A Geman fashion magazine has been widely condemned for using the phrase ‘Back to Black’ as its cover line for an issue that profiles several models of colour.
ELLE Germany’s November 2019 issue was also slammed for picturing a caucasian model on the cover and misidentifying two of the women of colour featured in the corresponding story.
Supermodel and activist Naomi Campbell has since spoken out, branding the issue ‘highly insulting’ and rejecting the concept that diversity in fashion is just a passing ‘trend’.
ELLE Germany admitted to being ‘guilty of several errors’ and ‘sincerely apologise’ for the ‘problematic’ issue.
Naomi speaks out
Catwalk queen Naomi, who has long called out racism and tokenism in the fashion industry, took to Instagram on Wednesday to share a searing takedown of the magazine’s ‘highly insulting’ move which made her ‘sad’.
“This makes me so sad to see this, @bethannhardison @the_real_iman and I are here if you are not clear on the guidelines of diversity...your mistake it is highly insulting in every way...you go further to say that BACK TO BLACK, even if you meant the fashion, it’s misleading on your headline and Type!!” she wrote.
The fashion icon posted photos of ELLE’s story to highlight their error in mistaking model Naomi Chin Wing for Janaye Furman, who they profiled.
Naomi, who is herself a contributing editor at British Vogue, used a red arrow to point out that the photo they used for Janaye was, in fact, a photo of Naomi Chin Wing.
She also posted a screenshot of a Google translation of what appears to be a quote used in the issue which reads: “Beautiful, successful, committed: Models of Colour were never in demand as they are now. But these great women also inspire us off the catwalks!”
“I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY. It’s ok to celebrate models of colour but please do it in an ELEGANT and RESPECTFUL way,” Naomi continued in her caption.
“It’s very important for a publication to be culturally sensitive and give credit where it’s due. We all need to unite on this matter,” she concluded.
Former model turned industry activist Bethann Hardison, who Naomi tagged in her post, addressed the controversy in the comments section, rejecting ELLE’s ‘support’ and hoping that the magazine is ‘embarrassed’.
“...Your staff should stay away from trying to be topical and speak of models of colour. You are limited in your scope. You are far away and not really aware of how to fit into the evolution of change and it [sic] ebb and flow of an industry. A weak industry always will need strong intelligent clarity. This seems to elude you and your magazine. Please leave stories of our successes out of your magazine as you know little of it. We don’t need your support, it’s damaging. It’s clear it was not in support but an attempt to be topical and poorly. Hopefully you are embarrassed by our reactions.”
Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models which represents Naomi Chin Wing also weighed in, writing, “Thank you, @Naomi. The whole thing is insane from misrepresenting @naomichinwing to putting a white woman on the cover of ‘Back to Black.’”
Plus-size model and body positivity activist Tess Holiday wrote, “Would say I’m shocked.... but.....”
Janaye Furman herself responded with a silent Instagram video in which she calmly sips tea. “#BlackIsBack” she captioned the telling video.
Fashion Instagram account Diet Prada appears to be the first to flagged problems with the November issue, calling it ‘not a good look’.
“Not a good look, ELLE Germany. For their November 2019 issue, the presumably white-led publication declares that ‘black is back.’ Ironic when they, along with much of the fashion industry, have been complicit in denying visibility to black models until relatively recently”.
“Oh, and apparently they can’t actually tell models apart,” the caption continued. “In the bottom middle, a picture of Naomi Chin Wing is used in place of Janaye Furman.”
Diet Prada also pointed out that highly successful Victoria’s Secret model Joan Smalls was positioned by the magazine as making a comeback.
“The issue, titled ‘Back to Black,’ also features a white model on the cover. You can’t make this stuff up!” they added.
Readers took to the comments section of the post to express their disappointment.
"This is what happens when companies who 'want' to be diverse try to speak on diversity and have no diversity in their offices ...." one person added.
“Black is back? When did it leave?” another wrote.
“How is this still happening in 2019” questioned one.
ELLE admits ‘guilt’
In a written statement posted to their Instagram account, ELLE Germany’s editor-in-chief Sabine Nedelchev admits the publication is ‘guilty of several errors’ and apologised for their insensitivity.
“In our current issue we are approaching the colour black from different angles,” the statement started.
“As one of the topics it was our aim to feature strong black women who work as models for the fashion industry.
“In doing so, we have made several mistakes which we apologise to anyone we might have hurt.
“It was a mistake to use the cover line 'Back to black' which could be understood as if black persons would be a kind of fashion trend.
“This obviously wasn't our intention and it was our mistake not to be more sensitive about this.
“Misidentifying the model Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman has also been a mistake which we regret and for which we apologise.
“We are aware how problematic this is. This has definitely been a learning experience for us and we apologise for anyone we may have hurt or offended.“
Additional reporting by Elise Solé.
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