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Kamala Harris Vogue cover causes controversy

January 20, 2021

After critics slammed the cover of Vogue featuring VP-elect Kamala Harris, it will publish a limited edition of its latest issue featuring a different photo.

Cover Vogue Kamala Harris
Image: Tyler Mitchell/VOGUE/AFP

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to hold the second-highest office in the US, will appear on the cover of fashion magazine Vogue in February. Yet the image chosen came under fire for being poorly lit and styled after the magazine first tweeted it on January 10.

In the picture in question — one of two that will be used for the digital version of the magazine — the Vice President-Elect stands in front of a pink drape with a pale green background, casually dressed in a two-piece suit and Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. 

One Twitter user called it "a washed-out mess."

Another felt it disrespected the Vice President-Elect in its sloppiness. "Folks who don't get why the Vogue cover of VP-Elect Kamala Harris is bad are missing the point. The pic itself isn't terrible as a pic. It's just far, far below the standards of Vogue. They didn't put thought into it. Like homework finished the morning it's due," wrote LGTBQ rights activist Charlotte Clymer

Following the first Tweet, Vogue released that same evening a second image that featured Harris dressed more formally in a powder blue suit in front of a gold backdrop.

Nine days later, the magazine announced it would be publishing a limited edition of its latest issue, featuring a different photo of the Vice-President-elect.

 "In recognition of the enormous interest in the digital cover, and in celebration of this historic moment, we will be publishing a limited number of special edition inaugural issues," a spokesperson for Vogue said. 

The concept behind the casual photo

In a statement reacting to the initial controversy, Vogue said it went with the more casual image for the print magazine's cover because it represented the "authentic, approachable nature, which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden-Harris administration."

Vogue had also clarified that the clothing hair and makeup styling was made by Harris' team. The salmon pink and green and are the official colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically African American sorority that Harris belonged to at Howard University. 

Harris speaking in Delaware at the podium, next to President-Elect Joe Biden (USA Wilmington Kamala Harris and Joe Biden)
Harris will be the first woman of color to serve as Vice PresidentImage: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo/picture alliance

Was the Harris team unhappy?

US news outlet CNN reported a source close to Harris' team saying they were disappointed with the cover choice and had believed that the more formal image was going to be used. The team even asked if a new cover could take its place, although the magazine had already gone to print in December, according to CNN.

The pictures were shot by Tyler Mitchell, who gained fame as the first Black photographer to shoot an American Vogue cover in the magazine's history — it featured Beyoncé in 2018. While Mitchell did not directly weigh in on the debate on Sunday, he tweeted the cover of Harris in the powder blue suit that evening. 

Vogue has come under fire in the past for not being sensitive to minorities. In an internal memo circulated to staff in 2020, the paper's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, apologized for "mistakes."

"Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate or give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators," Wintour wrote. "We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I want to take full responsibility for those mistakes."

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Kamala Harris was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at Howard University.

Sarah Hucal
Sarah Hucal Freelance Multimedia Journalist