Continuing her string of notable firsts, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has landed her first Vogue cover. Images of the February issue leaked online over the weekend, with the profile of Harris published on Sunday. It focuses on the specific challenges facing the Biden-Harris administration — a devastating pandemic and the attendant recession; the national vaccination puzzle; the political polarization of the country that’s exacerbated the public health crisis, and that recently translated to violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — and also on the historic nature of Harris’s candidacy.
Although she and President-elect Joe Biden made for a more centrist ticket than some in the Democratic Party initially envisioned, Harris was nonetheless an unprecedented choice for vice-president: the first Black woman, and the first woman of South Asian descent, ever to have been nominated for the position. In the profile, Harris recalled her victory speech on November 7, for which she wore a white suit by Carolina Herrera — a nod to the women who paved the way for her — and reiterated a sentiment she’d shared that night.
“It was very important for me to speak to the moment, and the moment includes understanding that there is a great responsibility that comes with being a first,” Harris told writer Alexis Okeowo. “I always say this: I may be the first to do many things — make sure I’m not the last.”
The cover’s release has created some controversy — for one thing, it came out days ahead of schedule, leaked Saturday night by the Twitter account Models Daily. The image, which features Harris standing against a backdrop of green and pink silk (an apparent nod to Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which Vogue tagged in an Instagrammed version of the shot) wearing black pants, a black blazer, and her signature Converse Chuck Taylors. On social media, some said Harris looked “washed out,” pointing to past shoots (Simone Biles’s August cover comes to mind) where white photographers have done a poor job lighting Black subjects. Others have argued that the pose, the fabric pile, and the casual styling don’t do justice to a woman who, as the profile emphasizes, is about to assume the second-highest office in the country. Particularly considering reports that Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has allegedly “sidelined and tokenized women of color” at the magazine, the photo read to some as “disrespectful.”
Journalist Yashar Ali has also alleged that Harris’s team had “expected” and “agreed to” a different cover image, one that features Harris against a gold backdrop, dressed in a powder-blue suit. Multiple sources at the magazine said that while high-profile subjects are sometimes shown cover options, final selection and approval remains with the magazine, and did here. (A spokeswoman for Vogue declined to comment.) Whatever the case may be, photographer Tyler Mitchell — who became the first Black photographer to cover Vogue with his 2018 portrait of Beyoncé, who gave us Harry Styles in a dress in November, and who shot the February cover — shared the latter image with his followers.
Additional reporting by Matthew Schneier.