Anna Wintour didn’t intend to ‘diminish’ Kamala Harris by switching Vogue cover shots

Actor Matt Damon and wife Luciana Damon arrive at the Los Angeles Premiere Of 20th Century Fox's 'Ford v Ferrari' held at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on November 4, 2019 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States.

As we discussed on Sunday, the February Vogue cover leaked online early, and it caused a lot of drama. Kamala Harris, the incoming Vice President, the first ever woman to hold national office, is the cover subject. The image chosen for the Vogue newsstand cover is of Kamala in slim-cut pants, Chuck Taylors and a jacket, as she stands in front of a pink cloth which has been draped over a green background. It’s a bad cover image and most people thought it was disrespectful to Kamala. On Sunday, Vogue dropped their two covers – the Chucks photo, and their digital cover, which is apparently the one which Team Kamala approved and which they thought was going to be the only cover.

All of this has put *everyone* involved in a terrible position. If Kamala and her team really call out Anna Wintour for doing her dirty, Team Kamala will look frivolous and, frankly, out-of-touch. I mean, with everything going on right now, people are going to waste time on a Vogue beef? But still, Team Kamala wanted to get some things straight, since there was so much social media angst about all of it. They did approve the powder-blue suit image, and they were told that was the image which would be the cover. They didn’t find out that Anna switched photos until late Saturday, and Team Kamala apparently expressed their disappointment to Vogue at the switched cover images.

One of the best op-eds/essays/criticisms I read about this controversy is this piece in the Washington Post, where critic Robin Givhan pinpoints the issue with newsstand cover: it’s overly familiar, it’s not respectful enough to our first female VP. “The cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect. It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.” Yes. That over-familiarity and lack of respect resonated with a lot of Black women.

Vogue released a statement saying that they changed the newsstand cover because that photo (the Chucks photo) showed her “authentic, approachable nature, which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden-Harris administration.” But they released the digital cover, the one Kamala approved of, to “respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward.” Now Anna Wintour has spoken about the issue herself, telling the NY Times: “Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the vice president-elect’s incredible victory.” Then… why did Wintour change the cover? That’s what I don’t get. If there was a negotiation and Kamala approved of one image, why switch it?

Actor Matt Damon and wife Luciana Damon arrive at the Los Angeles Premiere Of 20th Century Fox's 'Ford v Ferrari' held at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on November 4, 2019 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States.

Covers courtesy of Vogue.

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76 Responses to “Anna Wintour didn’t intend to ‘diminish’ Kamala Harris by switching Vogue cover shots”

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  1. Em says:

    One cover was approved for use and that’s the one they should have run with. Anna Wintour’s intentions are clear, despite her back peddling.

    • Mignionette says:

      But what motivation would AW have to diminish such a historic cover ? Especially when it was approved by Kamala herself ?

      This just seems so odd to me.

      • Mac says:

        Wintour is a racist relic living in the past. She needs to go.

      • Em says:

        I’m making a lot of assumptions here, including that she must have the final say on everything at this level. Someone in the chain of command would surely have voiced their objections at the switch.

        I agree, it is very odd.

      • Lemons says:

        Maybe because she’s not Hillary, maybe because it’s a Black woman in a real position of political power, maybe she had the best intentions but her taste instincts are off. I don’t really care what happened…

        The fact that these two photos were the best the Vogue team could offer is the real problem because, to be frank, the powder blue suit isn’t going to sell magazines. The Converse photo is messy but might get people talking. This is a HISTORIC photoshoot. If I were Kamala and Co., I’d be looking at Vanity Fair to provide the historic magazine cover of Madame Vice President that she deserves.

      • Solace says:

        I think the issue is that Anna thinks she knows best. And it has been clear for years that she doesn’t.

        An EIC famous for passing over poc for Vogue covers should have the self awareness to understand that she should take the other side’s counsel in this matter. She didn’t and predictably failed.

      • Athyrmose says:

        Misogynior

    • Elizabeth Regina says:

      Once I saw that watermelon mish mash of a drapery it was game over. Horrible cover photos all round.

