headed, telling us that this is the new status quo and fashion is fully on board. It is likely that this occurrence will be a reference in times to come as the moment it all began. Beyonce said of hiring Tyler Mitchell, putting the vision succinctly “If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast 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.”