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July 23rd, 2008
02:02 PM ET

Italian Vogue: Black is the new black

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Lola Ogunnaike | BIO
Pop Culture correspondent, CNN's American Morning

I have never wanted to learn to speak Italian until this very moment. I just finished flipping through the latest issue of Italian Vogue and I’ve been rendered speechless (which seldom happens).

This issue celebrates the black model and all the big gals of the past and the present are on full display—everyone from Iman to Chanel Iman.

Pioneers like Alva Chinn, 80's darlings like Veronica Webb and Karen Alexander and newbies like Jourdan Dunn. They come from as far as the Sudan (Alex Wek) and as near as California (Tyra).

Some, like the infamous Naomi Campbell, don’t even look human, they look utterly other worldly. With all the cell phone throwing and temper tantrums, it’s easy to forget that Campbell is one of the best to have ever graced the runway. This magazine more than reminds you. More importantly, it reminds you that black women come in all shades, their hair in all textures and they are not to be forgotten.

Much has been made in recent months about the dearth of black models; how they’re seldom booked for fashion shows or featured in editorials. Fashion, my industry friends tell me time and time again, currently prefers their girls pale, emaciated and blonde.

Will this issue of Italian Vogue change that? Will it encourage American Vogue to do a better job of integrating its pages? Will it help young models of color believe that there is a place in fashion for them? I hope so.

For now, I will look into Italian lessons and feel a bit more content knowing that beauty—in any shade–is a universal language we can all understand.


Filed under: Black in America • Lola Ogunnaike
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Maureen Liew

    Black, white or yellow, who cares? Beauty lies in the beholder of the eye. I sincerely agree that the anorexic "girls" displayed are for my fantasies. Its really not practical except for some of the knowledge-based articles printed. Thanks, anyway for the editors' efforts.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:23 am |
  2. Olatunde

    Hi Lola, im impressed about the recognition given to black models. Its time for we black people to begin to celebrate ourselves. Because, we are taken over, fully knowing our rights and capability without intimidation, we are gaining grounds.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:33 am |
  3. Michelle

    I can not get my hands on this magazine I went to Barnes and
    Noble and there is a waiting list. I was told by a salesperson that
    the mag is also selling out across Europe as well. I really admire
    Liya Kedebe as well for starting a foundation to help mothers and
    children in Africa.. Anyone have tips on where to find this magazine.
    It would be smart business for Vogue to release the special edition
    in America. Lola you are so lucky to have a copy. Will you be doing
    a story on this by chance that will air on CNN ?

    July 24, 2008 at 12:59 am |
  4. Onyi

    Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium wrote:

    "Mike, Liya Kebede (better??) has Ethiopian features. Not that it matters, she’s just beautiful, ok?"

    Thank you so much for this comment. As a Nigerian American/African American/Black woman (God...all these terms), with dark skin and "kinky hair" I grew up believing I was ugly–today it's still difficult for me to take any compliments to my looks. Black women with "caucasian/white features" were always prized more so than women who looked like me. As I got older, especially more recently, I really had to re-examine what exactly "white" or "black" features are. Are they features that ONLY each respective group displays, give or take a few exceptions...I can name features like broad lips, big hips/butt, narrow/pointy nose, wide nose, thin lips, etc. and try to attribute them strictly to black or white, but it's impossible to do so as I have seen many people on both sides who display any of those features...and that's not including all of the other racial/ethnic groups. I myself had medium-full sized lips, narrow hips, not so big butt, am very lean, slanted eyes, dark skin, high cheekbones, medium/small nose...so where does that put me? How many of those features would you attribute to blacks, whites, asians, etc???

    I saw a documentary attempting to trace the journey of man from Africa to the rest of the world and they found a tribe of people in a remote area of, I believe, central Africa purported to have the oldest, most stable DNA–our (all of us) predecessors. They scanned the faces of members of this tribe, and it was chilling to see the various facial features and skin colors of these people. You could literally see every feature in the world represented...So what now? We (every person...in particular the media and the entertainment industry) need to all come to a place where we can say we are all human, we are all beautiful...we are all intelligent...we each have our own unique gifts to bring to the worlds. Yes, be intrigued by people's culture and ethnic background, or even physical features...but don't use it against them to make yourself feel more important.

    July 24, 2008 at 12:46 am |
  5. Will

    I just saw a segment of Black in America About black hip hop on the show. What about the promotion of drugs, sex, violence, and female degradation hip hop seems to so proudly boast about or scared to stop? All for some money? To keep them from being terrorists? Such music preaches gang violence. Isn’t that terrorism? That man on the program is either a big idiot or one of those ignorant people in America, who have looked away from the bad elements of black culture for years, just because those blacks are working. If blacks want America to be color-blind, why is it that blacks are blind to the immorality, crime, and ridiculousness many of them are creating? Is that what being black in America is mostly about? If it’s character that counts, and image is everything, then pull up you pants, stop listening to crap, and clean up your act. It’s obvious that African sexual practices have migrated to the US and possibly ingrained in black psyche, because Africans and African-Americans have paralleling epidemics of VD in their communities. Take it from someone who aced psychology and sociology in college. If black leaders don’t speak tough love like this to their own people, then I feel sorry for them.