      • SM says:

        I agree. It probably was a case of Anna thinking she knows best, that Vogue and by expansion fashion industry, is her property and that she alone is allowed to make the decisions without consulting or getting consent. I do understand the idea behind having Kamala in those sneakers but then they should have done a better photoshoot. They are not operating from grandma’s basement, the can afford best people to do that. Who came up with that horrible drape idea, Vogue’s supply department?

      • derps says:

        Apparently, green and pink are the colors of AKA, a black sorority. Of which, Harris is a member. If you know anything about HBCUs you know how important their greek system is to the students. So, while the shades could perhaps have been better, the green and pink combo is important and symbolic. It is not a nothing detail, it is not something that was done without thought. No way did they not know about the AKAs.

        But I agree with the first commenter, neither photo is particularly good, but for differing reasons. The blue suit photo is boring and cardboard as all get out. The chucks photo is messy and informal. It looks perfect for the last photo of the spread on the inside though, and if that’s where it had been placed I think it would have gone over much better. I can believe that Wintour is a racist, and I can also believe that she saw the utter boringness of the blue suit photo and wanted something better. What I can not understand is that she somehow thought the chucks photo was “better”. I’m sure they had so many pictures from the shoot. There had to be 1 JUST ONE that was actually good enough for a cover. Every at Vogue was lazy or asleep.

  2. Mignionette says:

    I seriously get the sense that someone from within Vogue is trying to compromise Anna Wintour to the point she’ll be forced to quit. This is another in a long line of weird decisions at Vogue during the last year and it’s beginning to look really messy.

    • GuestwithCat says:

      Well isn’t she the one with final say? If there’s a conspiracy afoot she needs to wake up and grab the wheel. It’s on her. Anna Wintour is the head of American Vogue.

      I still think both photos are poorly lit. It’s really awful photography. But I see so much horrible photography around. School pictures used to involve a lot of work on the part of photographers. Now my daughter says the photographers rush through and snap kids mid yawn or they ask the kid a question and as the student is answering they snap the pic and that’s it. I’ve never seen such horrible school photos, both group class pictures and individual photos, as I’ve seen since becoming a parent. As an aunt to a huge family of now adult nieces and nephews and their almost grown children, I’ve seen countless school photos and sadly noted the decline. I’ve talked to some teachers and they’ve said the request for retakes has been pretty high.

    • L4frimaire says:

      No, Wintour is just tone deaf and arrogant.

  3. Scarlett says:

    And yet, you did…didn’t you? You did my VP dirty and you know it.

    In the big scheme of things with everything else going on, I get this is a small matter but our first female VP, a woman of color, what a huge accomplishment , you did her dirty, you sure did!

    P.S. Full disclosure I am half Indian, same as Mama Harris, her mom and mine come from the same town actually, so am taking this personally.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      @Scarlet-I think it is a pretty big issue “culture wise” when Tom & Lorenzo spent half of their weekly podcast discussing this misstep by Anna Wintour.

  4. candy says:

    I like the second one so much better, even if you strip away all the meaning and/or intent, it looks more like Kamala Harris. At the end of the day, the point of a photo is to capture the subject. I’m surprised these “fashion eyes” didn’t see the same.

  5. Darkmatter says:

    But why do they insist on drapes?

  6. Amy Bee says:

    Yes, she did.

  7. L4frimaire says:

    I think going forward, when it comes to Vogue, Harris’ teams response should be don’t call me, I’ll call you. Robin Givhan summed it up succinctly. I also don’t get Wintour’s explanation either, because it’s hard enough being a woman and a woman of color in this position. The approved cover photo projected both warmth and authority ( they both have mediocre backdrops IMO). Approachable is not the right word. She is not here to be our aunty or make us feel better, less intimidated. That’s not her role, save that for FLOTUS.I say this because Wintour definitely did diminish Harris to make her seem, not more approachable, but rather, less intimidating or authoritative to her readership, who are primarily white women. Basically a “see, she’s not too scary and powerful, it’s ok girls”. I just don’t get it, especially when they generally love depicting women in power, as powerful. This administration is starting with a coup attempt overthrow the election that questions its legitimacy, so depicting the next VP as looking not ready from day one, like she just rushed off her plane and apologizing sheepishly for being late is utterly disrespectful.

