On June 4, in the early days of racial justice demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s murder, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour sent a note to staff. In it, she acknowledged that the magazine had “made mistakes … publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant,” and she gestured at nonspecific diversity commitments to come. “It can’t be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue,” Wintour wrote, “and there are too few of you.”
On Saturday, the New York Times outlined some of the ways in which Wintour has, allegedly, treated diversity as a question of optics, cultivating a climate that heavily prioritizes a certain type of worker (thin, wealthy, and white, 18 present and former staffers agreed) at the expense of employees of color. Per the Times: “Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.”
In an attempt to project a less uniformly white image, Wintour has reportedly relied on Black employees in junior roles to vet work and attend “high-level” meetings. Because Vogue lacked employees of color in senior positions, the Times suggests, entry-level workers were sometimes called upon to fill gaps well above their pay grade. For example: While reviewing a shoot by photographer Patrick Demarchelier (white and, incidentally, accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, which he denies) in 2017, Wintour allegedly used the racist term “pickaninny” in describing her “concern” over how an image of two Black models in head scarves would scan for readers. She then sought the opinion of “a specific Black staff member,” the Times said:
The employee, an assistant, told her superiors that the work was fine. The real problem, she continued, according to several people familiar with the meeting, was why a low-ranked person such as herself had been asked to assess it. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.
Wintour reportedly exercised indifference in the face of insensitive content. Responding to internal criticism of a blog post on Kendall Jenner’s appropriative fake gold teeth, for example, the Times says Wintour concluded: “I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal.” After model Karlie Kloss publicly apologized for dressing as a geisha for a photoshoot that ran in the 2017 “diversity issue,” she reportedly received an “icy”response from Wintour. As recently as June, Wintour allegedly blew off a Condé Nast meeting on race, despite being the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council. What’s more, some of her “top lieutenants” are accused of making flippant, racist comments at work. Three people told the Times that they heard Phyllis Posnick, who remains a contributing editor at the magazine and worked on its August cover featuring Simone Biles, say that Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump was “all the Blacks’ fault.” Meanwhile, former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington is said to have remarked of Rihanna, “Black people are late everywhere.” (Both women deny making the statements.)
The Times notes some recent attempts to improve longstanding imbalances at Vogue, including its September issue — titled “Hope” — which put an emphasis on Black contributors. Some people she has worked with, from fellow Condé editors to supermodel Naomi Campbell, defended Wintour as supportive. For her part, Wintour offered the following acknowledgment to the Times:
I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them. Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.
Read the full report in the New York Times.