If you’ve ever ridden the train, in NYC, during morning rush hour, a Black woman in a suit and sneakers isn’t an uncommon sight. When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris hit the campaign trail, in 2020, rocking Timbs or Chuck’s with her blazer, it signified, just like it did for those everyday women, that she was ready to work. For Kamala, that means restoring order to a polarized nation and getting an unrelenting pandemic under control. It’s not quite the attire you’d expect to see on the cover of a fashion magazine.
Harris appears on the February cover of Vogue in a Donald Deal blazer, trousers and pair of Converse sneakers; dull lighting eclipsing her light brown skin. A wrinkled pink curtain cast against green fabric– a nod to her sisterhood Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority — serves as the backdrop. It’s lazy and uninspired.
The image is one of two. In a striking second shot, Harris is clad in a blue Michael Kors suit smiling directly at the camera — the portrait you’d expect to see. Harris’ team was reportedly “blindsided” by the decision to feature Harris in her kicks on the cover of the newsstand issue. But more glaringly, it points out the obvious wrong choice for the main cover. A mishap that continues to plague the glossy conglomerate.
The cover, which was allegedly leaked online Sunday, sent social media into an uproar with critics denouncing the Tyler Mitchell image as diminishing and disrespectful. It didn’t fit the ceremonious occasion — the junior senator’s ascension to the second highest office in the land. Instead, it did exactly what Vogue editors sought to do — embody Harris’ “authentic, approachable nature.” The unflattering image is too relatable. While Harris may have styled herself for the shoot, this choice of photo is more problematic than the photo itself.
“I think with Kamala’s historical presence in the White House as not only the first woman Vice President, but also the first Black and Indian person to hold this position, a lot of people were anticipating this wow moment, which she rightfully deserved — but we didn’t get that,” says InStyle beauty editor Kayla A. Greaves. “I understand the effort to make her relatable, but at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with having an elevated moment to celebrate history being made, especially after all women of color, and mainly Black women, have had to go through to get to this moment; especially when the person who broke this glass ceiling is on the cover of a major magazine. I think that’s what people were really hoping for, and we were left hungry for more.”
Tyler Mitchell became the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue, in 2018, when he captured Beyonce with his lens for the September issue. Mitchell’s poorly lit and awkwardly posed photos are one thing, but whoever made the final decision on which photo would go to newsstands and which would be the “digital” cover got it severely wrong.
As with their 2020 Simone Biles cover, the cover image does Harris no justice. It certainly doesn’t portray her as the political juggernaut who went head to head with republicans and came out on top. Harris made the decision to appear in the issue in relatable wear as she had along her political career. It was never supposed to be the cover. Vogue missed the opportunity to celebrate a Black woman.