    • TQ says:

      EXACTLY this @L4frimaire!

      Anna Wintour did our amazing VP dirty. That ‘I made her more approachable’ bullsh*t is just that same goddamn racist trope that Black women are intimidating. You showed your racist cards, Anna.

    • Solace says:

      @L4frimaire

      You explained it so well. +1000

  8. Laalaa says:

    I don’t know, I like both of them, and I do think together they give a great view on Madam Vice President.
    But I agree with the post above – it looks like someone keeps undermining Anna to quit.

  9. Abby says:

    Honestly I don’t like either of these. The lighting on the powder blue suit one is awful and she’s washed out and there’s no catch lights on her eyes.. It looks like an Instagram filter was used, or some gaussian blur.

    The lighting is better on the one they used, but it’s much less professional. She looks unsure of herself, or like she’s cracking a joke. The pose is awkward and amateur photographer-looking. I am a huge fan of her, but she needs to be presented well on something so huge as a vogue cover. it’s just not a good photo. And that is the photographer’s fault if you ask me. It should not have been chosen as a cover.

    The change of cover option really really should have been run by her office. I know it’s a courtesy, but this is just too important to make a change and not tell them.

    • Shutterbug says:

      Abby, yes. The uncomfortable pose in the first selection. The lighting isn’t really there on either, although better in the second. The lack of catchlights in the eyes, the lack of light overall with her eyes is so odd to me. Because it is portraiture 101, but also because Kamala Harris has that good trouble twinkle in her eyes in life. When she’s commanding the senate floor, when she smiles as she tells Mike Pence she is speaking, when she lights up around her husband and family. It is part of the approachable nature they say they wanted to highlight? And the backgrounds are oddly styled and framed to me. Even in her gold cover… I keep thinking why is she standing in front of a draped massage table, ha!

      • Emmy Rae says:

        Wasn’t it Vogue that lit Simone Biles so weirdly too? Why is Kamala nearly blurry???

        I don’t know anything about photography, but even I could immediately tell the lighting is crap in both of these photos.

  10. Blairski says:

    Are they even allowed to change it once it’s been approved? This seems really odd. Can they point to other instances where they changed the cover without permission?

  11. Sofia says:

    I like the second cover a lot more. I don’t think the first photo is a bad idea but it’s been poorly executed.

    American Vogue really needs to get itself together but I think it started going downhill once Kardashians started making the covers

  12. Coco says:

    Vogue could fix this by giving her the cover for every other month for the rest of the year (the others will go to Jill Biden). By August, a crazed Melania will be caught breaking into Anna Wintour’s office dressed as a Christmas tree.

  13. New_Kay says:

    Biggest thing white people need to learn when it comes to people of colour….particularly Black women…intent vs impact. Intention doesn’t matter, it’s the impact that does the damage.

    • Sigmund says:

      Excellent point. Whether or not Wintour intended to diminish Harris, she did. Shame on her.

      White folks (and I am one) need to let go of this obsession with intent. Whether or not Vogue intended to be racist doesn’t change that fact that they WERE and ARE.

      • JanetDR says:

        As soon as I read that it wasn’t meant to diminish, I took it to mean that was exactly the intention. There is no way at all that there weren’t better images than these to choose from!

  14. molly says:

    Anna switched it to generate publicity, and they knew Kamala’s team would be too classy/busy to throw a public fit.

  15. Figgy says:

    Wintour is a John Lennon Republican.

    • Mignionette says:

      Ordinarily I would agree with you, but in this instance she’s a known historical donor. She has also been sent out by past Dem Presidents as a foreign envoy on charm offensive visits. That is also how she got so famous by being so close to power.

      I think the powers that be think her time is up and her tenure is over and that might be the reason for this mess amongst others.

      Someone is trying to oust her.

      Expect a statement imminently with the new administration.

  16. Naomi says:

    My feeling is that this is classic unconscious racism. I don’t think Anna was at all trying to undercut VP Harris. I think that it’s the ingrained racism of “Well, I prefer this photo for X reason, even though Harris’s team approved the other one,” and not even stopping for a second to consider that when a Black woman is elected VP, you darn well ask for her input and ACT on that input. Do what she tells you to do!

    **This is not a justification of Wintour.** It’s racist, period. But also worth knowing that racism works in different ways, and that is class case of white privilege and entitlement — presuming that your opinion is the be all and end all, and you can do what you want, without taking other people’s desires and needs (our first Black/Indian woman VP) into consideration. Wake the eff up, Anna.

  17. gab says:

    I don’t understand the drapery in either photo. The background should look cleaner and the colors almost go out of their way to clash in both.
    The pink and green is almost like a romance novel cover where you would expect to see a woman in a corset dress.
    But like what could possibly be the ill intent? seems very petty.

    • lanne says:

      The pink and green are the colors of her sorority–Alpha Kappa Alpha, which she joined at Howard University. For people who don’t know, black Greek organizations are a lot different from white greek organizations–black fraternities and sororities are less “get drunk and party” and more networking communities that last into adulthood (yes, white fraternities network too, but more in an “old boys club” style)

      • Gab says:

        I had read that too. They could’ve pulled the colors in in a way that wasn’t just like messy sheets thrown in the background.

    • anniefannie says:

      @ the color scheme is a homage to the sorority that our VP elect belonged to in college. I think the reference is so obscure as to become meaningless to most so it’s a poor choice. Overall the cover is a huge disservice to a strikingly beautiful woman. In my book Vogue has completely lost their cache’

  18. Girl_ninja says:

    It’s time for Anna to move on. They need fresh blood in U.S. Vogue and have for some time now. Looking at Vogue covers from other countries this is quite clear.

    • L4frimaire says:

      Agree. Vogue needs new blood . Maybe Edward Enninful if he wasn’t such a kiss ass. Feel like it needs to be someone less elitist but who can tap into what’s happening here more in the US, who can navigate what’s happening culturally and politically, but elevate Vogue more aesthetically. Vogue lost me years ago when they started putting mediocre celebrities like Sienna Miller on the cover, or couples like Kim and Kanye. Also got sick of their colonialist Africa/Asia photo spreads. Remember Karli Kloss the geisha? If you went by Vogue, you’d assume there were no cities on the African continent, just an empty wilderness with giraffes and YSL Safari jackets.

  19. Implicit says:

    Anna is disgusting she knows a certain set of people cough *Trumpers still buy print mags . By diminishing and disrespecting Kamala it upholds white supremacy. I will continue to not pay any attention to Vogue whatsoever except to flip the 🖕🏾

  20. Sunday says:

    I think it’s important to remember that this wasn’t an isolated incident; the photos and cover for Simone Biles were equally awful – once again they managed to take someone vibrant and beautiful (and Black, a TOTAL coincidence, I’m sure, eyerolleyerolleyeroll) and made her look awkward and diminished.

    Sooo strange how the chain of command at Vogue seems incapable of putting forth photos of their Black subjects that meet the same standard and quality as their white ones.

    Sorry Anna, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” Trash, absolute trash.

  21. L4frimaire says:

    People have to realize that VP Harris is not Joe Biden’s work wife. That seems to be how they are treating her. This cover should never have happened. I think in some of the comments at the Post, it basically came down to why is this an issue with all that is happening in D.C. right now and the 2nd consensus is that a Vogue cover is beneath the office of the VP. I agree with both to a certain point. I don’t think Harris should have done Vogue at all, not once she became the VP candidate. I think this is First Lady territory. Like Michelle Obama, she will be overly scrutinized and I think this cover was a bad decision. Not fatal, but something to be learned from. Based on Vogues poor writing and uselessness, even Vanity Fairwould be a better choice, and I side eye them too. Remember, this magazine had the wife of Syria’s dictator on the cover, singing her praises, before it all fell apart because of her brutal dictator husband. Harris is in a whole new arena. Vice-President Harris is the 2nd. most powerful person in the world, the presidency has been attacked by the outgoing President, so it’s time to move beyond this, she doesn’t have time for this, and assume the authority of her office.

  22. Izzy says:

    She doesn’t need to be seen as “more approachable.” First of all, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know that she is. Second, SHE IS THE VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT of the United States. She deserves the respect and deference she has earned from that position, as a person, as a woman… on and on. They OWE her that respect. Period. Madam Vice President approved ONE picture. Not even Nuclear Wintour should override that decision. THE CAUCASITY.

    • Sigmund says:

      This 100%. Who GAF about her approachability? We’ve got the WH press secretary out there claiming Trump is the “most masculine” President there ever was, and Vogue wants to make our first woman VP “approachable”.

      Now, Trump and his press secretary are both dumb*sses. But we see this with male politicians ALL. THE. TIME. Men get to be powerful, women get to be friendly.

      Let Harris be powerful. She doesn’t need to feel like our mom or best friend or whatever. She’s our VP.

  23. Digital Unicorn says:

    Seeing both covers – the first one looks to me like a test shot, taken before the set was finished being dressed/testing colours/backdrops and Kamala had yet to be styled for the real shoot.

    It was either a PR stunt or someone was out to embarrass Harris and Wintour.

  24. Dontgiveuptheship says:

    Vogue is dead. I wrote a story for them on my city, St. Louis, and a local gal who brokered the deal took credit for it, put her name all over it and then they didn’t even pay me. Fuck Vogue.

  25. Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

    I worked in fashion for several years, heard the gossip about Wintour first hand from people who worked with and for her, and this is the answer to why Vogue switched the image at the last minute: Because she looks thinner in the print cover image than in the digital cover image. Wintour probably reluctantly agreed, but the Harris team didn’t want excessive photoshop so she switched the images for the cover.
    Wintour is disgusting.

  26. Julie says:

    I actually like the idea of a cover photo with Kamala Harris in her kicks, but that photo is atrocious. Those cheap-ass glamor shots satin curtains…ugh! The blue suit photo is better, but neither image is Vogue cover worthy. Wintour is losing it.

  27. MA says:

    There is a reason that the staff who worked on it are only posting the second, blue and yellow photo on their social media. No way that fashion and photographer pros think the first one is acceptable.

    Even the second photo is not great but it’s obviously better than the first one. What was the point of that massage table? The photographer was also mediocre and produced meh photos. They needed someone with gravitas who could convey the momentousness of the moment. They should’ve hired a woman or black woman photographer who would understand that.

  28. Sabotage says:

    Believe me, I know this is NOT the point, but I still can’t get past the weird department store drape and bed display behind our first female VP on the “approved” cover. Almost anything would have been better.

  29. Amando says:

    I like the shoes, it’s the backdrop that’s uninspiring. They could have done better and should have.

  30. Winnie Cooper’s Mom says:

    I wish they had done an epic black and white photo of her with some sort of play on words with “black and white” America or something that had a bold statement. A majorly missed opportunity by Team Vogue.

  31. Cat Ca says:

    I think the photographer is to blame. The props, poses, lighting etc. surely would be their domain.
    VP elect Harris also did a cover for Elle and she looks fantastic. She’s wearing a suit in that photo as well (obviously that must be her request – just wear her own clothing that she is comfortable in). But the pose and angles are so much better!
    Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t the photographer responsible for those things?

    • North of Boston says:

      Whatever the photographer did, AW had final say on which photo to put on the cover.
      The blue suit one, approved by Harris, would have been a better choice. Even the photographer seems to agree, since that’s the only one they shared.

  32. Mia says:

    So many campaign pics of her were way better than these shots. Vogue could have done something magnificent.

  33. AnneSurely says:

    This was a really bad time to accept this cover. I work in PR and crisis comms and I would have had her wait 2 years until we were out of a pandemic and a crushing economic situation for women before I had her on the cover of the single greatest signifier of the obscenely wealthy and white. The first cover is an abomination and the second cover is nice, it’s just not nice enough to counteract the sad trombone effect of the first one. There was definitely a better way to incorporate AKA colors than this.

  34. steph says:

    There is no excuse for the AKA cover and the audacity to pair it with “The United States of Fashion.” Vogue has access to the best creative talent on earth. They could have incorporated everything they supposedly wanted to do: shout out her sorority, showcase her incredible achievement being the first woman, and first Black/ Indian to hold the office of VP, and her approachability while still making it a fashion forward VOGUE cover. Like damn, a quick Google of AKA would have helped with set design and watching a few episodes of Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder for some wardrobe inspo.

    Also, Kamala Harris doesn’t actually look approachable on the AKA cover. She looks incredibly uncomfortable. She probably is,I don’t think cover girl is her comfort zone, but the right talent still would have got that image.

  35. TheOriginalMia says:

    Well, that’ll be the last Vogue photoshoot for a long time. This was a missed opportunity to celebrate the first female, Asian- and African American VP. Can’t take it back. People won’t forget.

    As an aside…my mother loved the casual cover.

  36. Case says:

    Neither photo is great — don’t they look like test shots? The lighting is bad and they almost look blurry to me. Not the normal Vogue cover whatsoever.

    In terms of “approval” — I work for a (smaller) magazine and no one approves anything we publish. We choose what we want to run and what photos to use. Might be different in the fashion world, though.

  37. Annetommy says:

    I’m not keen on either cover, though the powder blue suit one is preferable. But they are dull and uninspiring, unlike their subject, and she’s such a good looking woman that it must have been quite difficult to eff it up.

  38. lucylee says:

    She may not have intended to do it but she did.

  39. Oya says:

    I know the unapproved cover is in AKA colors, but please don’t call this the “AKA Cover.” AKA selfies are more stylish than the BS Vogue served up. I think this is Wintour’s arrogance, both in assuming that she should be able to overrule an agreement with the 2nd most powerful person in the US and in not appreciating the historic nature of this cover. And for those saying that we are assuming that AW might not have made the final call: that is precisely the point. I can’t imagine that in her position, I would insist on approving everything having to do with this historic figure. But for the record, I believe she had final say and her implicit bias made her think “eh, good enough.”

  40. Cookie says:

    I guess I don’t get it. I didn’t love the backdrop or lighting, but I thought the cover made her look bad ass and in a league of her own. Chuck Taylor’s and a white t shirt under a black pantsuit? This woman means business. Pulling a bait and switch about the covers is unacceptable, but the cover itself seems to be on brand with the Kamala we got to know on the campaign trail.

    • Ella says:

      I don’t hate the outfit, although it does look like something she just showed up to the studio wearing, but why is she standing in Marie Antoinette’s boudoir in Chuck Taylor’s and a white t-shirt under a black pantsuit? Why is her pose and expression so awkward? It’s as though they went to Joann’s, bought a few yards of the girliest fabrics they could find, had her stand in front of them and took a few snapshots with a phone.

  41. Fascinating Fascinator says:

    This is a good example of the difference between INTENTION and IMPACT. It wasn’t her intention to be demeaning with the “authentic, approachable” converse cover but the impact is that it was, in fact, demeaning. How do we know this? Everyone felt the impact of the bad cover. That’s a bad CYA/non apology from Anna.

  42. Thirtynine says:

    It is VOGUE which is diminished by this offering. If this is the best they can do, Anna Wintour has presided over a big loss of status for a once iconic publication. Kamala Harris will be be VP for the next 4 years, and maybe President Harris for the 4 after that. Very shortsighted.
    I hope Kamala is too busy leading the country to work with Vogue again.

  43. Cait says:

    Both covers are unbelievably bad in so many ways. A talented high school student would have done a better job.
    Anna should have been shown the door a long time ago.
    I want another big name magazine to give Kamala a cover that does her justice.