    Also, I prefer real women with curves, instead of the stick models. I hate how Hollywood ebraces the skinny female look, because some think that being curvy or buxom, makes such women seem slutty or overly sexualized; which some "believe" either detracts from the actoress' acting ability or takes viewers' focus away from the actoress' onscreen work because of the distraction of "curves".

    July 24, 2008 at 12:40 am |
  6. Cassandra Gerling-Perez

    While I am excited to pick up the Italian Vogue issue, I am wondering why we just couldn't have all of these beautiful models feature regularly through the high-fashion pages, rather than one at a time?

    July 24, 2008 at 12:20 am |
  7. Linda-Dallas

    I had to buy the issue on ebay. They even had to reprint the issue because it was sold out. Even though their are other races everything is always argued from a black/white viewpoint.

    July 24, 2008 at 12:10 am |
  8. Patrice

    I salute Vogue for making a stand. It is not often that the range of Black beauty is displayed in a mainstream magazine... Bon Vogue, Bon

    July 23, 2008 at 9:31 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Black, brown or white it would be nice if there were more models with an average build instead of the anorexic looking models that are so in vogue. I'm glad that Vogue came out with this issue celebrating black models – some of them are just breathtakingly beautiful.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 23, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  10. Sasha

    The bottom line is simple. We can all sit up here and look at the cover of the Italian Vogue and have our own opinion on what we deem beautiful and why the rest of the world does or does not share in our thoughts. Yet we cannot stray away from the fact that this article however was posted under CNN's "Black in America" program for a reason. As a woman of color myself I find that there is a certain type of injustice being done to other women out there just like me. As time has progressed we as America have flocked to the Giselles and the Kate Moss' and the Tyra Banks of this world and we have allowed them to be put on this pedestal of sorts. It is because that is what we see on the televisions and on the magazine stands. And then we start to look at ourselves quite differently. It is because the world has taught us that you are not qualified to be considered beautiful unless you look like this. The sad part is is that it's just not real life. I must say that when I see a woman of color on the front of a magazine I feel indifferent so to speak because we as a whole (and I mean America) are still learning to accept that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes and colors. Case in point: Why are we so shocked or suprised to see that Italian Vogue has created an entire issue dedicated to women of color?

    July 23, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  11. karen

    what about the dark skinned blacks who get treated the worse if it was a dark girl on the vogue issue i can see a change but their probably won't be

    July 23, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  12. gina

    I'm glad black women were represented as such in this issue I do agree with Diane. I too, have stop purchasing other publications that don't feature my likeness. It's a funny when we express our view point we are considered hostile, "racist" but not so when the shoe is on the other foot. And for the record, we come in all shades. I have several family members who are "pale....and blond and some with blue or green eyes,and yes they are black women. Celebrate what was done here, the capturing of African American women. The article does not neccessarily define me, but its nice for a change to see folks similar to me.

    July 23, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  13. John

    "...currently prefers their girls pale, emaciated and blonde."

    That was a very racist comment.

    July 23, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  14. Carla in DC

    Hi Ms. Ogunnaike,

    Thanks for the report on what the Italian Vogue magazine have done! I am impressed that Vogue publishers conceptualized and acknowledged the beauty of black models with an entire issue. This is an impressive move from Vogue's in house publishing. I would be interested in getting some prints of these authentic black models with all american and all world features, these ladies are pioneers. Black models represent the fashion industry. And for those who know the fashion industry...you will also know that black beauty is all inclusive and will be beautiful forever. For those who don't care....we'll you are not Vogue, but for those who do, strike a pose! It's not that deep. Thanks, Vogue keep black models in your "Issues!!!!".

    July 23, 2008 at 4:39 pm |
  15. Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium

    Mike, Liya Kebede (better??) has Ethiopian features. Not that it matters, she's just beautiful, ok?

    July 23, 2008 at 4:33 pm |
  16. diane

    I hope to pick up a copy of this magazine at some point. It is noteworthy that Italian Vogue did an issue with all Black models but it will take more than that to change the industry. It is ashamed that American Vogue wasn't the first to do this given the billions of dollars Blacks spend in this country. However, I can count the number of Blacks models that I have seen on the cover or on the pages of Vogue on one hand. They do not appear to be interested in diversity. The same could be said of many designers. Take a look at photos of Fashion Week every Spring and Fall and see how many designers actually use models of color.

    Until all women vote with their pocketbooks, designers and manufacturers of beauty products and magazine publishers will continue to churn out the same thin, pale sickly models they have been using for ages. Women have the power not to purchase beauty and fashion products by compnaies that don't promote diversity and positive images for women.

