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No Naomi Campbell, Vogue Africa isn't a fabulous idea

Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi on why having an 'ethnic' version of the famed fashion bible would be problematic

08 April 2018 - 00:01
By pearl boshomane tsotetsi AND Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi
Gigi Hadid on the cover of the March 2017 edition of Vogue Arabia.
Image: Vogue Arabia Gigi Hadid on the cover of the March 2017 edition of Vogue Arabia.

One of the few people on earth truly deserving of the now overused "supermodel" tag, Naomi Campbell told Reuters she believes it's time Vogue had an Africa edition.

She's quoted as saying: "We just had Vogue Arabia - it is the next progression... Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform... it shouldn't be that way."

And why not? The fashion world is trying to show more diversity (not just on the runways, though they remain overwhelmingly white): the new head of menswear at Louis Vuitton is black (Ghanaian-American Virgil Abloh), Balmain's creative director is biracial (Frenchman Olivier Rousteing), British Vogue is now helmed by a black man (Ghanaian-born Edward Enninful) - so a Vogue Africa would be a great way for the most influential name in fashion media to jump aboard the "we love black folk" ship.

And Vogue Africa could benefit many financially (job creation, global exposure for designers etc).

But do we really need a declining brand (sales and prestige) to validate our creative existence to the world? Why are we still thirsty for the West's acceptance? Because, as Campbell suggests, the path to having African fabrics, materials and designs "accepted on the global platform" is paved with editions of Vogue Africa.

But this - and I'm writing in the South African context - feels counterintuitive to what young black Africans in particular are doing now.

We're trying to do things on our own terms, disrupt the narrative, own our narrative and tell our own stories - our way. It goes against this spirit of decolonisation that we've been pushing these past few years if we do back flips because there might be (the rumour's been around for several years) a Vogue Africa.

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We shouldn't need Vogue to tell our stories for us, nor should we want Vogue's validation. The world should accept us on our terms rather than on their terms. The reality is that we're still more influenced by the Western gaze and ideals than by anything else, and something like Vogue Africa would only further entrench this.

In an interview with Lifestyle, filmmaker Makere Thekiso spoke about the need for Africans to tell their own stories, especially since we finally have the tools to do so.

"We need to be careful of our stories being sold right back to us while we can tell them ourselves and should be selling them to the rest of the world," he said.

That's exactly my sentiment in this instance.

And what exactly will be "African" about this Vogue? If Vogue India (and to a lesser extent, Vogue Arabia) are anything to go by, it will be exactly what's already in Vogue, just with darker skinned women and "ethnic" fabrics. I don't think it will be representative of what Africa is or what Africans want it to be, but rather Vogue's idea of what Africa should be.

Nothing progressive, boundary-pushing or inclusive there.

But if we like the idea of Vogue Africa as something that will benefit a few key players financially, then it's cool. But to pretend it would be something nobler than that would be at best misguided and at worst, a lie.


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