Written by Greta Tugwell
Jourdan Dunn is to appear solo on the cover of British Vogue’s February magazine. So what? Perhaps it should also be mentioned at this point that she will be the first black model to do so in over a decade – 12 years to be exact.
Dunn expressed her happiness at becoming a Vogue sol cover girl, writing on Twitter: “I'm so Happy to finally say I'M ON THE COVER OF BRITISH VOGUE!!! Thank you Patrick Demarchelier and Kate Phelan for making this happen and also thank you all for the Love and Support it means everything to me #2015YearOfTheDunn."
Yet whilst expressions of joy and celebration at this historical occasion are saturating Twitter and the media it is hard not to see the tragic, demoralising fact that in 2015 it is still something remarkable and noteworthy when a black model appears on the front of the leading British fashion publication.
12 years. That is a very long time. That is 146 covers. Not a single cover featuring a solo black model.
Whilst Dunn has in the past appeared solo on the cover of Vogue’s little sister magazine Miss Vogue, and has also appeared on the cover of Vogue in a group shot, alongside models Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Eden Clark, a solo cover on Vogue – what many consider to be the ‘fashion Bible’ – is what all models really hope for; considered affirmation that they have really ‘made it’ in the fashion world.
Dunn, who is undoubtedly one of the top models in the world today, was the 10th highest paid model last year, according to Forbes, making an estimated $4m last year, putting her ahead of fellow British model and close friend Cara Delevigne.
Naomi Campbell was the last black model to grace the cover back in 2002, when she donned a relaxed, natural appearance – minimal make-up, jeans and a white vest.
Naomi Campbell, 44, is, like her best friend and fellow model Kate Moss, something of a veteran model. Is Jourdan Dunn really the first black model since Campbell’s fashion reign who could be considered a serious contender for the prestigious cover? If no, then why has another black model appeared before her in the past 12 years. If yes, then why is that the case? Why are there so few black models at the very top of the fashion world? Institutional racism would be the obvious answer.
What this cover points to then is not only the startling lack of diversity in Vogue, but more generally – and more significantly – the whitewashed appearance of the fashion industry as a whole.
Dunn has previously spoken out about the particular hardships that come with being a black model in the (white-dominated) fashion industry. Dunn has recalled castings where she has been turned away with the message that the client “didn’t want any more black girls.”
Dunn has also commented on the damaging effects upon girls and women of colour of having only images of white beauty widely visible. “Younger girls who read magazines need someone they can identify themselves with, so it shouldn’t just be skinny blondes,” said Dunn.
One excuse put forward as to why there have not been more solo black covers is that having a black model dominate the cover would be bad for sales of the magazine. Jody Furlong, founder of The Eye Casting, does not accept this weak argument and has in the past referred to “this fallacy that 'black covers don't sell.'" Furlong rightly asks: “But how do you know? There hasn't been one for twelve years! You can't say people don't buy it when they're not given the chance to buy it."
Dunn, too, has dismissed the claim that black models on magazine covers will reduce sales as invalid. Last year the model commented that, “The people who control the industry say if you have a black face on a magazine cover it won’t sell, but there’s no real evidence for that. It’s lazy.”
Last year Naomi Campbell spoke about racism in the world of fashion and how it has worsend since the 1980s, when she started her modelling career and "there was a great balance of models and colour."
Vogue is by no means the only major fashion publication guilty of failing to embrace and promote the racial diversity of beauty. Indeed, a recent study found that a large number of magazines, including Harper's Bazaar U.S. and U.K, Porter, and Love Magazine, did not use a single non-white model on any of their covers in 2014.
Hopefully it will not be another 12 years before another black model covers British Vogue.