    As as Black woman, I purchased and subscribed to many mainstream magazines that featured few minorities- Black, Latino, Asians nor Native Americans. I started wondering why I was supporting publications that rarely featured women who look like me and had little beauty advice for darker women. Thus, I stopped buying these magazines. Now the only magazines I read are Essence- a magazined geared toward Black women and Oprah- which seems to be very inclusive of all races. When Vogue, Harpers Bazar and the others decide they want to change, maybe I'll read them. So far no change seems imminent from these publications.

    July 23, 2008 at 4:16 pm |
  17. Marie K.

    Well, as one who is definitely for the fashion industry, i think its a beautiful concept, and I cannot wait to pick up a copy for myself. Now would would be even better would be later editions each highlighting beauty from many different background, including white, asian, hispanic, etc.

    On a related note, I dont understand why some people are so against the average model. I myself am a very tall and slender female, and I do some modeling on the side. I understand how they may not represent the typical woman, but they are still women and deserve to be treated and addressed as such. I totally agree that the industry needs to highlight beauty in all of its sizes, shapes, and colors, but attacking a female for being "unusually" tall and thin is just as wrong for attacking one who is short and overweight.

    July 23, 2008 at 4:03 pm |
  18. andrew c

    since this issue was announced, i've been going by the local book stores to try and buy this issue for vogue for my mother. I call them every day, but it must be very popular, because no sign of it in the Twin Cities.

    July 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Christine T

    Addendum: Even European women who are not known for being as overweight as American women don't look like the women in these magazines. It's ridiculous.

    July 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm |
  20. Christine T

    The fashion industry is a mess when it comes to any woman being painted in a realistic fashion. I go to the movies to see fantasy. When I flip through a fashion magazine I want to see what real, affordable clothes look like on real women.

    I think I understand part of what's going on, though. Many male fashion designers or men high up in the industry are gay. If you notice (and I'm totally serious about this – I'm not gay bashing – look at the models clearly for yourselves) most of the models in high/couture fashion magazines look like really skinny men in drag. (lol) I'm being totally serious here. Go take a look. These models don't look like Christy Brinkley or Naomi Campbell with nice curves and full bosoms. They look like tall, thin , lanky men.

    I agree with Cindy on this one too... real women get shafted in fashion on every turn. How many women do you personally know or come in contact with on a daily basis look like the models in Vogue. Answer it honestly, please!

    July 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm |
  21. damian

    boring – who cares...

    July 23, 2008 at 3:37 pm |
  22. Mike in NYC

    Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium wrote:

    "Great to see Liya Kedebe..."

    It's "Kebede." And aside from her skin tone, her features are very Caucasian.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  23. ellen

    Why in the world do you need a fashion magazine to tell you what is
    beautiful? Oh, by the way, I have worked in the fashion industry for
    years and have worked with lots and lots of models and can tell you
    first hand that they are not flawless. Sometimes beautiful yes, more
    often that not they simply look great in a photograph. Even when a
    magazine features a beautiful person is is retouched, reworked and
    perfected. Photoshop can work wonders and it was airbrushing
    before that. Have also done stage makeup and what you see is
    not always what is real. Fashion magazines are about a fantasy
    world and do everything to only show perfection whether it is
    real of not.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm |
  24. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Cindy I agree with you that we could do away with the fashion industry. Just imagine a world where beauty is not the most important thing that would be amazing.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:35 pm |
  25. Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium

    Hi Lola,

    I sometimes buy fashion magazines in Italian or other languages I don't understand too, just because of the beautifull pictures inside.
    I absolutely love fashion!

    There certainly have been less colored supermodels, though I do believe that things seem to be (slowly) changing and that's a good thing!

    Great to see Liya Kedebe on the cover of this Italian Vogue, she's stunning!

    Thanks for the fashion update! Kristien

    July 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm |
  26. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    Why do they allways chose those skinny pale stick figured models?
    The clothes they design are just not the reality of the average person's figure.This is a terriible image for young women to try and live up to .

    July 23, 2008 at 2:27 pm |
  27. Cindy

    Beauty comes in all different races, shapes and sizes. If you want to start in on this topic then you better be ready for the comments. It's not just blacks getting an unfair shake here. Come on!!

    It is magazines like this and the modeling industry in general that makes people...women in particular think that they are no good and that their looks aren't good enough giving them serious image problems. I for one don't even care what goes on in that industry! It all bodes bad for the publics image if you are not tall, totally emaciated or what people think of as beautiful. We can do away with this whole industry and I would care less.

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  28. alexis

    Mike in NYC, That's probably because the only models you pay attention are in victorias secret and sports illustrated. High fashion is different.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  29. Mike in NYC

    From the article:

    "Fashion, my industry friends tell me time and time again, currently prefers their girls pale, emaciated and blonde."

    Actually, I wouldn't describe most models quite like that.

    It is true, though, that not just the fashion industry, but indeed most of the world, does seem to prefer whites.

    July 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm |