Karlie Koss under fire after Vogue diversity photo-shoot deemed racist

by Rebecca Selkirk

Both Vogue and Karlie Kloss, 24, have received huge public backlash since the release of the March edition of the US fashion magazine on February 15th 2017. The Vogue issue is centred around ‘the modern American woman’ celebrating the countries diversity, including models from all ethnic backgrounds, skin tones and body types.

The American born supermodel appeared in a 6-page editorial spread for the issue titled ‘spirited away’, photographed by Mikael Jansson and styled by Phyllis Posnick.

The photoshoot that took place in Japan saw Kloss dressed in traditional Geisha attire, tweet 1 blog 1including a Shimada-styled nihongami black wig and white makeup resembling bintsuke-abura wax; typically used to help Geishas achieve a pale complexion. Amongst the images, Kloss posed by a traditional Japanese tea house and a sumo wrestler.


The editorial quickly sparked controversy, as the magazine was accused of using ‘yellow face’. (A type of makeup used to recreate east Asian skin tones, typically used by white individuals). Questions were raised as to why the magazine didn’t chose to photograph a Japanese model instead.

As you would expect is this the intended ethnicity of the shoot?

People were also angered with the extensity of coverage Kloss gained in the magazine as opposed to other ethnic background models who gained just 1 page.tweet 2 blog 1(1)


It was also noted that the creative team involved with the production of the shoot were lacking any Asian members. In fact, the only clothing designer used throughout the shoot with an Asian background is Taiwanese-American designer, Alexander Wang. Vogue failed to include the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake both affluent Japanese designers and instead opted for French designer Louis Vuitton, Italian designer Marni and Columbian designer Haider Ackermann to name a few, to represent Japanese culture.

tweet 3 blog 1

The model quickly took to twitter to apologise for the shoot that was branded ‘culturally insensitive’.

However, Kloss is no stranger to public backlash after her 2012 appearance in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show was axed after it was dubbed offensive. In the show, Kloss paraded down the runway wearing a Native American headdress and a bikini. The supermodel publicly apologised for cultural appropriation tweeting:

‘I am deeply sorry if what I wore during the VS Show offended anyone. I support VS’s decision to remove the outfit from the broadcast’.

Despite her apology some fans were unimpressed with her repeat apology’s claiming she has not learnt her lesson and doesn’t really care.tweet 5 blog 1


However, it seems it is not just Kloss that has repeatedly been in the centre of cultural appropriation accusations. Both French/Netherlands Vogue have caused controversy for the use of black face. Suggesting Vogues race problem is much more extensive than Kloss?


This wasn’t the first time Vogue’s diversity issue had found itself under fire from the public, days before the magazine’s cover was criticised. It was claimed that International plus size model Ashley Graham, 28, was instructed to cover her thighs with her hands and model Gigi Hadid’s arms appear to have been Photohopped to also cover Grahams stomach.

Graham took to Instagram to defend herself and the magazine stating that she chose to pose in this way and was not made to feel overweight.

The western media have continuously taken offence to the editorial however Japanese Twitter users have supported the images describing them as ‘beautiful’ and ‘cool’. Some twitter users have even described them as a useful tool to attract tourism and interest to Japan.

Vogue has failed to comment on this.

What can we learn from this?

From a public relations prospective, the problem isn’t the controversy. Organisations in the fashion industry naturally take risks. The PR issue lies within vogue’s response; it could be argued their lack of response sits as an ethical issue for Vogue.

Vogues high end glossy imagery is typically used for its artistic value as opposed to intentionally offending people. The global fashion institution faces the mammoth task of producing ‘never seen before’ imagery whilst the world watches and passes judgement. It’s understandable that you simply can’t please everyone and calculated risks can be taken to add power and impact to an image.

However, Vogue failing to defend its models is ethically and morally wrong as the powerhouse failed to justify, explain or defend their models and ideas behind the editorial. Due to the nature of Kloss’ cut throat job role, it doesn’t give room for her to pick and choose the clothing and styles she is photographed in; therefore, Vogue should have stood up for and owned its choices instead of shifting the blame to Kloss leaving the model to defend herself and potentially damaging her career and future job prospects.

Will Vogue continue to produce daring shoots sparking controversy surrounding racial sensitivity? Yes. Should Vogue support the models and designers that are controversial? Absolutely.

Ultimately Vogue has a moral responsibility to defend the people that make them the global leader in fashion publications.

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