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'Vogue' Declares a Strong Stance on Diversity

Vogue magazine has always been deemed the ultimate purveyor of fashion, style and societal trends. And now it wants to be known as the destination for diversity.

Come 2016, the high fashion publication, under the direction of Conde Nast’s artistic director and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, will begin efforts to expand its reach to be more inclusive. It’s one of the first times the fashion bible has outright declared diversity to be en vogue, and it’s starting with the January 2016 issue.

“All of the many progressive societal changes that we have experienced recently are pointing us to a place of far greater inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity…” pens Wintour in January’s issue. “So instead of our typical January portfolio defining the new season’s direction, we decided to do something completely different this year, something that reflects not only the spring 2016 runways but the shifting times we live in.”

The January issue, which has Swedish actress Alicia Vikander on its cover, includes a spread entitled “Be Yourself,” containing a few dozen musicians, athletes, artists, writers, dancers and models from various backgrounds. The subjects include a diverse array of ethnicities, from Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah to French tennis player Alize Lim. You’ll find a wider range of body shapes and sizes, for instance, with Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard. The spread also includes transgender model Hari Nef, who is transitioning to actress via her role in Transparent. All posed for fashion photographer Mikael Jansson.

“It’s January, the start of a new year and start of 2016, an election year,” Mark Holgate, Vogue fashion news director, tells Mashable. “It’s also coming off of seeing the spring 2016 collections. The strong message that came from them was that designers were embracing individuality and diversity with a strong point of view.”

“Beyond that, Vogue fashion is not divorced to the reality of life,” he says. “We’re in a moment of real change, and it’s real progressive change. We all want to have a progressive idea to shape our lives. Whoever we photograph in the first story of the spring 2016 season, it has to reflect that.”

Holgate has a point. The year 2015 was probably one of the most inclusive years in fashion in a long time. It’s one that demanded plus-size be further represented with models like Tess Holiday, who became icons in their own rights, and on fashion runways. Just recently, an African model wore her natural hair at the Victoria’s Secret show, to the applause of the Internet community. Transgender rights has never been covered more, thanks, in part, to Caitlyn Jenner’s force in fashion. Vogue did an in depth story earlier this year on transgender supermodel Andreja Pejic.

It’s a positive step forward for the 123-year-old fashion publication, one that’s seen its fair share of controversies and criticisms when it comes to diversity. A few months ago Vogue’s massive 832-page September issue came under fire when social media pointed out that only two of those pages were dedicated to plus-size models. And who could forget the gaffe in April 2008 when readers called foul with Lebron James, who appeared on the cover resembling a King Kong poster, alongside Giselle Bundchen.

Though it’s far from flawless, Vogue prides itself on moving diversity forward. One only look at the book’s historic moment in 1974 when it utilized Beverly Johnson as its first black cover model.

With diversity a flourishing conversation on social media, it’s becoming more obvious to the fashion world that trends and definitions of beauty are becoming democratized. They are no longer set in stone by a narrow definition of fashion elite.

“Social media…kind of gets rid of this idea that fashion can be worn by one body type and beauty. All sorts of beauty and body types and age groups can. It’s great,” Holgate says.

Holgate explains that high fashion is hardly embracing this for the first time. Vogue, he says, has a history of accepting “intriguing and transformative” ideas of diversity. “If you look at the magazine in the last decade, it’s what we’ve always done,” he says. “Historically, we wanted more representation.”

The editor says it’s just the beginning: “We have another 11 issues, and I think this is progress,” he says.

Vogue has been undergoing a transition in the past few years. Its unique visitors have skyrocketed thanks to original dotcom pieces that seem more relatable to the everyday woman. One 2014 story uncovered the best bras for every bust size. Another, was a beautifully shot story on the faces of Paris’s climate talks, photographed by Inez and Vinoodh.

The change in tide seems to be a positive step forward. Perhaps, then, Vogue will move towards a more diverse set of cover stars as well. In 2016, there’s room to see even more diversity, like perhaps its first Asian American face, a woman who is transgender or a plus-size beauty.

“To be in Vogue has to mean something,” Wintour once famously said to CBS. Here’s hoping that diversity remains at the top of mind and is not just a trend.


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