On Sunday, two separate images from Vogue’s February issue began circulating on social media, with the words “Madam Vice President!” splashed across both. One photograph showed Harris wearing a powder blue suit against a gold background. In the second, the vice president-elect appears against pink and green fabrics in a casual black suit and her signature Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers.
Both photos were taken by Tyler Mitchell, who previously photographed Beyoncé and Zendaya for the magazine.
When people on Twitter learned that it was the second image that would appear as Vogue’s main cover photo, the backlash was swift. One person described it as “a washed out mess,” while others felt it was “disrespectful,” given the historic nature of Harris’ distinction as the first Black, Asian American female vice president.
The Associated Press and CNN both reported that Harris’ team believed the vice president-elect would appear in the powder blue suit on the cover, and as a result felt “blindsided” by the last-minute swap.
Mitchell did not comment publicly on the pushback, but he featured only the more formal photo on his social media pages.
Wintour, who is Vogue’s editor-in-chief and Condé Nast’s newly appointed chief content officer, spoke at length about the cover in an interview with “Sway,” a New York Times podcast. Though Tuesday’s episode was recorded ahead of the controversy, host Kara Swisher read from a statement provided by Vogue in which Wintour addressed the criticism as part of the final podcast.
“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,” Wintour said in the statement.
“There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be,” she continued. “And when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the vice president-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in which we are all in the midst — as we still are — of the most appalling pandemic that is taking lives by the minute. And we felt to reflect this tragic moment in global history, a much less formal picture, something that was very, very accessible and approachable and real, really reflected the hallmark of the Biden-Harris campaign and everything that they are trying to, and I’m sure will, achieve.”
Wintour’s sentiments echoed those in a previous statement issued Sunday by Vogue, in which the publication defended the cover choice as indicative of Harris’ “authentic, approachable nature.”
“To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we’re celebrating both images of her as covers digitally,” the magazine added.
Whether the comments will be enough to quell the outcry remains to be seen. Wintour, however, has previously faced criticism for the quality of Black representation in Vogue’s pages throughout her tenure of over 30 years.
She apologized in a letter to her staff that was widely circulated last year.
“I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate or give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators,” she wrote at the time. “We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I want to take full responsibility for those mistakes.”